Macaroni & Cheese: A Tanzanian Delicacy?

25 May

It was back in 2000, just before the 2001 New Year, that I traveled to Tanzania with my family.  While local delicacies were not very prevalent in our diet during the trip, a culinary experience that I had as an 11-year old is lasting with me even today.  It was at one of the higher-end hotels we stayed at, arranged by our upscale travel planner, Abercrombie & Kent, that I experienced one of my best encounters with the famed indulgence that is macaroni and cheese.  Before I continue, it is beneficial to briefly outline my idea of authentic cuisine.  As Tanizaki notes in “The Gourmet Club,” authenticity can be rooted in the ambiance in which a dish is prepared.  Even if exact ingredients and proportions from a centuries old recipe are used, it is the setting in which a dish is prepared, and more importantly consumed, that makes it authentic; I essentially agree with this notion.  In “The Gourmet Club,” Count G describes how the fact that traditional Chinese instruments were played during the consumption of the Chinese feast makes the delicacies that much more authentic.  With that in mind, my experience with eating macaroni and cheese in Africa becomes quite inauthentic.  An authentic Tanzanian meal, according to the moneyed and often naïve tourists around me, would likely include some sort of barbaric preparation of meats or heaven forbid, bugs.  I may not be giving my fellow tourists’ palates enough credit, but enough about them.  During a late lunch at the hotel in a large dining room in which we were waited on, one of the courses that we received was macaroni and cheese.  The dish itself was delicious; something my whole family was a bit taken aback on.  Shouldn’t macaroni and cheese be most delicious and authentic in a European country such as France, England or Italy?  Or heck, don’t we have the best mac and cheese right here in the States?  This dish puts those notions firmly to rest.  It was creamy with perfectly al dente traditional elbow macaroni noodles.  There were a variety of cheeses it seemed, with a sharper of the selection standing out but still keeping a mild presence in the flavor.  Topping it off were bread crumbs that relied solely on the quality of the bread and not any garrish overseasoning.  All in all, it was a perfectly delicious example of what many would consider an authentic, modern macaroni and cheese casserole.  So while I would confidently compare my future experiences with mac and cheese with this one, and thus deem it authentic, the setting in which I consumed the dish was by all means inauthentic.  In the end, I find that there is a tension between taste and ingredients and ambiance and preparation in deeming a dish authentic.  And the question becomes, even if the dining setting is anything but true to the history of a dish, should taste and flavor fall victim to the bad connotations of the term “inauthentic?”

Authentic Mac & Cheese: Elbow macaroni pasta baked with creams and cheeses and a bread crumb topping

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