Shophouse is an architectural style often seen in South East Asian cities and towns in which the business is at the street level and the family quarters are in the back or upstairs. Business and family are only separated by thin cement walls and inevitably the two realms mix creating a unique retail experience. The retail experience that we are interested in is the dining and eating experience. To us, Thai cuisine is all about eating among the cacophony of family, friends, strangers and whoever happens to be nearby.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Authenticity

authentic
I think the word "authenticity" is a good subject to start with, and will probably be touched on again and again. Authenticity is a sticky word and when the contentious word involves food and cuisine then it can divide families and can turn the greatest chef into a Gumby caricature.
I am all or nothing when it comes to authenticity. Either everything is authentic or none of it is. It brings me back to a conversation I once had with my former chef who stated that my mother's Pacific Northwest Vashon Island chili is just as authentic (or inauthentic) as his mother's Houston chili- a bold and open minded statement for a Texan.
authentic experience?
As the foodie revolution takes hold of the dining public, the media instills a belief that it is a badge of honor to eat only the "authentic." Tacos only from vans. Ethiopian with your hands. Pate on a zinc bar. The problem is if they try too hard to be authentic, then it becomes akin to Disneyland.
If your definition for authentic is, "exactly the same as where it comes from," then you will be set up for disappointment. No matter how hard a chef may try, ingredients are never the same as they were in the motherland. The galangal makes the curry paste too wet. The egg noodles smell like ammonia. Sure, you could fly it in, or make it, or grow it yourself, but will the customer want to pay for that? OK, maybe they will pay for house made egg noodles, but not prik kii noo chillies flown in on a plane.
grandma and greatgranddaughter -same same but different
So where does that leave Shophouse and I? I will avoid the word "authentic" and consider the soul and traditions of Thai cuisine. I call it "roots" food. I will not lie and say it is exactly the way it tastes back in the motherland, but rest assured it is delicious. It is delicious because I listened to my teachers who figured out how to cook before me, taught me traditional techniques and taught me about quality ingredients. Garlic and chillies smashed with a mortar and pestle. Chickens and pork that were happy in their former life. Freshly pressed coconut milk. Meats, chillies and eggplants cooked over charcoal. This is not food channeled through the Food Network or the Lonely Planet. This is food channeled through grandma.

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