Is authenticity xenophobic?

My favourite Mexican cookbook is Marilyn Tausend’s Cocina De La Familia because it is not devoutly Mexican. Tausend isn’t Mexican and collated her recipes from interviews with home cooks across America rather than in Mexico. Recipes come with the location that they were collected and the Mexican state where the recipe or cook originated. It captures the evanescent nature of immigrant food; the adaptations and innovation required from living somewhere other than home and cooking for the eternally-shifting tastes of Americans that at some point in the past came from Mexico. It says “authentic” on the cover but it is an uneasy label for a book that documents a cuisine that has thoroughly changed from an imaginary state of origin south of the border.

I like it because it gives Mexican-Americans a huge amount of credit and agency for adapting traditional recipes. Cooking nachos is given equal importance to cooking a more traditional looking sopa. The emphasis is on delicious rather than time-honoured.

With the current flood of Mexican restaurants opening across Melbourne, the laziest way to deride them is decry their lack of authenticity, ticking off your personal list as to whether they serve corn smut or cabeza or whatever other edible markers of tradition apply, making an assiduous note of the ethnicity of the chef. As soon as that happens, you deny that food and culture are mutable, and shifts to accommodate the locals.

Recently, Gustavo Arellano took this up in an interview in the New York Times.

But he is wary of the many non-Mexicans who have anointed themselves as ambassadors for Mexican food in the United States, from Bertha Haffner-Ginger (who taught cooking classes at The Los Angeles Times in the early 20th century and wrote an influential and confusing cookbook called “California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book”) to more modern arbiters of taste like the British expatriate Diana Kennedy and the Chicago chef Rick Bayless.

For Mr. Arellano, non-Mexicans who glorify “authentic” Mexican cuisine, even with respectful intent, are engaging in a kind of xenophobia. “It’s a different way of keeping Mexican food separate, out of the American mainstream,” said Mr. Arellano, who calls Mexican-food purists “Baylessistas.”

Arrellano has excellent form – his now decade old column “Ask a Mexican” in the OC Weekly pokes into the recesses and excesses of Mexican-American culture, often to hilarious effect. To underline his idea of authenticity: he’s a man who takes a great deal of joy in what happens when you translate Vietnamese food for a Latino clientele rather than seeing it as a culinary abomination.

To Arrellano (and me), food is more interesting where cultures butt heads and I can’t imagine a situation more interesting than watching what happens in Melbourne where the previous culture of Mexican food that was wrapped up in the yellow box of an Old El Paso meal kit runs into the current one that seems to revere the taco truck of Roy Choi rather than the markets of Oaxaca.

How to food blog: breaking Food Buzz

I know that this is a little trite, but relearning how to play Javascript for the 4 Ingredients post has emboldened me to break Food Buzz, the giant “Web 2.0″ food blog content scraper. If you want to stop Food Buzz from using your content (but still retain the incoming links and traffic from Food Buzz), put the following bit of code between the <head> </head> tag on your blog.

<script type="text/javascript">

if (top.location!= self.location) {
top.location = self.location.href
}

</script>

This will redirect the framed Food Buzz pages back to your unframed site. For example, go to http://www.foodbuzz.com/blogs/kr/korea/960180-dosa-hut and you’ll be redirected.

Just as a small warning for Blogspot users: this affects the ability to edit the template on your blog. If you have any problems editing your template, turn off javascript in your web browser. Once you’ve finished editing, turn javascript back on.

The most useless kitchen item that I own

Ed from over at Tomatom has started an interesting thread on the least useful kitchen items that one owns. I tend to veer away from any single-use item – I wrote about this in Cambodia as a rare victory over acquisitiveness. Buying kitchen gear does not make you a better cook. Spend your hard-earned cash on better ingredients and travel.

Having been reunited with my lifetime collection of kitchen-related paraphernalia that had been in storage after returning from Cambodia, I realised that in the packing process, all of the useless items had already been discarded. I was a little horrified that I wasn’t horrified at the amount of crap that I own. That is except for one item that for some reason I can’t bear to throw away

tortilla press

This is the most useless kitchen device I own. It’s a Mexican tortilla press (tortilladora in Spanish), cast from iron. It weighs enough to be used to anchor a respectable dinghy. I’d like to spin a tale about how I picked it up from a little tortilleria in San Jose del Cabo on the Baja peninsula and carried it lovingly back to Australia but that would be a bald-faced lie.

Like much of my kitchen gear, I found it at the Savers thrift store on Sydney Road in Brunswick, Melbourne and was lucky enough to be one of the few people who knew what the hell it was. I think that I’ve used it less than ten times, simply because I rarely need to make more than about six tortillas in a single hit and by the time I get started rolling them flat with a rolling pin, I’ve forgotten that I own the damn thing.