So, the whole “peas in guacamole” thing, I just find it…I don’t know. First off, you know, if someone finds that guacamole with peas in it tastes good, they should eat that and enjoy the heck out of it. Why not?
Why not. I gather I’m only seeing the edges of this, apparently actual news outlets are reporting on the vast and deep internet rage over someone suggesting we try adding peas to guacamole. Seriously? Why?
So, I suppose (perhaps I’m wrong but that won’t stop me from blogging) that it’s a question of peas “not belonging” in guacamole. So here’s my question–why not?
This is something I’ve kind of pondered over the last several years. Sometimes I’ll come across recipes or dishes that are described as “authentic.” Like, real authentic Indian food, or real authentic Mexican food or…yeah.
But what does that mean? What makes a dish or a recipe “authentic”? How about, oh, pizza. Real, authentic pizza, what would that be? Would it be the pizza margherita allegedly invented in Naples in the 1890s? Or would it be the duodecim pizze wikipedia tells us is mentioned in a Latin text at the end of the tenth century? Surely those pizze didn’t have tomato sauce on them! So, like, is real authentic pizza a flatbread with maybe some cheese on it?
My search for “authentic” pizza here completely ignores or dismisses all the more recent varieties of the dish, many of them regional, many of them changing over time. And what seems authentic to me may strike you as a travesty–in fact, I’d bet my idea of authentic pizza would almost certainly do that. I grew up in St Louis, and St Louis style pizza is very likely one of those things you don’t really appreciate unless you’ve grown up with it, or at least eaten it for years. True fact–authentic St Louis style pizza uses provel cheese. You’ve probably never even heard of it unless you’re a St. Louisan, and that’s because provel is made in Wisconsin, and pretty much only for St Louis.
If you wanted to have authentic St Louis style pizza, your best bet would be to come to St Louis and get yourself some Imos. If you couldn’t do that, you’d want to learn to make a really really thin crust and lay your hands on some provel. Oh, and cut the pizza into squares. I swear it makes it taste different. And it would totally be worth trying! Other styles of pizza just aren’t the same.
But is it authentic pizza? Well, like I said, what does that even mean? And if I say something like, “Back in the early nineties I was in the UK and saw, more than once, that sweet corn was an available pizza topping,” you might be saying “Well, duh, Ann, that’s one of those things you put on pizza!” But my reaction was basically that’s not right. Does US pizza somehow have some kind of authenticity advantage over UK pizza? Or the other way around? Or is everything but focaccia with some parmesan grated onto it an adulteration of the real thing?
The thing is, “authentic” food is just the food that particular people ate at a particular place and time, and mostly (particularly when we’re talking about the “peasant” foods that are sometimes valorized as particularly hearty and “authentic”) were made of the things that were easily available. If the same cooks were somewhere else, at a different time, they’d have chosen the things that were easily available there instead. Thinking about it this way, the closer I look at “authentic” the more it disappears into meaningless nothing.
Guacamole isn’t much different. Do you know how many recipes there are for guacamole? And if your great uncle puts peas in his, and serves it that way every Superbowl Sunday through your childhood, that would be a real thing, with its own authenticity.
Authentic is a label we put on things, to freeze them, to declare this one style or this one set of ingredients to be the “true” ones from which all others are deviations. How helpful is that, really? What does it mean when “authentic” food is all external, something other? What does it mean when we talk about “authentic” Italian food being one particular thing, Neapolitan pizza margherita, say, and other versions being fake and wrong–when quite a lot of the provel-laden St Louis Style pizza I ate in my childhood was made by Italian immigrants? Did they lose their authentic Italian-ness somehow, when they came here? Are they only “authentic” so long as they’re peasants with wood-fired clay ovens, and not restauranteurs using the technology and ingredients available to them in present-day St Louis? When I start thinking about it from this angle, I become really uncomfortable with the whole idea of authenticity.
I totally understand wanting to taste (or learn how to make) the kinds of foods that were historically available and aren’t so much today, or are available in other places than where you live, or wanting to try the results of particular cooking techniques. Trying to reproduce historic recipes? I’m totally down with that. I spent longer than was probably reasonable attempting to make a reasonable facsimile of the palak paneer I’ve had at a local Indian restaurant.* I more than understand that. But I’ve come to really side-eye the idea that any kind of food is more “authentic” than another. And when I see an odd variant of something I’m familiar with, my reaction these days is more “Oh, I wonder if that’s good!” than “Ewww, sweet corn doesn’t belong on pizza, that’s just wrong.”
Which brings me back to the peas in the guacamole. Hey, if it doesn’t sound good to you, fine, but it’s hardly a travesty. Why does it seem like a travesty to so many people? It might be worth thinking about.
*The secret is cream. Regular whole milk won’t quite do the trick. This is something to keep in mind generally when trying to imitate restaurant dishes–you probably need to use real butter and real cream for pretty much everything.