Authenticity? Why can’t we just call it “food?”

The whole issue of authenticity with regard to Japanese food baffles me.

In particular, I think it’s very important to note the difference between something that is authentic and something that is quality. Sushi produced from fresh fish and rice with a smear of cream cheese might be high quality and displayed very smartly, but that doesn’t make it authentic Japanese-style sushi (the cream cheese does it in). It seems that a lot of restaurant owners would support the idea of authentication certificates…but only as a way to up their prices because they’re selling “the real thing.” People think that because sushi is presented authentically, it must be great. Granted, traditional Japanese sushi chefs pride themselves on using the freshest and best quality ingredients (so there, quality = authentic)…but here in America, there is far less emphasis on the stylistic and cultural elements of sushi preparation and display. As Lauren mentioned, subtle details as the temperature of sashimi can make or break a meal — and these details are so often overlooked here (hence the reason we get freezing cold sashimi presented haphazardly on a plain plate). Shi-shi restaurants mark up their sushi prices because they serve it on a pretty plate with lots of garnish and colorful add-ins…it’s probably better to look at than consume. Kappabashi models, anyone? But as Miho said, when people go to Chinatown, they seem to understand that what they order isn’t exactly what they would eat if they went to China, taking available ingredients and regional variations into account. So why don’t critics do this when they rate Japanese food?

Another issue Lauren brought up in class is the image of food. Why would people prefer to eat at a classy Japanese restaurant over an equally nice Korean restaurant? What is it about food image and culture that draws people to certain dishes? Tiffany mentioned that sushi is a “hot” food (the kind of thing healthy and publicly visible young people are eating…think Laguna Beach), which draws communities of young people to it. But does it have something to do with price and image (i.e. the it’s expensive so it must be good phenomenon), or does it have more to do with ingredients and cooking styles (sushi is probably a lot better for you than spicy pickled cabbage)?

I’m still up in the air on the issue of food authenticity, though I do think public image and globalization have a lot to do with changes and “advances” in food culture (i.e. food fusion). Happy eating!

– Jorie


3 Responses to Authenticity? Why can’t we just call it “food?”

  1. naesung says:

    I could post this as a response to anyone, but I’m here now… why is sushi considered a healthy food? I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but high levels of mercury in fish is really bad for you. Health is also a relative concept, e.g. the huge concern over calorie intake some years ago, even though it’s not really a big deal.

  2. tomomi says:

    Why is sushi considered a healthy food? And the other question posed in class- why has Japanese food become “high class” compared to other food? – They are both interesting questions! Also, why sushi (in Tokyo-style) became the epitome of “Japnaese food” in the US?
    Mercury, of course. And by eating sushi, you end up eating lots of fish, but not much veggie.. Is it a balanced diet? “Japanese food as healthy” notion might come from the image that it’s less fatty, with less calories…but tempura, for example, is a deep-fried dish. Tonkatsu is not healthy either. And Japanese food tend to contain lots of salt… and list can continue.

  3. tomomi says:

    This site operated by a vinegar company has some photo images of the varieties of regional sushi in Japan. (click differently colored district on the map, and you can see the images of various kinds of sushi.)

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