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Sometimes authenticity doesn’t matter

There is truly nothing quite like an authentic Mexican mole sauce. Just the right balance of flavors, with the chocolate flavors intermingled with the peppers and other spices; some serious kick to it without being overwhelming so you can just sit there and savor every mouthful without rushing it down. But what really sets it apart is the complexity: the way the various flavors combine and feed off of each other. The flavor complexity comes from simmering the sauce for many hours — ideally, two or three days.

In traditional Mexican households, making dinner is an all-day affair, starting early in the morning. The result is amazing. But the investment is huge; it’s like making Thanksgiving dinner every day.

Just because I have enormous respect for the work and care that goes into making authentic Mexican cuisine doesn’t mean I’m going to try to replicate it, other than for special occasions. Beyond the workload, there are other practical considerations: outside of cities and towns with large Hispanic populations, it may be very difficult to find all of the fresh ingredients required — or even the non-perishable ones (though Amazon helps a lot with that part).

These same problems can exist for other regional cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Ethiopian, etc. Especially issues sourcing ingredients.

If you’re going out to eat, it’s well worth the trouble to scout out restaurants that serve authentic regional cuisines. But within the confines of your own home, between yourself, your family and your friends, it really doesn’t matter if what you serve is truly authentic, as long as it tastes good. In fact, there are often benefits to rolling your own recipe (beyond just saving time): making ingredient substitutions to address food intolerances or allergies; reducing the spiciness level for people (especially kids) with lower tolerances; adjusting flavors or textures for picky eaters, in the beginning at the very least to gently introduce them to new cuisines.

Sometimes I decide that I like the authentic version of a dish, but I’d like it better without one particular ingredient that I just truly dislike in anything (like avocado or Brussels sprouts — don’t @ me).

My house, my rules, my menu. I’ve got a bunch of recipes in my regular dinner-table rotation that are based in cuisines from around the world, but that I’ve adapted along the way and that I still experiment with. They’re tasty; I like them, my friends and family like them. They are not “authentic.” But I don’t care, and it doesn’t matter. I have an authentic mole sauce recipe that I learned in a cooking class; I’ve made it a few times, and it’s extraordinary. But it has an incredibly long and precise ingredient list, and it takes all day to make it. I also have a “quick and dirty” mole sauce recipe that I picked up from the back of a package of spices and improved from there; I can cook it in about an hour and a half and my family loves it. I make it all the time; I just don’t claim that it’s “authentic.”

We can both have respect for cultures and cuisines of the world, and also cook things at home that we love to eat that fit within the practical limitations of everyday home cooking. If you and your family love eating the things you cook, then they are authentically yours.

This week I’m going to be highlighting some examples of great “non-authentic” dishes that you can make and adapt at home, ones that aren’t hard to make but add some diversity to your menu. Starting with chicken katsu.

Peace, love, and biscuits,

Kevin

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