General Discussion

Authenticity of Tortilla (and, in general, of older ways)


General Discussion 20

Authenticity of Tortilla (and, in general, of older ways)

Jim Leff | Sep 7, 2000 06:06 PM

We were discussing, on Site Talk, the issue of the authenticity of tortilla espanola (the spanish omelet) in terms of its NOT being cooked in cast iron over there. I had said that Spaniards use nonstick, and it was pointed out, intelligently enough, that people must've used SOMETHING before nonstick.

Simple answer: yes, it's true. but nonstick works better. helps you flip the omelet. keeps it (duh) from sticking. etc etc. so as soon as the new technology came around, everyone switched to nonstick and tortillas are better than ever, and there's a happy ending. There are no advantages to doing it in cast iron, and if you're trying to emulate the way tortilla tastes over there (which is, by the way, one of my very favorite foods on earth), nonstick is the pretty much universal choice (there are exceptions...there are exceptions to EVERYTHING!).

But if I may digress, there's a wrinkle that can come up in discussions of authenticity (doesn't apply to tortilla, because the change in that case was clear improvement).

I once told a Jamaican friend that I was looking for jerk chicken cooked the GOOD way, over a fire in an oil can. He got very angry with me, said that the only reason they were cooked in oil cans back home was because nobody could afford ovens, that anyone with an oven did it that way, and anyone who'd ever HAD an oven would have, too....and that my gringo obsession with
"authenticity" was, essentially, a proposal to keep his people barefoot and impoverished for my touristic pleasure. That authentic is as people do, and oven jerk chicken has become a standard for everyone who'd bought an oven.

Obviously, my eyes bulged out of my head and I was speechless. For about a week.

I mean, I could cling to a truth: jerk chicken really does taste better (as a general rule) when cooked over fire than in an oven...I'm not sure that's even an arguable point. And my intuitive tendency is to try to filter out all the sociological/historical/economic issues and pursue my goal of pure deliciousness.

But his stinging criticism has stuck with me, and I must confess I'm still a bit confused. I haven't worked the issues out yet.

Opinions? (yes, I do realize that there are Jamaicans who do own ovens who nonetheless make their jerk over fire, but that doesn't totally eliminate the sting of his argument).


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