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Friday Food Blogging May 22, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink.
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Authenticity matters, to some degree, when sampling ethnic foods. (Why it matters is difficult to understand—perhaps the topic of a future post.)

I’m not a big fan of it , but I’ve always wondered where the ubiquitous Sriracha sauce comes from—that sweet, garlickly, hot, red sauce in a bottle with the rooster on it. You can find it in Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese restaurants. I’ve seen in in Korean and Japanese restaurants as well.

It turns out it is as American as catsup.

John Edge in the New York Times interviews Sriracha’s creator, David Tran:

I made this sauce for the Asian community,” Mr. Tran said one recent afternoon, seated at headquarters, near a rooster-shaped crystal sculpture.

I knew, after the Vietnamese resettled here, that they would want their hot sauce for their pho,” a beef broth and noodle soup that is a de facto national dish of Vietnam. “But I wanted something that I could sell to more than just the Vietnamese,” he continued.

After I came to America, after I came to Los Angeles, I remember seeing Heinz 57 ketchup and thinking: ‘The 1984 Olympics are coming. How about I come up with a Tran 84, something I can sell to everyone?’ ”

What Mr. Tran developed in Los Angeles in the early 1980s was his own take on a traditional Asian chili sauce. In Sriracha, a town in Chonburi Province, Thailand, where homemade chili pastes are favored, natives do not recognize Mr. Tran’s purée as their own. 

I knew there was a reason I don’t much care for it—it is not authentic. But why do I care about authenticity?

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1. Paul Moloney - May 23, 2009

Speaking of authentic ethnic foods, I made the presumption that the waiter at the Alexis Greek Cafe, on 5th Avenue in Hillcrest, was an authentic Greek. Because of that, I thought about making a quip about how Plato had recommended the place to me. When I told Tamar of my idea, she told me that she thought she had heard him speaking Spanish. I now realize that the waiter could have been Greek, Hispanic, Italian or of some other nationality. A non-Greek waiter definitely does not make Greek food less authentic. I never did see the cook, but one wonders to whom the waiter was talking to in Spanish. I would probably never know the difference between inauthentic and authentic Greek food, so I would probably never care. It does seem that foods are undergoing a change because of an evolution in taste. Different ethnic foods can be combined. Some of us put Mexican hot sauce on foods that are not Mexican.

The Greek beer at Alexis was excellent. It seemed to be authentic according to the information on the bottle. The stop at Alexis capped our trip to the two used book stores on 5th Avenue. I bought “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “Introducing Time” by Callender and Edney. Callender is an assistant professor of philosophy UCSD. At the other store I bought a biography of William James, though I usually veer away from biographical information about philosophers.

I must admit that I bought Dawkins’ book because I thought he was a handsome looking fellow. For some reason I seem to think that handsome fellows are intelligent.

In “Introducing Time”, Callender talked of notions of time with which I was not familiar. The space-time concept of scientists seems to be a different kind of time from the more classical notion of time. The book definitely gave me much food for thought.

It was a real treat to end up at Alexis after shopping for philosophy books. Whether Socrates, Plato and Aristotle ate the same kind of hummus and pita bread that I did, I’ll probably never know. It may be that they did not even eat hummus and pita bread back then. Anyway, it does seem that eating the same kind of food as others can give one a sense of solidarity.


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