A while back I wrote about the Thai government’s efforts to test and certify “genuine” Thai food in restaurants worldwide. It seems that food becomes a touchy cultural subject as soon as it crosses borders. Take the recent spat over Bon Appétit magazine’s gushing interview with an American chef who was foolish enough to prescribe how pho should be made and eaten, and rash enough to describe it as “the new ramen.” Call the cops, for chrissake.
And now we have British cook Jamie Oliver excoriated for adding chorizo to paella. Talk about dolores.
There are some foods that don’t travel. Mangoes, for example, and durian and pineapples have no place in American supermarkets. Seeing (or worse, tasting) them just makes you feel sad for the fruits they are meant to remind you of. But culinary traditions are permanently in flux at home and abroad (how Japanese do you think tempura is?), and just because the Naked Chef says you can put chorizo in a dish doesn’t mean that you have to. And as for pho, when you next sit down to a steaming bowl of the real thing on a plastic kindergarten chair on a Hanoi sidewalk, try to figure out what’s in it that makes you so happy, then go home and make it the way you like.