dimanche 3 novembre 2013

On authenticity

So, after my grizzling that I can’t get the authentic biscuits to make my legendary tiramisu just the same as I learned in a Florentine basement kitchen twenty years ago, here I am with a box of Linguine di Gatto... The first I have held in a decade.  I would love to claim that a devoted Italian reader had sent them, but a friend went there and brought them back... I must bang on about their availability quite a lot. Perhaps too much. Anyway...

This got me thinking a bit; is the result made with these really going to be that much better? And will anyone else know? I mean, wouldn’t someone else eating the desert have to have had the same experience as me to recognise the difference?

There are lots of good ways to prepare spaghetti carbonara. I have been going to an Italian restaurant in England my whole life, and theirs is delicious; just nothing like anything I have ever had in Italy, but I have been loving it since I was a kid.  I like to make it too, in a variety of ways. Every now and again I’ll get some Pecorino, which is the authentic cheese, and I have to admit, it is different, better even.  The cheese taste is more astringent than with Parmesan, contrasting more with the eggs perhaps. There’s definitely a smug satisfaction from doing the  classics properly, and of course, they are classics because people like to eat them, so they must be delicious.

So here are my musings. In one sense the pursuit of authenticity in recipes is akin to nostalgia, that warm cuddly feeling of comfort and memories. There is that community aspect to this as well, not just the personal memory. Cooking in tradition connects you with all those who have eaten this way before and maybe even the cultures the food comes from. Much like the shared consciousness we get from books and arts.

Unfortunately, like so much with food, authenticity also fuels the showing off. Now I’m not against a bit of showing off now and again, as you might have noticed, but ever insisting that dishes must only be made one way, or ingredients can only be prepared one way, well that’s likely to be rather boorish and result in very dull dinner parties.

Italy is the best, and the worst, place for this.  On the one hand, that people eat regionally and are happy to have a massive rumble about whether thin and crispy Roman or Neapolitan pie is the real pizza is a proper joy.  As an outsider, I can enjoy the endless variety, but thank heavens we’re not so set in our ways here. We may always be tourists as far as food is concerned, but that means a lot more variety, and if you want to make Bolognese with spaghetti, you go right ahead. Just don’t tell anyone from Bologna.

Toby, Hampshire, July 31st

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