On Food Authenticity

Like the vast majority of Americans, I find that most of my heritage is tied up in food. My grandpa made a point of stocking Pilsners in his fridge, my great grandmother laced every dish she made with dill gravy, and every year we drove up to Iowa’s Czech Days to buy kolaches- or, if you’re a stickler for accuracy, koláče. At a recent family reunion, we decided to forgo the half day of labor that the recipe requires, so we ordered them in from a bakery billing itself as “The Kolache Factory.” We were in for a rude awakening.

The way my family makes kolaches involves cutting the dough out in squares and folding it closed around the filling, like an envelope; these kolaches looked like doughy Danishes. Our dough is light and potato-laced, but these were practically made of lead. And a Hudecek family kolach can only be filled with poppyseed, apricot, or prune, but these were filled with everything under the sun. If an alleged Czech pastry is filled with BBQ Beef, Jalapeno and cheddar, or “Philly Cheesesteak,” you can be pretty sure it wouldn’t be sold on the streets of Prague. And calling a pig in a blanket a kolach is just shoddy marketing.

An hour of frantic Googling turned my expectations upside down, though. It turned out to be a classic case of Texas Czech domination. The pigs in a blanket are a Texas-Czech invention called klobasnik, and the Bohemians who settled there make circular kolaches rather than my family’s Moravian folded ones. They’re both perfectly valid depending on which region of the country you’re in, and immigrants to different parts of the US further adapted them to match the resources they had available. It makes me wonder how many of the wars about “authentic” Mexican or Italian food are really comparing cuisines from different regions.


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