Purity in Recipes

I’m not sure why, but I really liked the subtext that Pim alluded to in this post, namely that there are some recipes that are sacrosanct. Any attempts to infuse these recipes with new and unique ingredients essentially removes the essence of said recipe.

But the question I have is whether this idea of “sacred recipes” is a personal perspective or one that can be applied across a larger contingent.

Pim’s example of carbonara is an excellent one, because I’ve come across many an inedible one that had been slathered in a bacony cream sauce that had a consistency of bechamel. Anyone who has had “authentic” carbonara will tell you, cream sauce should be nowhere to be seen. The carbonara gets it’s creamy consistency in an entirely different manner (In truth, the best carbonaras are not creamy. Instead, one needs only to add eggs and cheese while the pasta is hot).

But yet to many people, carbonara is creamy, based not on their experiences from eating Italian recipes, but rather from eating someone else’s interpretation of an Italian recipe. It’s a small distinction, but an important one.

Because at some point the process of introducing an interpretation of someone else’s recipe can lead to an almost viral explosion upon a culture. And if the interpretation takes hold more firmly than the original recipe, then a cultural dissonance takes place.

There are many, many examples of this happening – Beans in Chili, Deep Dish Chicago Pizza, about 90% of Chinese food found in America, sushi rolls – all of them are copies of other recipes and cuisines. Some of them stand out on their own, others not so much.

Now I have no problem with Chicago Pizza and California rolls. But to me, these simply derivations of Neapolitan Pizza and nori. And yes, Neapolitan Pizza is likely a derivation of some other flatbread meal from the Mediterranean.

But how many changes have to take place before an original recipe loses it’s core essence? How much has to be added or removed before Pad Thai ceases to be Pad Thai or Chili ceases to be Chili? Are there acceptable replacement ingredients? If so what are they?

These questions lead to larger, philosophical questions, so I’m not going to try to answer them in a simple blog post. But the idea of recipe purity is important, especially when one tries to be cognizant of the culture from which it comes.

So yeah, don’t put shitake mushrooms in Pad Thai, nor should one put kidney beans in Chili, nor cream in Carbonara. Well, you can put that stuff in those recipes – but then they’ll cease to be Pad Thai, Chili, or Carbonara.