The case (or lack thereof) for authenticity

As I stood gazing at the smorgasbord of options beckoning me from underneath garishly-lit lights (Lord, that sounds like the red light district of Amsterdam) a few weeks ago in the charmingly semi-outdated food court of Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke, something happened in me. Something that hasn’t happened for a while but I knew to be inevitable from time to time.

I had a craving for Manchu Wok.

I don’t know what it is about sweetly glazed fried chicken and oversteamed broccoli bits sauteed with beef in black pepper sauce (along with heaping mounds of fried rice) that appeals to me in such a periodic way. I generally am not too big a fan of this American-Canadian-Chinese food type, but once in a while a little switch is flicked inside my head, and I am compelled to head to the nearest Manchu Wok (or any of its equivalent) and chomp down some orange chicken.

Digressing a little, could you imagine if I could actually find out whose mystical finger flicked that switch to the ‘on’ position? It’d be a marketer’s paradise. Manchu Wok would give me millions. Panda Express would hunt my services down.

Anyway. As I proceeded to wolf down my meal (with WW looking at me, bemused that I could crave such monstrosities), I remembered what I’ve heard many people say about this establishment and others like it. “It’s not authentic Chinese food”, “How could they call THAT Chinese food”, or even “I’m Chinese so I’d be embarassed to be caught eating that stuff”. I then started to wonder, soy sauce slowly dribbling down my chin, why that is the case.

Some people even have said to me, knowing I’m a food blogger, something along the lines of “It’s not real”. Oh, well I guess I must’ve imagined that neon red sweet and sour sauce then. I guess that MAKES SENSE 😛

This is all a figment of your imagination, apparently.

Simply put: Why all the hate? Sure, these so-called Chinese food served in these places are practically unknown in China. And yes, it’s sad that the prevalence of this cuisine has reduced Chinese food in the eyes of many uninformed Westerners to fried stuff with sauce and rice. But it’s still GOOD. It’s not good FOOD, it’s not good FOR YOU, but it’s still good COMFORT food, in an Asianesque junky kind of way.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with proclaiming that you enjoy something that’s not authentic. Hell, most sushi restaurants in the GTA are made by Koreans and Hong Kong people. Does that make it unauthentic? Or how about the fact that almost every single person who knows how to make a half-decent Pad Thai claim that their restaurant serve Thai food?

As long as you don’t delude yourself into thinking that that big greasy plate of lemon chicken is authentically Chinese (FROM CHINA), there’s nothing to be ashamed of in liking it. Hell, Chinese food is, in my opinion, the single most ‘fused’ cuisine in the world. We have Indonesian-Chinese food, Singaporean-Chinese food, even Indian-Chinese food. And who could forget Chifa, the not-so-well-known-but-well-loved Peruvian-Chinese food. These are all legitimate cultural cuisines in their own right. So in a way, Manchu Wok, Panda Express, and the likes can be argued to be representatives of the North American equivalent of these cooking styles. It may not be authentic Chinese cuisine, but it’s authentic in an American/Canadian-Chinese cuisine perspective.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, kids.

Now gimme my fried seafood rangoons. Those things are scrumptious.

4 thoughts on “The case (or lack thereof) for authenticity

  1. fusion is so outdated in jakarta nowadays. everyone’s heading to “authenticity”. a japanese resto without a japanese manager behind the scene or real franchise from japan won’t sell. so are thai, french, korean etc. kinda surprising that canadians are still into fusion until now 🙂

  2. Pingback: Why Hakka does NOT exclusively mean Indian-Chinese | DKLoMakan

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