Re:Interesting article about concept of ethnic foods
Mon, 03/28/11 11:21 AM
Something tasting "Good" is an interesting SUBJECTIVE notion. It could be very individual, specific to a person. Or, it could be something social and cultural, constantly reinforced from early on in life by repeated consumption and by social cues, e.g. friends & family loving it and expressing appreciation.
We have seen films of the Inuit sitting around as a loving family group, affectionately sharing chunks of raw, freshly hunted seal, salmon or narwhal. We might have felt repulsed at the sight of so much raw flesh, but steak tartare, Ethiopian kitfo, and expensive sashimi [fish, chicken, whale] are mere variants of the same idea, dressed up with some external sophistication.
Members of the same family may like or dislike a particular food, say beets, liver or tripe, throwing the concept of "GOOD" into another interesting realm of subjectivity beyond argument. "Good" tasting to whom?
This is not an academic discussion for me, because I do serious research and writing on the cuisine of the Rarh gentry, between 1860-1970. This is a group of people living in West Bengal, India, who have contributed a lot to the world in many many ways, perhaps unbeknownst to our RoadFood buddies.
Be that as it may, between 1960-1980, almost 80% of their cuisine became extinct, a cuisine of great sophistcation and delicacy. It required not just a great many years of training but an unspoiled rural hinterland dotted with woodland, wetland, forest and rivers to provide the many vegetables, fruit and wild produce necessary for its foodways.
Most importantly, it required palates attuned to the tastes and flavors of these wild vegetables, plants of the woodlands, the small fish of the rivers. You had to work on your plate to extract & enjoy the full range of flavors. For example, today, most native-born households in the USA prefer boneless beef or boneless meat without gristle and fat; fish fillets without bones or skin, and larger fish over the tiny. Similarly, with modernization, the proprtion of people willing to negotiate "messy" or "difficult" objects on their plates begins to fall.
Even when eating crabs, crayfish or lobsters, I am astonished at how gingerly "modern" people anywhere pick at these shellfish, compared to how they would be consumed in earlier times. Is this an example of the modern expression of "good"? Did our older generations get more value & taste by thoroughly crushing the claws with their teeth and sucking out every last bit of juice and flavor? You would not see bits of claws, except the pincers, but chewed crushed masses of shell! Fish heads, fish frames, too! Bring 'em on!
This question of Good vs. Authentic leaves me bemused as I struggle with the issues of massive, rapid cultural extinction. While culture continuously evolves and changes, and none more so than the foodways of a community, extraordinary rapid change, within half a generation throw up the question of AUTHENTICITY in various perspectives not generally considered.