The story of the authentic ratatouille in the English speaking world is sad and happy at the same time.
Happy, because thanks to a Disney movie with the same title from 2007, this incredibly delicious staple dish of the southern French region, Provence, became known all over the world. That’s how Hollywood can make anything famous.
And sad, because that’s how Hollywood can make anything famous.
The Disney Version Of Ratatouille
Chances are, if you are reading this from the US, ratatouille for you is something like in the picture below. A nicely plated dish of thinly sliced late-summer vegetables, namely eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Or aubergine, courgette and tomatoes of course, for my readers from the UK.
Making a quick Google search for the word “ratatouille” from the US reinforces this, and you have basically the same results from the UK. Under the image search results, 13 out of 21 recipe images in the first three rows show something similar or even more fancy. That’s about 62%. It almost makes you think that this is the actual dish. Not to mention how intimidating it can be for the average home cook trying to imagine themselves cooking something like this.
But let’s do this same search from France. Interestingly, the results are almost completely different. Only 3 out of 18 pictures show the fancy version, that’s only 17%.
The same dish, completely different results. And which one do you think reflects more what a real authentic ratatouille is?
An authentic ratatouille, made by everyday people in Provence, can have several different variations, but it’s never a nicely plated dish of thinly sliced ingredients. It is instead a vegetable stew or ragout, where one of the distinctive characteristics is the velvety mushiness of the slightly overcooked eggplant and zucchini.
In an authentic ratatouille, eggplants, zucchini, tomato, and bell peppers are diced or sliced, pre-sautéed or not, but they are always cooked together slowly with other ingredients to form a stew which resembles more a mash (or mess??) than anything Insta-worthy these days. An ‘ugly delicious’ dish as I tend to call these type of recipes. But please don’t take the word ugly literally.
What’s Sad About This?
As I stated above, this story has a bright side, getting ratatouille to a broad audience worldwide. But it is definitely not the French ratatouille that has been popularized in the movie, but a partly altered, partly imaginary version. Resulting in half of the world knowing ratatouille but thinking it is something else than what it is in reality.
In my opinion, this whole phenomenon represents how much companies with large communication power, Hollywood; social media; the press in general, can influence what we think is true.
Misrepresenting part of a culture is one thing. Making thousands if not millions believe something is true when it isn’t is another one. Food blogger moms and celebrity chefs have rushed to prepare their own version, one with the nicely sliced veggies, of the so called ‘authentic’ ratatouille since the movie has been released. They themselves believe this is the French dish, and they become part of the misinformation-operation when spreading that same false information they’ve never checked.
Add to that the power of another information giant, Google. Those results I showed you above are not by chance. And the very inner workings of Google make it sure that, at least for English-speaking searches, the fancy-looking version has much higher probability of ranking than the real authentic one. If that’s what people want to see, that’s what big G will give them.
If we come back to the kitchen, home cooking should not be about how fancy looking your dish is. You cook for your enjoyment and to nourish the ones around you. Ratatouille is a simple home recipe, having all the aromas and feelings that the charming Mediterranean Provence has to offer during summertime. An authentic ratatouille is prepared to nourish and not to brag. In fact just by preparing it your kitchen would feel like if it was right at the rocky coastline near Nice.
So What Is The Disney Version?
Disney’s version from the movie, as I already mentioned, is actually not a ratatouille that you would find in Provence (Southern France).
It is instead a souped up version of another provençale dish from Nice, called Tian, and popularized as a fancy ratatouille (also called Confit byaldi) thanks to chef Thomas Keller, culinary advisor of the movie. It has almost the same ingredients, but it’s a different dish. (Read about the history of confit byaldi on Wikipedia.)
Media companies have a huge influence on what we think about the world. Do your research before believing anything, and not just assume than if it is written, even if it’s published by a big company, than it has to be the eternal, unquestionable truth.