In Cooking, Does Authenticity Matter?

Ahmed Ali Akbar grew up a picky eater. Then his best friend fell in love with his mother’s Pakistani rice pullao.

Published May 6, 2021.

An Italian nonna using jarred pasta sauce. A Southerner serving boxed cornbread. A Pakistani cook using a premade spice mix in her korma. Does using shortcuts compromise the authenticity of a recipe?

When writer and podcast host Ahmed Ali Akbar was a child, he wasn’t just a picky eater, he was a skeptic—especially when it came to the staple Pakistani food his mother prepared on most weeknights. But when his friend tried his mother’s special pullao and loved it, it made Akbar realize what he’d been missing. And it changed his life.

In the latest episode of our Webby Award-winning podcast Proof, Akbar—now a well-known food enthusiast and sought-after authority on Pakistani cooking—shares how that meal and a discovery about his beloved mother’s cooking changed his understanding of tradition and authenticity.

He introduces the concept of eaters, feeders, and neithers (every family has a mix of all of them) and interviews Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian-born chef and writer credited with teaching the West how to cook Indian food.

Listen now:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Radio Public

Ahmed and his mother and siblingGroup of people eating around a table
From left to right: Ahmed with his mother and cousin in Pakistan; Ahmed eating a home cooked meal with his cousins during his mother's illness.
Ahmed Akbar and his family
From left to right: Ahmed observes intently as his sister Zainab cuts into a birthday cake; Ahmed cooks during the pandemic with his father, Waheed.

Check out every episode of Proof here (including a two-part series from season three where Akbar goes deep into the underground aams trade in the United States). And start a free trial to access all of America's Test Kitchen's rigorously tested, reliable recipes and product reviews.

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