What is “Authentic”?

•February 25, 2015 • Comments Off

December 8, 2006

What is Authentic?

By Jack Jackson

The concept of “authentic” ethnic food has always been something of a challenge for me, and I’m guessing it is for the rest of you, too.  I mean, it’s been really, actually, authenticallychallenging me.  There are two main reasons why the concept bugs me: 1) everyone in town argues over where you can find the most authentic Mexican food, yet no one can give you a straight, authentic answer; 2) that surly curmudgeon gastrophile Richard Ripshaw recently railed on me for ordering General Tso’s/Tzo’s/Dzo’s/Dso’s Chicken from Golden Wok because he did research on the dish which showed that that particular entrée was created in New York’s Chinatown sometime in the 1970’s, whereupon he smugly ordered Szechuan Chicken, which his research had shown to be an authentic Szechuan dish with authentic Szechuan peppers.  I had no choice but to blithely applaud him for his excellent and authentic ordering skills.

What does “authentic” even mean?  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says “not false or imitation : REAL, ACTUAL.”  My Oxford Latin Dictionary says “authenticus” means “original.”  My Oxford Greek Dictionary says “authentikos” means “principal, authoritative.”  But none of those definitions really answers the more specific question of what “authentic” means in the world of ethnic cuisine.  What does it mean, after all, to say that a restaurant’s marinara sauce is the “original” or “real” or “actual” or “authoritative” marinara sauce?

In ethnic food, it seems that “original” is the closest meaning for “authentic.”  The question is often: “Was this cooked the same way, with the same ingredients, with the same tools, as the people of that culture originally (first) prepared the dish?”  Not only is that often an extremely difficult question to answer with any meaningful accuracy, but I think the answer should generally be “Who cares?”

In music, especially in Jazz, we applaud the artist who builds on the work of earlier artists.  We can enjoy the old Charlie Parker records, but John Coltrane offered us a more complicated and challenging sound.  Was Coltrane an inauthentic sax player?  Charlie Parker’s sound is like the first pizza in Italy during the Roman Empire: a flat round of dough slathered in olive oil, bay leaves, other herbs, and honey.  It was not until several centuries later—the Middle Ages—when water buffalo, whose milk is necessary for authentic mozzarella cheese, showed up on the scene.  The arrival of mozzarella on the scene was like the arrival of John Coltrane on the jazz scene.

Did the Italians kvetch that mozzarella cheese on their pizzas was not authentic and should not be allowed or at least denounced?  I do not know.  It would be silly if they did, and I still say, “Who cares?”  I think mozzarella cheese on pizza is a nice change, just like John Coltrane’s innovative chord progressions were a nice change for jazz.

But just you look out!  Because in the 1500’s another crazy thing happened to authentic Italian pizza: some dudes brought back tomato plants from the New World.  That’s kind of like when John Coltrane said to himself, I’m going to play a fifty-seven minute version of “My Favorite Things” in Japan and it’s going to be unlike any other version of that song done before.

I do not know what brave Italian pizza-meister first bucked the fierce conservative anti-tomato movement, but I am glad it happened, nonetheless.  He turned authentic Italian pizza into something I enjoy.

Now I know Mr. Ripshaw is going to be mad at me for writing this, but the last time I visited Chicago, we took some friends out to a nice authentic Neapolitan pizzeria.  Do you believe, I mean, can you believe, that they served us what they called authentic pizzas, but actually those so-called authentic pizzas had mozzarella and tomatoes on them?  I mean, where was the honey?  Where were the bay leaves?

At what point in the history of pizza do we or can we settle on a definition of what is “authentic?”  And don’t you all enjoy a nice slice of New York-Style Pizza?  What is Chicago-Style pizza?

What are authentic barbecue ribs in America?  What is authentic fried chicken?  How many definitions will you get around the country?

