Authentic, or not? Sri Lankan, or not?

When would you say that a new recipe creation belongs to a particular cuisine? How would you define it? Or to widen the topic of this discussion a little further, when would you call a recipe authentic? Or inauthentic?

Sri Lankan-style chickpea saladBeing someone interested in exploring different world cuisines and cooking different national dishes, I encounter these questions often. When I was writing the previous post on Sri-Lankan-style chickpea salad, I was wondering which categories to assign it to, whether to label it Sri Lankan, or not?  The dish was inspired by a Sri Lankan style of cooking (albeit cooking of vegetables), I used Sri Lankan spices and flavours. But I still felt unsure, and called it Sri-Lankan style. Perhaps partly because I wasn’t sure about how Sri Lankan my addition of coriander leaf is.

Curly kale

Let’s consider another example, the kale aloo recipe, my version of the classic Indian Punjabi dish aloo palak. Except that I used kale. Here, I felt somehow more confident. The spicing was completely Indian/Punjabi, and the technique. It was just that I’d used kale, which was available to me at the time and seasonal, rather than spinach.

Also, when I made the Sri Lankan fish curry with salmon, which can’t be a traditional ingredient, I confidently labelled it Sri Lankan, because Jasmine cooked it, and it was her recipe. And she is Sri Lankan.

Am I being nervous and insecure just because I don’t belong to these nations? A dish can’t be called Sri Lankan/Punjabi only when made by a Sri Lankan/Punjabi? Surely that can’t be right?

Creativity is an integral part of cooking, and Indian and Sri Lankan cooks use spices and ingredients in many wonderful and diverse ways. Spicing differs from cook to cook, and dishes differ from cook to cook. Cooking with a Punjabi friend opened my eyes to it; her spontaneity, her creativity taught me to relax when cooking with spices. These cooks also pride themselves on being different, original within their national style of cooking. And when they go abroad, they use the ingredients they’ve got at hand. Like the salmon in fish curry. So I’m inclined to think that kale in my aloo doesn’t stop it from being Punjabi, and perhaps my chickpea salad is Sri Lankan after all, as long as I’ve used the ingredients, flavours and techniques pertinent to that national/regional style of cooking.

What do you think? When would you say a dish belongs to a cuisine? And then what do you think makes a dish authentic? I’m really interested to read about your thoughts on this matter.

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