Why My Food Is Not “Authentic”, And Why I Don’t Care

Jackie M
6 min readJun 14, 2019

One of the measures of whether a restaurant’s food is good is whether it’s “authentic” — a term that’s a particular favourite of armchair food critics the world over.

Now, as a former Malaysian restaurateur and professional cook, I’ve received my fair share of accolades and criticisms about my own food over the last 27 years.

I generally ignore the opinion and scorecard ratings of self-appointed experts (ie. most Instagrammers and food bloggers) who have never cooked a plate of food for willing, paying customers themselves, and who seem to think we restaurateurs are basically a bunch of soulless, talentless hacks rolling around in beds of cash while laughing all the way to the bank.

Nonetheless I’ve decided it’s time I put my thoughts on paper (well, the internet) so I can, frankly, move on to more important things in life (like, whether MIB International is worth watching on the big screen, or if I should wait for it to come out on Netflix, etc.).

First of all, what do you mean by “authentic”?

According to the dictionary (ie. Google), in the context of food, it means -

“made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original”.

On its face, that sounds reasonable and obvious — but can you see the problem?

By one definition, it means that food that’s authentic must be prepared in the “traditional or original” way — does it mean, unless you pound your spice paste in a mortar and pestle, or cook with wood or charcoal fire etc. — your food can’t be “authentic”?

I’ve had people argue this point with me, pointing out that char kway teows cooked with charcoal fire have a superior je ne sais quoi, and that spice pastes absolutely have to be pounded by hand, while humble bragging that they spend all weekend tending to their bone stock before it’s ready for their “authentic” har mee (prawn noodle) cook-athon.

In other words, you need to throw out your food processor, pressure cooker, dough mixer, slow cooker, Thermomix, gas or electric stove & oven etc. — or you’re basically a fake or a sellout. No cheating, now — it’s all or nothing!

But let’s say you’re one of the less-hardcore so-called food experts, and you subscribe to the second definition, ie. that “authentic” simply means food that “faithfully resembles an…

Jackie M

Cook, TV presenter, food coach, Down Syndrome advocate, pot-stirrer extraordinaire https://JackieM.com.au | https://BabyNoah.com.au | https://MalaysianChefs.com