India, China, and Mexico are big countries.  How can any one restaurant provide a full panoply of totally authentic dishes, even if limited to a specific region?  Is anyone in New York’s Chinatown still serving authentic General Tso’s/Tzo’s/Dzo’s/Dso’s Chicken?

Who cares?

Golden statute

•February 22, 2015 • Comments Off

Bill Cosby thanked Eddie Murphy for refusing to impersonate him on the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special. Bill, that’s Just Nice. But imitation is the highest form of flattery. [Unless it’s making fun of rape allegations.–Eds.]

Neil Patrick Harris wants to beat Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie from the Oscars last year. Neil, Go Take a Nap! You should focus on hosting the Oscars, not increasing your social media footprint. [Everything is connected.–Eds.]

And Kirk Cameron won the Razzies for Worst Actor and Worst Picture for Saving Christmas. Kirk, that’s Quite Nice. Looks like you’re really hitting your groove. [Who will save Thanksgiving?–Eds.]


•February 15, 2015 • Comments Off

Christina Aguilera said she named her daughter Summer Rain because “summer is a time of spreading warmth and light, while rain washes away.” Christina, that’s Quite Nice. But Winter Sleet is a pretty cool name for your next kid. [Winter is a time of spreading cold and darkness, while sleet sticks and makes things slick.–Eds.]

Quincy Jones said Kanye West is just a rapper. Quincy, Go Take a Nap! Kanye is so much more than a rapper. He dances and he stands up for Beyonce! [We like Biz Markie.–Eds.]

Kanye West said he felt more angst than Paul McCartney while collaborating with him. Kanye, Go Take a Nap! Feeling angst isn’t a competition! [Unless it’s a competition.–Eds.]

And Eddie Murphy admitted the Beverly Hills Cop III was garbage. Eddie, Go Take a Nap! Nothing you do is garbage. I can’t wait for the fourth installment of Beverly Hills Cop. [We’ve actually had our fill.–Eds.]

Slipper flipper

•February 8, 2015 • Comments Off

Malaysia banned Fifty Shades of Grey because it’s sadistic. Malaysia, Go Take a Nap! The whole point of the movie is that it’s sadistic! [Bondage is the new black.–Eds.]

Mila Kunis said she’s sucked into the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and that they’re horrible. Mila, that’s Just Nice. We all have our own little guilty pleasures. [Ours is bondage.–Eds.]

Rihanna said Leonardo DiCaprio is flabbier than her usual lovers. Rihanna, Go Take a Nap! We can’t all be super-cut dudes. [But we would tie her up in a sexual way.–Eds.]

And Rosie O’Donnell said she left The View in part due to health issues. Rosie, that’s Quite Nice. Take care of yourself first, then you can help others. [We would not tie up Rosie in a sexual way.–Eds.]

Chili for the win

•February 1, 2015 • Comments Off

David Letterman supposedly asked Jay Leno to appear on the Late Show sometime last year but Jay said he never got the invitation. David, that’s Really Quite Nice. It would be a real treat to see you and Jay together to bury the hatchet. [Or maybe it’s a trap.–Eds.]

Justin Bieber made an apologetic video. Justin, that’s Just Nice. It’s probably not enough, though. [We want blood.–Eds.]

Phillip Phillips is trying to get out of his contract with 19 Entertainment which produces American Idol because he says it is oppressive. Phillip, Go Take a Nap! You knew what you were getting into when you signed up for tevee! A lifetime of fame and fortune! [We like his name, like if we were Editor Editors.–Eds.]

And Tom Brady said his feelings were hurt after he was accused of being involved with Deflategate. Tom, Go Take a Nap! Stop crying, put on your big-boy pants, and start grabbing some tighter balls! [We like the feel of a slightly deflated ball in our hands.–Eds.]

A Great Intoxication

•January 25, 2015 • Comments Off

George Lucas said that Disney didn’t want to use his ideas for the scripts for the next Star Wars movies. George, that’s Just Nice. They were a little heavy on the Jar-Jar, and there wasn’t enough romance. [We like just a little Jar-Jar.–Eds.]

