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‘What Makes an ‘Authentic Food Experience?’

Written by Jason Adamson on . Posted in food

authentic food, authentic japanese recipe, authentic cuisine

In terms of gastronomic tourism the term ‘authenticity’ is as much about the whole touristic experience as it is about the act of eating and drinking. Food has been proven as an important means of selling the Identity and culture of a destination and this combined with other a variety of cultural signs and symbols of the location make up the experience as a whole.

Authenticity in Gastronomical and Culinary Tourism is about eating or experiencing a certain stereotypical food in the place that we identify as it being from. This fulfils our need to be curious of other cultures as well as satisfying needs that are related to our status and prestige according to Holloway and Plants summary on tourism and Maslow’s Hierarchy.

It is not only about the food but also the surroundings and the whole experience. Eating pizza and pasta may seem normal for some, but eating it in an alfresco setting, in Italy, as a tourist, being looked after by a 63 year old waiter with a waistcoat and a moustache whose name is Luigi – turns it into a whole new experience.

Tourism or travel is what is known as a peak experience as it is something that takes us out of our daily routines. However we cannot exclude our daily routines (which are known as supporting experiences with eating and sleeping as examples) from this tourist ‘peak experience’ as all of these things combine together to form the experience as a whole.

Of course food changes – and so do cultures – New York has some of the best pizza in the world, San Francisco some of the best sushi and in Japan you will find some of the most ‘authentic’ Italian michellein stared restaurants on earth – except for the fact that the restaurants are in Japan and the chef is Japanese.

When we eat, authenticity is as much about our surroundings or the context as it is the food. Authenticity is an important social construct that we need to stereotype food with the place it comes from in order to make sense of the world.

On a local level within the region I live (Osaka Japan), eating food from a particular area whilst in that area always makes the food taste better. Drinking sake at the brewery it is made, and eating the local food from that town or region is not only enjoyable it has a variety of social stigmas attached. It gives you bragging rights and you get to tick off another to do box on you list for life.

For me watching the Sumo on TV in Osaka, eating octopus sashimi and drinking Japanese beer is exciting – but for my wife  – it puts me in the same category as Homer Simpson.

On an international scale Japan is very interesting. As far as culinary tourism is concerned eating sushi and drinking sake in Japan is about just about as authentic as you can get. Sure you can get great sushi in many places around the world – but you don’t get the full cultural experience that comes with it. One of the most enjoyable things about being a foreign tourist in Japan is that you know you are out of place. The language barrier is probably the most difficult – you can’t read a menu, not many people speak English and due to your non-Japaneseness you will never be able to blend in, but don’t let this deter you – get amongst it and you shall receive.

Finding that place that truly is local with no other tourists will always be a heightened or ‘peak’ experience, not only for the food but for the context and setting as well.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener


Tikkanen, I 2007, ‘Maslow’s hierarchy and food tourism in Finland: Five cases”, British Food Journal, vol. 109, no. 9, pp. 721-734.

Quan, S & Wang, N 2004, ‘Towards a structural model of the tourist experience: an illustration from food experiences in tourism’, Tourism Management, vol. 25, pp. 297-305.

James Michener in Goodreads Website – accessed June 2012

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Jason Adamson

Jason Adamson

Jason lives in Osaka Japan and has an infatuation with raw fish, ninjas and sake. Originally from Australia he has a Masters in Communications and a Le Cordon Bleu Masters of Gastronomic Tourism. He also owns a very old Nintendo.
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Comments (3)

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    Tony Roy


    Tony Roy • I make “Southern Style BBQ” in a log burning “pit”made from an old L.P. tank on a custom built trailer…. in Wisconsin!!
    I have eaten my way down the East coast, thru the Carolina’s, in the back woods of “the deep south”, all the way across to Arizona, even some parts of Mexico – and not at the commercial eateries, the dressed up for prom sparkling million dollar buildings – but the type of place most sneer at and look for the nearest billboard promoting “baby back ribs” [that actually came off an old sow]…People you cant always understand due to their accent or language – but are always happy to have you as a customer. Back lots, back yards and bayou’s – tar paper shacks to rusty air stream trailers…I’m talking REAL BBQ, served on butcher paper, styrofoam and paper plates, cheap napkins and plastic forks. Cooked on what wood was available, not shipped in or from an electric or gas fired oven!! By some guy who does nothing but make BBQ, and occasionally sip a little local made liquid attitude 😉 . The type of places you get run out of for saying their sauce is supposed to be like the kind served 2 counties over….and if your cold, tired, hungry and lonely – they’ll set you up with a plate of hot hot food and even his sister ( true story from 25 years ago – though I DID decline, a southern memory one can never forget! )
    Though I wouldnt offer any man my sisters…lol…I DID learn the rest of the Southern hospitality and ways off cookin’ that make people smile – and it makes me a decent living in a hick town “up north”…a middle aged Yankee sellin Q from a mobile kitchen, sometimes having to shovel the snow from the serving window area, turn up my steam tables or bringing along the big electric griddle JUST to keep from freezing in my own kitchen – making truckers and southern transplants smile, along with a few hundred “Yankee’s” every time they smell my smoke rollin’!!
    So, to me an “authentic” food experience is more than the name of a sandwich,platter or ingredient, but the attitude of the “cuisine” from where it came, even if its not considered “cuisine”.


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      Awesome Tony .. but .. and its a big BUT .. where should someone go for amazing “Southern Style BBQ” .. are you saying that yours is as authentic as the stuff made down south ??


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