Qualified Authenticity

Three days ago, my friend Kim wanted to try Cowboys and Turbans.  Indian-Mexican fusion “street food.”  It was predictably terrible.  I had a “naan pizza” with tofu which was Indian maybe insofar as there was tumeric somewhere in the sauce?  Sigh.  There are so many things to not like about this restaurant.  First of all, the kitschy title doesn’t even make sense: cowboys and turbans are different kinds of things (cowboys incidentally not really being Mexican).  This lack of coherence is reflected in the food, which is only fusion at the most superficial level – vaguely western food (not always Mexican, such as the naan ‘pizza’) – plus some equally vaguely indian flavors, all toned down to the point of barely existing for the silverlake crowd.  If you want this sort of  quasi-fusion,  watch the infinitely more endearing Aarti Sequeira, at least her youtube show (haven’t seen much of her Food Network show).  Last but not least, what is with this hipster obsession with “street food”?  First, if you go to a sit down restaurant, you are by definition not eating street food.  I get the sense that it’s more authentic to get your food off the street, in a salt-of-the-earth sort of way.  After all, if one were a western traveler in a foreign country, one wouldn’t want to restrict one’s dining to tourist restaurants!  No, one would have to go out among the simple people, and understand what they eat, for they are pure.  And if one were in India, instead of Los Angeles, one might not find people eating Dosas on the street, because they are not really “street food,” but more “breakfast food” (another violator of my food-oriented identity politics is the LA food truck that serves only dosas).  Instead you would eat Panipuris, and then get sick from some bacteria.

Well, clearly I wouldn’t be as excised about this if we weren’t talking about Indian food, especially perhaps south Indian food.  But I do find the whole ‘street food’ thing to be the fast food mentality dressed up in American apparel leggings; the incongruity of ‘gourmet’ food trucks (for example the gourmet ice cream truck I saw outside of the silver lake flea market) epitomizing this trend.

Here’s Aarti:

UPDATE: theoretical footnote – I am fully aware of the disjunction of arguing against the pretension of a certain kind of authenticity (“street food”) combined with the pretension of a crafted inauthenticity (“fusion”) only to seemingly argue for some other kind of authentic Indian cuisine (again fully aware this has no real content).  But I suppose if the choice were between ignorance coated in pretension or unassuming knowledge, even if that were knowledge that there is no knowledge, I suppose the latter will be preferable.  Remaining for me a problem is that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about Indian food, except through a highly problematic, sentimental, gendered ethnic identity, eg. memories of my mom’s cooking.  But you know, the thing about food is that its so viceral – pretension or no, just make it taste good!

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