George Lucas saw the early trailer for the seventh Star Wars movie, and he said it was intriguing. George, Go Take a Nap! You know you hate it because there’s not enough Jar-Jar! [There’s never enough Jar-Jar.–Eds.]

And Billy Crystal tried to clarify that when he said gay sex on tevee was a bit much for him, that he in fact meant to say any kind of sex on tevee is too much for him. Billy, Go Take a Nap! Sex is good, sex is great, and sex is better than masturbate! [We are drunk on love.–Eds.]

Je suis Jack

•January 18, 2015 • Comments Off

Katy Perry has been calling the Super Bowl the Puppy Bowl in order to minimize the pressure of her halftime show. Katy, Go Take a Nap! There’s nothing low-pressure about the Puppy Bowl! [She should call it the Kitty Half-time Show.–Eds.]

The New Orleans Jazz Festival will feature Elton John, The Who, No Doubt, and Tony Bennet with Lady Gaga. New Orleans Jazz Festival, Go Take a Nap! What, weren’t Stan Getz or Bill Evans available? [Um, no.–Eds.]

And George Lucas called the Oscars a political campaign after Selma was generally snubbed from the list of nominations. George, Go Take a Nap! Making movies is not a competition! [Unless it’s a competition.–Eds.]


•January 11, 2015 • Comments Off

Justin Bieber broke his foot playing soccer on vacation in Turks and Caicos. Bieber, Go Take a Nap! We can’t have you running around breaking your feet! You have a lot of singing and dancing to do. [Maybe Bono has some rehab advice?–Eds.]

Thousands have signed an online petition requesting TLC’s My Husband’s Not Gay, a show about Mormon men attracted to men but nonetheless married to women. TLC, Go Take a Nap! That’s such a misleading title! The show should be called My Husband Is Gay, Because He’s Attracted to Men. [They might be homoflexible.–Eds.]

And Jay-Z said that hip hop has done more for racial relations than most cultural icons, except for Martin Luther King, Jr. Jay-Z, that’s Just Nice. All we are saying, is give hip hop a chance. [We think screamocore has done quite a bit for society, too.–Eds.]

Qualification metrics

•January 4, 2015 • Comments Off

Bono said recovering from his cycling accident injuries has been more difficult than he originally thought, and that he isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to play guitar again. Bono, Go Take a Nap! So what if you can’t play guitar again?! You can always learn a new instrument, like the theremin! [Autoharp?–Eds.]

Arnold Schwarzenegger has told his son Patrick that he must stop dating Miley Cyrus or risk losing his $49million trust fund. Arnold, Go Take a Nap! You can’t threaten real love with loss of money! You’re just going to drive them closer and alienate them from you! [Hasn’t anyone seen Romeo and Juliet?–Eds.]

And Sylvester Stallone announced that the final Rambo movie will be called Rambo: Last Blood. Sylvester, that’s Just Nice. But First Blood: Last Rambo is a much, much better title. [What about Rambo 5: First Blood Part 3?–Eds.]


•December 29, 2014 • Comments Off

Rush Limbaugh said Idris Alba can’t play James Bond because James Bond is a white man from Scotland. Rush, Go Take a Nap! If we can have a black Annie, we can have a black James Bond. [Race is a social construct.–Eds.]

Forbes declared Adam Sandler the most overpaid actor for the second year in a row, earning only $3.20 for each $1.00 paid. Forbes, Go Take a Nap! Getting $3.20 for each $1.00 spent is a pretty good investment! That’s like spending $1.00 to get two cheap tacos, but instead you get 6.4 cheap tacos! [It’s Economics 101.–Eds.]

And otherwise-unknown Jess Smith announced she was the infant face of the sun for the Teletubbies. Jess, that’s Really Quite Nice. But I was hoping it was some kind of alien baby that glows like the sun. [We were hoping it was a visitor from another dimension.–Eds.]