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Whose Dhansak? Food and Authenticity

While there is a shared understanding [about what constitutes a particular dish], that isn’t absolute compliance. If we had to argue that there is only one way to make a dhansak, then whose dhansak would we use to judge the others by?

Antoine Lewis – The Myth of Authenticity in Food Culture (TED talk)

How far back does a dish have to go to claim authenticity? Twenty years? Fifty? A century or two? Longer?

A decade doesn’t seem nearly long enough, but go back a few hundred years in search of authenticity and you end up with Thai and Indian* food with no chillies, Italian* food with no tomatoes, and European foods without potatoes (thanks, Americas).

Ramen was essentially imported to Japan from China. Pho originated in North Vietnam (there’s a bit of controversy about this) in part due to the influence of the French. Before the mid-1800s there was very little cassava on Java. And we’ve talked before about pizza.

There’s a lot more to say – a choose-your-own-adventure of culinary derivation – and no need to say it.

Styles of food exist. Authenticity doesn’t.

You (and your culture) are what you eat.

*Of course, go back a few hundred years and you didn’t have India or Italy either.

See also:

Cultural Hybridity, Fast and Slow
Zen Hae on cross-pollination, imitation and innovation in Indonesian Peranakan literature
Choose What You Want (on the ‘authentic’ watermelon, hybridity and selective breeding)
Hybrids (1) (John Stuart Mill on diversity)
Hybrids (2): combinations and connections (Tim O’Reilly on Combinatorial Innovation)
Hybrids (3): when ideas breed (Kevin Kelly on Combinatorial Innovation)
Matt Ridley: 15 principles of innovation from “How Innovation Works”
Tom Peters: “What Diversity Problem?”
Technology (16): Clustering Technologies, Clustering People (v2)
Seth Godin on authenticity

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...