Authenticity in Food

Golden Bowl August 21, 2018

In my food exploration, I’m realizing that I’m chasing after some idea of authenticity, not necessarily great food, because nothing feels authentic anymore. All our “problems” are “first world problems.” That is, not even our problems are authentic because they are being created by the unnecessary complexities of our modern life. Eating at one of these hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Chinatown feels like a much needed escape from the overwhelming complexity.

In contrast, just think of all the complexities that must go into making a successful restaurant like Eleven Madison Park, from financing, talent acquisition, PR, branding and marketing, IT, social media strategies, ratings and reviews, etc., etc.. These are typical “problems” many of us deal with daily that do not feel real.

I sometimes see employees of big financial corporations cleaning up public parks wearing their logos as part of their PR campaigns. I think they actually enjoy it because it’s a solution to a simple problem whose benefit to our society is self-evident. In contrast, the benefit of what they do every day is questionable.

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant was feeding Fuzhounese laborers who needed to eat fast, cheap, and alone. The restaurant is solving simple yet real problems.

This particular restaurant is in the Little Fuzhou part of Manhattan’s Chinatown. The Wikipedia entry for it is fascinating. Even though they can speak Mandarin, the other Mandarin-speaking Chinese communities (like the ones in Flushing and Elmhurst) were too rich for them to live with, so they ended up in Manhattan, along East Broadway. They send restaurant workers everywhere; that’s why they developed the network of cheap busses.

I had sweet & sour pork, string beans, taro, shrimps, and some sort of intestines. But unexpectedly what excited me on this tray was the rice. Chinese restaurants usually serve long grain (jasmine) rice, but this place, for some reason, served short grain, the same kind the Japanese eat. Strangely, this rice alone made me feel right at home.