Having recently listened to The Sporkful’s latest instalment of their series on Other People’s Food – which is exploring what happens to our perception of culture and race when talking about food – we’ve been reflecting on our own interpretation of the authentic culinary experience. As experts on the subject, we strive to not only ensure our guests experience traditional fare of the locale, but also that each bite is remarkably tasty. That said, we may be a tad biased in believing that the best macarons are in Paris, while the cultural appropriation of Parisian macarons by other nations has spawned a worldwide culinary art form (the ones at Le Dolci in Toronto are pretty outstanding).
While food is one form of cultural expression that we embrace to become more worldly individuals, it’s easy to assume that truly credible cultural experiences have to occur in the region they’re associated with. As Dan Pashman’s podcast explores – it might even be prejudiced of us to assume the best Mexican food is in Mexico, when there are world-class American chefs (I’m talking about Chef Rick Bayless here), who have been honing the craft of Mexican culinary traditions for decades. Taking inspiration and studying a specific cuisine can make anyone, regardless of their background, an admirable foodie.
It’s in this spirit that we present a few notably excellent restaurants where eager foodies can save the airfare on an authentic culinary experience.
French in New York
For a little taste of heaven, er, Paris – look no further than SoHo’s Balthazar, honing French specialities from pain au chocolat to duck confit since the 90’s. It’s a landmark establishment in the neighbourhood, reminiscent of the brasseries found in Paris’ Bastille or Champs D’Elysee districts. Besides the brass railings, clouded glass mirrors and plush burgundy seating of the interior, menu items are carefully planned to best replicate a Parisian experience. While many French dishes, like steak frites for example, have been co-opted and become commonplace on North American menus, Balthazar insists on maintaining the true essence of French cuisine by preparing theirs with actual rump cut that’s been manually tenderized by an mallet-wielding line cook. Head Chef Shane McBride, whose entire professional background has been under the tutelage of renown French chefs around the world, brings exceptional dishes to lovers of this classic cuisine.
Mexican in Chicago
You wouldn’t expect an Oklahoma-raised, Midwest Chef of the Year winner and Julia Child IACP award-winning cookbook author to be the same guy that the Government of Mexico awarded the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle (the highest honour given to foreigners whose work has benefitted Mexico and its people). None other than critically acclaimed Chef Rick Bayless and his Frontera restaurants in Chicago offer diners from around the globe a taste of excellent Mexican cuisine. His menu items are known for their custom-grown produce while also ensuring the best of Mexican flavours – without Americanizing traditional dishes like we’re used to in simple taco joints. With bitter chocolate moles and Yucatan-inspired sour orange guacamoles, Chef Bayless has no doubt his love of true Mexican dishes will be eagerly embraced by serious foodies!
Greek in Toronto
Full disclosure, this is one of my favourite restaurants in the city, and having experienced actual seaside Greek food, this Toronto gem is comparable if not better than its Mediterranean counterpart! Almost everything at Paralia is imported from Greece – from its deliciously saccharine Mousto balsamic vinegar to its sumptuous seafood flown in straight from the Aegean Sea. The house mezzes liken those of Mykonos’ old port; every morsel incredibly rich, flavourful and aromatic all at the same time (and that’s more than just my favourite – Melizanotana – a roasted eggplant tapanade with pine nuts, sweet shallots and EVOO). Simple and unpretentious dishes allow the ingredients to shine without the Westernized deep frying, flambéing or sauce dousing that we’re so familiar with when it comes to Greek interpretations. Ensuring each plate features elegant, classic cuisine is the guiding principle at Paralia, even under a succession of Greek and non-native head chefs.
Malysian in Seattle
Kedai Makan is a Malaysia food stall in Capital Hill that proves that exceptional culinary skills are not a birthright, they’re a talent that comes from years of studying and working in a variety of intense kitchens. Wary of the backlash of two white owners serving “authentic” Malaysian cuisine, Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson strive rather to recreate their delicious experiences travelling Southeast Asia. None of their chefs nor staff are Malaysian, but that doesn’t affect the exceptional quality of their Chili Pan Mee or Tau Yew Bak. Kadai Makan has excelled at not recreating Nenek’s home-cooking, but rather reproducing their own gastronomic adventure when travelling Malaysia. Sure, the some dishes were spicier than they would’ve wanted, or heavier on the tamarind than they would have preferred (which perhaps comes with no growing up eating these things), however the beauty of their take on Malaysian is respecting tradition while still curating food to their retrospective taste.
There will always be critics claiming to know where the best Churrasqueiras or Ethiopian food can be had around the world – and the subjective nature of taste makes these discussions so much fun! We can’t wait to have some good food talk over our dreamy meals in Paris and Tuscany this October. Check out the details and register for our early bird rates right here!