Looking back at my pre-restaurant experience, I was expecting it to be an adventure, a glimpse into a culture I knew relatively little about. We mentioned “culinary tourism” in class, and I definitely had my metaphorical Culinary Tourist outfit on—Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, camera, and all. But on the whole, it was rather disappointing. The biggest adventure was getting there, since Thai Cuisine is tucked inside the corner of a strip mall so that it isn’t visible from the street. The food, however, really wasn’t all that great. It made me think about how we talked about “authenticity” during class. We discussed how “authentic” cultural food might be changed—in large or in small ways—to make it more palatable to a restaurant’s American audience. I think this is what happened with Thai Cuisine. They are, of course, trying to make a living here, so people have to be willing to eat their food. My thought is that if they made the restaurant food the same as if they were making it for people with cultural and culinary ties to Thailand, it would probably be very different from the dishes they served my friends and I when we went there, and they would probably lose a large portion of their customer base, because Americans used to the salty, oily, relatively tasteless junk of the fast-food industry might not like something spicy with more flavor.
Also, I assumed that the word cuisine in the restaurant’s title was literal. I was not expecting take-out quality food. If the sign says that the food a restaurant serves is in the category of cuisine, then I’m going to think higher-end food, not something that looks like it came out of a Gordon Food Service box. Maybe this is due to the fact that I’m used to reading the word “cuisine” in the form of haute-cuisine, which is really high-end French food, or maybe I’m just weird, I don’t know.
I do know, however, that in the future I am definitely going to take the word “authentic” with several very large grains of salt. “Authentic” really depends on the culinary background of the person eating the food—to someone who’s never had Thai food before, maybe the stuff served at Thai Cuisine really is what authentic Thai food tastes like. To someone who knows about the types of food made in Thailand, however, I’m going to guess that while the dishes might have similar names, what they make for their family is not going to be at all the same as what the restaurant makes for its customers. So I think that in all there really is no definition for any “authentic” food of a country. I can understand traditional dishes of a country, but even those can differ depending on who makes them as well, so I think my lesson from all this has been to eat what tastes good and not necessarily what someone says is an “authentic” example of a certain place’s food.
Even when I go on study-abroad, I am going to go to Scotland and eat whatever sounds good to me, no matter what people tell me. Sure, I might try suggestions, but it won't be because I want an "authentic" Scottish experience, it will be because I want to try new foods that I may or may not like. My experience in Scotland might end up being completely different from my friend Ashley's experience, even though she also wants to study abroad in Aberdeen. So then which one is the "authentic" experience? I don't think that's a question that can be answered by one broad definition, I think each person's experience is different, and they can define it as "authentic" if they choose to, or not if they choose not to. For me, I'm just going to be going to Scotland, and that's good enough for me. I don't care if it's "authentic or not, I just want to go there, learn stuff, maybe have some adventures. I don't want the "authentic" experience. I want my experience.