Pockets of Authenticity
Highways are overrated. Yes, they can whiz you around from point A to point B, but you miss everything in between. As I have been trying to learn more about the region I have called home for the better part of the last three years, I have avoided taking the highways as much as possible.
So several months ago I was traveling to our sister city to the west, Schenectady, and I took city streets to get there. Specifically I took Central Avenue, which turns into State Street, and also goes by the less charming name of Route 5.
As I was driving I passed a sign that said Flores Family Restaurant. And on the building behind the sign was another sign. That sign said Pupusas.
I attempted to go there for lunch with Albany Jane one weekday, but it turns out that most days they are only open for dinner. If you want authentic Peruvian and Salvadorian food for lunch you have to show up on Sunday.
So that is what I recently did. You can read my review of the place on Yelp.
Suffice it to say that I love the place. And while I have been accused of only focusing on food, at the expense of all other considerations, I’d like to point to this as an example of where that isn’t entirely true. I love the place more than I should given the quality of the food. I’ve had better. But this place is authentic. It’s the real deal. And it’s in Schenectady.
Authenticity gets huge bonus points in my book. But I think I define it a bit differently than other people. I was having this discussion with Anonymous on DelSo on the subject of authenticity. That mysterious person claims a place is authentic if it is “not [a] chain or super-Americanized.”
For me authentic ethnic foods ideally satisfy one or two of the following criteria:
1) The restaurant is cooking the food of its people for its people.
2) The food reflects a specific regional style from the country.
The second one is a lot harder to find, but that just makes those restaurants that much more special.
I don’t want them to be Americanized at all. I’m perfectly happy being treated like an interloper in my quest for authentic food. Getting even lightly Americanized versions of dishes is the gustatory equivalent of being spoken to like a child.
Boneless meat is a perfect example of this. American diners eschew bones. I say give me the bones; give me the flavor. Keep the goat on the menu. Give me some tendon, and maybe a plate of tripe. Cold diced bone-in rabbit with chili oil? Yes, please.
Maybe I won’t love all of it. Maybe I will. But let me try, and let me decide.
Now if I could find a good Szechuan place, or somebody who is making hand-pulled noodles, or a carnitas torta, or a Hawaiian barbecue. But I’m pretty sure we don’t even have a French bistro here that actually serves French bistro food.
I think I need to start trying to wrap my head around the comment from AddiesDad. He may be on to something, but I still just don’t get it. Maybe you can help me understand this better.