Homemade Sushi and an Ethnic Food Rant

One of my biggest pet peeves in the food blog world is the cultural expert, who “knows” more about your culture’s food than you do.

Let me explain.

In the food blog world, we like to be adventurous in our culinary pursuits.  We want our blogs to be original and yum-inspiring.  A lot of times, that translates to some representation of ethnic cuisine that we hope no one has ever heard of and will be amazed by.    I say “we” because I’m just as guilty as any other blogger.  As a foodie and someone who studied international development for years, you can imagine how appealing exotic cuisines are to me.

But then one day a few months back, I was reading a blog while sipping my morning coffee.  As I read the blog post (featuring a recipe for arroz con pollo), my blood started to boil.

I won’t mention who wrote the post (I considered sharing a link but right now have decided against it) but the basic gist was that she grew up in Florida where she was surrounded by good Cuban food then moved to California and “was instantly homesick for good, authentic Latin American food.”

My question was who is she (a white woman) to know what “authentic” Latin American food is and how can California, full of Latin American immigrant communities, not have “good, authentic” Latin American food?  Don’t even get me started on all the racist undertones of the comments.

So you’re probably thinking I over-reacted.  In truth, I probably did, but as someone whose identity is so closely tied to being Latin American/Guatemalan, it made me think about the food blog world, documenting culinary traditions and what makes something authentic. Here a white woman who has an outsider’s superficial view of Latin American culture is telling hundred of people what “authentic” Latin American food is.

I’m not 100% okay with that.  In fact, it bothers me a lot, because for me food is so deeply tied to culture.  Not to mention food blogs are increasingly replacing cookbooks as a resource for knowledge of a variety of cuisines.  I mean how many times have you actually looked up a recipe in a book when you could quickly google it?

This isn’t to say that we as bloggers or people can’t make food from other cultures and share our experiences.  No no, I think trying new things is great.  But my hesitation comes when someone claims to represent an entire diverse culture that they know very little about.

The point of all this, is that this past weekend I attempted to make sushi.

I’m not going to tell you how to make sushi.  I probably did it all wrong.  It tasted good, and we (Guatemalan me and my Mexican boyfriend) had fun making it, but honestly we probably did it all wrong.  So I’ll spare you and won’t pretend to know it all.

Instead I’ll just share pictures, keep this from turning into an essay for an ethnic studies class and ask what you think?

What makes something authentic? Are food blogs changing the way ethnic foods are documented?  Do we have a responsibility to document that which is culturally “authentic?”  Other ideas?