I really can’t stand when someone complains about the “Americanization” of food, because so often, that’s used as the sole justification for why it’s not good. Inauthentic is not always synonymous with bad, and Americanization is being used as a blanket term for something as simple as catering food for regional tastes.
I’ve seen it a lot with regards to Italian food. While I personally may find some aspects of the traditional Italian more appealing than I do Italian American, I think it’s important to remember that food in America is very different from food anywhere else, because the restaurants have been built by immigrants. Oftentimes, the food can be classified as authentic – it’s just become something entirely different than what it was originally. Italian American food is now something that has Italian roots, but is distinctly American, and something good. Thick, rich, deeply flavourful tomato sauce that’s been cooked for a long time and smells amazing? That’s not traditional, but it’s delicious. Authenticity isn’t always better. It may not even exist at all – how could it, when today, everyone all over the world has easy access to ingredients and cooking methods that didn’t even exist a hundred years ago?
Some of my favourite things to cook are hearty, tomato based pasta sauces. I don’t like chunks of tomato – I really am not a fan of raw tomatoes at all – but I love the taste of them when they’re roasted or slow cooked. So a tomato sauce with garlic, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a tiny bit of cream? Sign me up.
Something I find strange though is that people tend to complain about the Americanization of European food more than anything else. Tex Mex is pretty universally acknowledged to be its own thing separate from traditional Mexican. A lot of Asian foods are never seen outside of whatever country they come from. In the US, there’s a narrow range of foods from non-European countries that’s considered acceptable and worth eating.
Indian food sold in American restaurants is heavy and rich, based on the dishes commonly served in the north of India. It’s not even close to representing the entire range of Indian cuisine, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m Indian. I like traditional Indian food. My mother’s family is Tamilian, and that type of food is something that you can find in Toronto and New York and a few other major cities, but very few places aside from that in North America. I also enjoy the standard fare served in just about every Indian restaurant in the country that no one ever complains about being inauthentic, despite it being so. Would it be nice if more authentic food was available? Sure. But not everything has to be authentic to be tasty.
This fixation on authenticity only in regards to certain cuisines ties into the idea that cuisines such as French and Italian are somehow intrinsically superior to foods from other parts of the world. I’m not a fan of French food. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with French food or that it’s not good, it’s just not to my personal tastes. I like Italian food, I do. But I don’t find Italian better than, say, Thai or Lebanese. I think it’s ludicrous to claim that Italian or French cuisine requires more skill or effort than dishes from other parts of the world, and in fact, it’s demonstrably false. There’s nothing special about authentic Italian that isn’t also true about authentic food of any culture. Food can and should evolve because of new tastes, to use new ingredients, or even from just experimentation and trying something different. It’s both pretentious and ridiculous to never stray from a set of recipes that have been declared authentic just because anything else would be inauthentic. Italian food purists don’t recognize that.
This double standard extends to the cost of food as well. We still view food from non-Western cultures as inherently inferior, as something that, while tasty, isn’t worth a lot of money or time. They’re considered poor countries, meaning that the food should be cheap. I’m thinking about things like small Vietnamese restaurants – no matter how much effort each dish takes, people get upset and call it overpriced if a meal is more than, like, ten dollars, even if it is a large amount of delicious food. These same people don’t bat an eye at paying the same amount for a meal at Panera, despite none of what’s offered there being remotely difficult to prepare at home.
Food is amazing. There’s so much to enjoy about it, no matter where what you’re eating comes from. But it becomes much, much more enjoyable when you let go of the idea of doing it “right”, and instead focus on what tastes good.