If you're heading to a new country, ask anyone for advice and they'll be sure to tell you not to miss some great, local cuisine. "You've got to try the pizza in Italy or a curry in India," they might say. But, what about the other cultural options available? How about kebab in Berlin, or Indian food in London, or even Chinese in Italy? All of these foods, despite the fact that they're not native or "authentic" to the place they're in, are cultural experiences all their own. By all means, go to Italy and eat their pasta and don't miss the chicken rice in Singapore. But, the next time you're on a trip and hungry, don't limit yourself to having an "authentic" experience, be sure to try everything the locals are having, regardless where the cuisine originated.
It made me really sad a few weeks ago to read a story that the Italian town of Lucca had outlawed all ethnic food. That means no kebabs, no Chinese restaurants, or any type of Asian cuisine, for that matter. When I travel to a new country, I don't want a state-sponsored, bureaucratically approved "authentic" meal. I want something good, something different, and something the locals actually eat.
For one, it's interesting to see how some foods have been assimilated into other cultures. Chinese food in Italy is completely different than what you would find in the United States. A bagel in Germany isn't the same as what you might find in New York City. Things are adapted to local ingredients and to fit local tastes. It's fun to compare what you know with another interpretation.
The idea of defining authentic as the only truth troubles me. What one considers as "truth" and what is actually true to life can be completely different beasts. To see all sides of a culture, you have to be willing to see the whole picture. Eating only "authentic" meals is akin to going to New York and not venturing from Times Square. Cities and countries are full of many layers (and flavors) of truth when it comes to food and locals will take advantage of that. You should too.