DCentric » Fusion food http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU In Your Words: the Importance of Authenticity in Food http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/in-your-words-the-importance-of-authenticity-in-food/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/in-your-words-the-importance-of-authenticity-in-food/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2011 17:05:15 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9075 Continue reading ]]> Our post on what makes a restaurant authentic posed a question: does the authenticity of food matter to you? The responses so far indicate that no, as long as the food tastes good.

Bardia Ferdowski, an Iranian immigrant who opened a Cajun restaurant in Adams Morgan, was quoted in the original post as saying what matters the most is that “the food is good and comes from the heart.” Commenter rmpmcdermott agreed, writing:

“If you care enough about the food and the tradition and you study the culture and the reasons behind the food then you can make great food from any culture outside of your own. It’s all about respect to me. Respect for the culture. Respect for the ingredients. In fact I’ve had Italian food cooked by non-Italians who really cared about the food and it was way better than food I’ve had by Italians who clearly didn’t care.”

Houston Press food blog Eating Our Words weighed into the debate tweeting that “the concept of ‘authenticity’ is such a nebulous thing to define, much less capture.”

@ And often, it's those cross-pollinated, inauthentic dishes that end up standing the test of time & becoming their own cuisine.
Eating Our Words

Even the best efforts of old country-trained chefs may be thwarted; some dishes can never be replicated due to differences in available ingredients, writes commenter lacrisha jones: “I think the only way to get ‘authentic’ cuisine is to go to the place where it actually comes from. The water, soil, grass and air all make a food what it is, and those elements can’t be transported somewhere else.”

Jason Lam / Flickr

Dishes like gumbo arose out of cultural fusions.

Beware of restaurants that bill themselves as “authentic” in their advertising, writes Nandalal Nagalingam Rasiah, who “automatically distrusts” such establishments: “I find the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ far more useful.  There is a pizza place that serves 100% authentic Neapolitan pizza in my town but I 100% dislike Neapolitan pizza and thus it is ‘bad.’”

We also asked whether authenticity in cuisine was even desirable. Commenter Cob writes sometimes it is, but “mostly though, I want life to be fun and creative, and creativity inherently involves change and innovation:”

at home, i combine irish cooking with indian cooking. i mix my sense of mexican with thai. all the time. too many fun and delicious results occur and we lose out when we don’t mix things. creole is a prime example of why mixing is fantastic. creating Creole is all about throwing away authenticity. italian food wouldn’t be italian food if they hadn’t tossed away authenticity when marco polo got back.

All of this leads us to ask: does anyone take issue with the authenticity of the food they eat? If so, weigh in below.


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Home Cooking: Middle Eastern Italian Food http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/homecooking-middle-eastern-italian-food/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/homecooking-middle-eastern-italian-food/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2011 15:59:11 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9035 Continue reading ]]>

Josh / Flickr

Does it matter if the tomato sauce recipe was developed by an Italian?

Friday’s post “What Makes a Restaurant Authentic?“, in which I interviewed chefs hailing from countries other than the cuisine they prepare, held a particular resonance with me. I’m Iranian-American, and my family owns an Italian restaurant.

How in the world did that happen? Not much differently than it happened for the other restaurant proprietors I profiled: my father arrived in the U.S., put himself through school by working at Italian-owned restaurants and he paid attention to what worked and what didn’t. He developed his own sauce recipe and, taking a risk, opened his own restaurant.

Growing up, many people assumed we were Italian, particularly since there weren’t many Iranians in our fairly homogenous community. Sometimes we’d joke that my grandmother was part-Italian, or that my father had flown over Italy and that counts for something. Some customers, among them Italians, would tell us how the food reminded them of restaurants in Little Italy or Italy itself.

Stephen Howard / Flickr

Traditional Persian rice with tadeeq.

In our home, my mother’s Persian cooking reigned supreme. But sometimes we’d eat white pizza and eggplant parmigiana from our restaurant, which was also home cooking. At large family get-togethers, we served traditional Persian dishes alongside baked ziti.

Anyone who’s grown up in a family restaurant knows that everything revolves around “the restaurant.” You have to cut vacations short, reply “no” to wedding invitations and drive through blizzards to make sure the kitchen pipes haven’t burst. But you’re also eternally grateful to the restaurant. It’s provided you a livelihood: shelter, food, and in my case, a college education. The loyalty I have to Italian food runs deep.

When many of us are feeling a bit nostalgic, we eat comfort food. It’s the food that reminds us we’re loved and a part of something bigger. In those moments, I eat kubideh, ghormeh sabzi or simply noon-o-paneer. But a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, made with my dad’s tomato sauce, works just as well. My people may not have been cooking pasta for centuries, but Italian food still feels like home.

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What Makes a Restaurant Authentic? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/what-makes-a-restaurant-authentic/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/what-makes-a-restaurant-authentic/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2011 13:00:43 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8850 Continue reading ]]> Hungarians preparing Japanese dishes; Koreans serving Eastern European fare; Salvadorans making kabobs –a number of D.C. chefs and restaurant owners serve cuisine from countries far from their motherlands. Some to great acclaim.

But is the food authentic? Does it even matter?

“There are two kinds of music: Good music, and the other kind.” – Duke Ellington
Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman answers with a Duke Ellington quote: “There are two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind.”

“Is it desirable [for food] to be authentic? It depends on who you ask,” Kliman says. “Some people say ‘Yes.’ Others say, ‘It doesn’t matter as long as the food is delicious.’”

Bardia Ferdowski opened Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe in Adams Morgan 19 years ago. The Iranian immigrant spent more than a decade working in Louisiana restaurants while attending college.

