General Discussion

Adapting to local taste versus "dumbing down."


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General Discussion 88

Adapting to local taste versus "dumbing down."

monkeyrotica | Mar 23, 2010 04:23 AM

Lots of threads discuss which "x" is the most authentic and decry how a cuisine gets dumbed down to suit the tastes of the locals who clearly can't appreciate the "real deal." I have to wonder how long a business serving the "real deal" would last if the locals didn't want to eat it? Case in point: Japanese curry. I like it and I also like Indian currys, but they're totally different flavor profiles suited to their particular customers. Do Indians in Japan think Japanese curry is "dumbed down" to suit the locals? Do Italians from Naples deride NY/Chicago pizzas as "dumbed down" versions of their own "real deal?" I stopped at a Jamaican carryout (because it was the only place open at 10:30am), picked up some stewed oxtails and jerk chicken. Most of my experiences with jerk have been that it's usually too hot to suit my tastes, but at this place, the heat didn't overpower the other spices, which I found subtle but distinct. Did they "dumb down" the heat for their American customers?

That's not to say all cuilinary adaptation is good. I like a nice plate of American Chinese carryout, but it seems most places just drown stuff in that gooey, sickly sweet sauce. It wasn't always like that; perhaps American tastes have gotten used to massive amounts of HFCS, like they have towards obscene amounts of salt in canned soups. Or maybe it's just cheaper. Anyway, it seems to me that as food migrates, techniques and ingredients evolve depending on who's doing the cooking and who's doing the eating. Sushi, which started in China as a way to preserve fish with layers of salt and rice, migrated to Japan, where instead of throwing the rice away, they ate it because the rice took on the sour flavor of fermentation. Eventually, the preservation aspect disappeared and the raw rice was replaced by cooked rice that was flavored with vinegar. When sushi came to America, non-Japanese ingredients like avocados were added. Would Chinese from a thousand years ago say the Japanese had "dumbed down" their food? Do Japanese think Americans have "dumbed down" theirs?

I read a thread asking for authentic Japanese food in DC. The usual restaurants were mentioned and the usual commentary commenced from people who've lived in Japan, stating unequivocally that Restaurant "X" is mediocre compared to what they serve in Japan. I wasn't so much taken aback by the news flash that Japanese food is better in Japan so much as the implication that authentic food which you can't eat is somehow better than "dumbed down" food that might actually taste good yet misses the nebulous target of "authenticity." I guess my question is: at what point do you stop fetishizing authenticity and start enjoying your meal for what it is?

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