Authenticity and Time in Food

No subject gets Foodies so fired up as a discussion of the merits of authenticity in cuisine. The holy grail of Foodie cuisine is that establishment which can accurately recreate a dish which comes from a faraway culture. But does authenticity necessarily mean it is the most delicious? And even more to the point, when cooking in my own kitchen, where does the balance between authenticity and ease fall?

I remember one of my first trips to Mexico, being fascinated that the family I was staying with had a maid. She was there in the morning, serving us breakfast, and her last task before leaving would be to put dinner on the table. In between, while cleaning and doing laundry, she would tend to the pile of pots and pans, bubbling with truly fabulous creations, each one representing many hours over a stove. Even more fascinating to me was that she too had, at her own home, a maid tending to the duties of the kitchen. My point? Authentic cuisine takes endless amounts of time. Anywhere that you find long simmered stews, painstakingly layered dishes, and fabulous culinary traditions, you will find people spending enormous amounts of time on the creation of a meal.

However, working multiple jobs and trying to keep up with my ever-so-time-consuming hobby (writing about food), the chances I have to spend many hours tending to a stove full of food are limited. And so I improvise. I throw in the right basic flavors, I make sure that it is full of things that I love, and I create my own version of a dish. So on a recent night, craving curry and too tired to drive across town to the nearest decent Indian food, I created a curry–and only a curry in the sense that I have in fact used curry powder to season it. But you know what? I don’t have a maid standing over my stove and while I often get possessed with time-consuming culinary projects, sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV while dinner makes itself. Furthermore, I want that dinner to quench my cravings for those exotic flavors that I can imagine being served in the sub-continent. So I made The Easiest Chicken Curry, and it worked perfectly.

While I continue to seek out the most authentic food I can when going out so that I can fully understand the nuances and flavors of a culture, when at home, I’m often willing to give up the quest for authenticity in favor of an all-American lounge on the couch.

What are your favorite go-to recipes un-authentic but easy and delicious foods? Or do you only cook something when you can get a flavor and texture to a perfect tee with what it ought to be?