“We love the food,” diner Don Wilson says on a recent afternoon. “Bardia spent so much time in Louisiana… and he brought it all up here for us.” Wilson mentions photographs hanging in the restaurant of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a frequent patron. “That tells you a lot.”

“The cross-pollination almost makes it better,” adds Martina Vandenberg, another customer.

Some find the mix appealing, but the appearance of inauthenticity can hurt a business. Some diners post Yelp reviews with warnings such as, “This is not authentic Creole cuisine.” Other Louisiana natives love it.

Take D.C.’s Ethiopian restaurant scene, which has grown over the past decade, resulting in mostly non-Ethiopian customers. “When it becomes a crossover hit, and becomes really popular with non-Ethiopians, it begins to look like an ‘inauthentic’ place” to some people, Kliman says.

Where’s the chef from?

Bardia Ferdowski came to Louisiana from Iran to attend college. He worked at Cajun restaurants for a decade before opening up his own in D.C. Bardia's New Orleans Cafe has been open in Adams Morgan for 19 years. Beignets are a popular dessert item at Bardia's New Orleans Cafe. Owner/chef Bardia Ferdowski says he creates them using his own recipe. Bardia Ferdowski takes empty plates from a couple dining in his Cajun restaurant. Ferdowski is an Iranian immigrant. Jose De Velasquez prepares a pizza at Moroni & Brothers. The Salvadoran immigrant spent years working at Pizzeria Paradiso before opening his own restaurant. Moroni & Brothers in Petworth has a menu that's half pizza, half Central American fare. Jeff Lindeblad eats a pizza with his two daughters at Moroni & Brothers. The Petworth resident typically orders pizza and quesadillas.

Ferdowski feels a special connection to Cajun food. He says the southern hospitality he experienced in Louisiana “was just like home.” And he’s heard it all — people have mistaken him for French, Creole and Russian.

“People are very curious because of my accent,” he says.

Unlike Bardia’s, with its Cajun-only menu, the owner/chef of Moroni & Brothers made his roots very clear: the menu is half pizza, half Central American fare. Salvadoran immigrant Jose De Velasquez worked at Pizzeria Paradiso for 15 years, leaving after he worked his way up to kitchen manager. He opened Moroni & Brothers four years ago in Petworth.

A wood-fire oven blazes in the back of the restaurant. Above it, a picture of De Velasquez making a pizza hangs on the wall, next to an ornament with “El Salvador” emblazoned on the front.

“The most important thing is to know how to combine the ingredients, and the dough recipe,” De Velasquez says in Spanish. “But we’re Salvadoran and we wanted something traditional. This is a good combination.”

At one table, a couple eats pupusas. At another, Jeff Lindeblad and his two daughters eat their usual meal: quesadillas and pizza. The menu “didn’t seem odd at all” on his first visit, Lindeblad says.

“Is it important to have someone from Italy make the pizza? No,” Lindeblad says. “And the pizza here is fantastic.”

Kitchen hierarchies

Moroni & Brothers is a classic example of how a kitchen worker can ascend heights to chef and restaurant owner. And the influx of Latinos in the area and in the service industry means Latinos are among those successfully climbing the ladder. Take Johnny Kabob, a Salvadoran-owned Persian restaurant in Germantown. The owner started out as a dishwasher in a Persian restaurant. Now, he has Iranians telling him his food reminds them of their mothers’ cooking.

“Most of the people doing the cooking in the kitchens, at least in this city and many big cities in the Northeast, they’re Latino,” Kliman says. “It’s one of these things where if you look at it from the outside, you’d say, ‘These people should get much more credit. They’re doing the hard work, the chef is there, a high profile chef who is getting a lot of credit.’ But the reality is the kitchen is [the chef's] vision, and that’s kind of the way it’s always been.”

It’s the same master-apprentice model that’s been practiced for hundreds of years, Kliman says. But even though the original masters may have shared a homeland with the cuisine they’re preparing, now a new crop of masters don’t have a country in common with the food they love and serve.

“If [the food] is good and it comes from the heart,” says Ferdowski, “that’s what matters.”

Your turn: How important is authenticity in a restaurant? How do you judge a restaurant’s authenticity? Let us know in the comments below – and we wouldn’t mind a D.C. restaurant recommendation if you’ve got one.

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D.C. Fusions: Pork Belly Doughnut http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/05/d-c-fusions-pork-belly-doughnut/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/05/d-c-fusions-pork-belly-doughnut/#comments Thu, 19 May 2011 15:43:33 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7175 Continue reading ]]> Sister blog Multi-American‘s series on unsung ethnic food delicacies has left me thinking: Sure, D.C. may have plenty of the kitfo mentioned, but this is also the city where cultures and worlds collide. What about fusions?

Courtesy of Seannie Cameras/One Vision Productions

Try pork belly meat, sandwiched between two glazed doughnut buns.

Enter the pork belly doughnut, which will debut this weekend at U Street Music Hall. Pork belly is common fare in many Asian cuisines, and its popularity in the U.S. is growing. And doughnuts, well, Homer Simpson, stereotypical cops, Krispy Kreme – need I say more? These two treats were brought together by Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang, the same man behind the pho dog. U Street Music Hall owner Jesse Tittsworth recalls on his blog what he thought when Bruner-Yang first presented him with the pork belly doughnut:

“I already know this sounds like the most bizarre combination on the face of the planet, but I’m fairly certain I fell in love at first glance…. The pork was deliciously fatty, perfectly seasoned, tender and the saltiness was beyond amicable with the sweet, crisp outer shell of the grilled [doughnut].”

Alright D.C., the challenge is on: can you think of a more unusual, yet delicious, fusion than the pork belly doughnut? Let us know!

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