Bye authentic food, hello bastard food

Column by Pauliina Siniauer. Photography by Janne Tuunanen.

We easily forget that food culture is a living thing, reshaped over time. Even if a country’s borders stay the same, the people within them don’t. Whatever is considered to be good and comforting food, as well as the availability of ingredients, is what feeds and determines a food culture. Let’s give an example: the Karelian Pie. A traditionally Finnish, hand-sized, savoury pastry, with a rye flour crust and a creamy rice porridge filling. The first pies were made with barley porridge, or sometimes mashed potato, but as rice made its way from China through Russia to Finland, rice became the heart of the Karelian pie, and so an integral part of Finland’s food culture.
 
We easily judge food by its alleged authenticity, especially food from faraway places. But what is authenticity anyway? The ‘right’ ingredients? The nationality or origin of the person who cooks the food? The place where it’s eaten? In the end, authenticity is often just a collection of stereotypes and beliefs that we have about certain cuisines. It’s a word that has no place in describing food. As the late chef and travel show host Anthony Bourdain once said in an interview with Time magazine: 

“The word authentic has become a completely ridiculous, snobbish term. There are so many first- and second-generation immigrants making wonderful mashups of food they grew up eating.”

Just think about ‘American food’; the foods most commonly found there are either Italian, Mexican or Chinese in origin, even good old barbeque is a tradition forged by slavery and colonialism. Fast food, like burgers and hot dogs, didn’t emerge from the nation’s cultural heritage, but from the big corporations that wanted to make more money through the shilling low-quality meat products. So what does authenticity mean in the context of American cuisine?
 
As time goes by it becomes increasingly difficult to track the origins of a dish, but migration has always shaped national food cultures. Researchers are still debating whether pasta is Italian or Chinese, and there are a handful of countries from Egypt to Israel and from Lebanon to Palestine who claim hummus as theirs originally. Food is a bit of a bastard. 
 
 ‘Bastard cooking’ is a term coined by two nomads: Finnish chef Antto Melasniemi and Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who kick authenticity’s ass in their recently released ‘Bastard Cookbook’. They show what happens when rules are broken and cultures collide, and what flavours make beautiful marriages: pad thai macaroni, curry pizza, fish sauce ice cream, sticky rice and strawberries with Finnish archipelago bread. I can imagine you raising your eyebrows but it’s worth keeping an open mind to enjoy bastard food. It’s a way of cooking that doesn’t care if a classic dish gets a new twist, and it doesn’t care if you don’t follow the recipe. As Tiravanija says:

“If you can’t find one of the ingredients, bastardise the hell out of it.”

If you just modify the recipe according to what you have, working in what grows next to you, then sustainability also plays a role. Sure, it won’t be quite how it was in the other country where you ate it, but it’s not supposed to be. You create your own food culture wherever your kitchen is. Bastard cooking is about learning from other cultures, appreciating them, but not being afraid of them. It’s about respect and love for good food. 

The recipe is modified for Iittala Journal from Bastard Cookbook, published in 2019 by Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and Garret Publications.

Bastard Macaroni Casserole 

by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi
 
Macaroni was introduced to Finland at the end of the nineteenth century. It has since become a staple of the national diet and is considered to be Finnish, rather than Italian food. The Finnish National Broadcasting Company recently ran a survey of the most popular everyday meals, macaroni casserole came in first place. It is served in school cafeterias as well as in weddings. You can find it all around the country, from Helsinki to the remotest parts of Lapland.
 
In this recipe, Finnish macaroni casserole and Pad Bai Kra Pao merge into a cosmo-politan Bastard dish.
 
 
Base
400 grams (14 ounces) of dried macaroni 
 
Pad Bai Kra Pao
3 cloves of garlic
4 bird’s eye chilies
1 tablespoon rice oil
400 grams (14 ounces) minced pork
100 grams (3 ½ ounces) finely chopped straw mushrooms
A generous pinch of brown sugar
A generous pinch of salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 bunch of Thai holy basil leaves 
 
Cream
3 eggs
8 decilitres (3 ¼ cups) coconut cream 
A pinch of salt
 
 
In a large pot, bring a generous amount of water to the boil. Add sea salt until the water tastes like the North Atlantic Ocean, then add the macaroni and boil until al dente. When almost done, drain the water and spread the pasta onto a tray or other large surface to cool down. Do not rinse as this weakens the taste of the pasta. 
 
For the Pad Bai Kra Pao, crush the garlic and chop the chilies. In a wok, heat the oil until very hot and then fry the garlic. Add half of the holy basil, then the sugar, minced straw mushrooms, chopped chili, salt and pork. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and continue to stir.
 
Mix the macaroni and the Pad Bai Kra Pao. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish. Mix the eggs with the coconut cream then add this to the macaroni. Bake in the oven at 180°C (356°F) for 45 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and the casserole is firm in the middle. 
 
Serve with fish sauce and a whole fresh bird’s eye chili for the adventurous palate.