HANDS up, all of you out there who enjoy eating! Now, what about those of you who are great at describing what you’re eating? Not so many hands up there anymore, are there? The fact is, most of us can lay claim to knowing about our food but going beyond the usual “good”, “tasty”, “delicious” and “scrumptious”, takes talent.
Here’s a confession: I’ve been tackling food “professionally” only in the last three years, and although my editor has been very subtle in her hints, I have come to the conclusion ... that I suck at it.
I mean, how many ways are there to describe a sauce? Or dim sum for that matter? A meatball is a meatball is a meatball. I wish I was able to wax lyrical about “the explosion of flavours on my tongue” and how “the dish played scintillatingly on my senses” but truth be told, I lie badly.
It’s an art that has to be mastered. I’d like to think that I’m a decent cook and I know my ingredients but a good food reviewer is not necessarily a good cook and vice versa. And spewing a diarrhoea of words is just not for me.
Take for example, wan tan noodles. I could tell you that the noodles were “challenging to the bite”, or that “the starchy sauce was as thick as milk curdle”, but wouldn’t you prefer to have me say that it was just plain “bad”? Or perhaps I should try to detract from the subject and talk about the decor, the ambience, the cute waiters before I get to the real matter at hand.
The general rules of good manners apply in writing as well. Which means, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t write anything at all. Sorry, so now you know. Anyway, when I bemoaned my predicament to a friend, she said most people don’t believe food reviewers, anyway. They just look it up for the new address, try out the food themselves, and then make up their own minds.
See, I knew that. So, why wax lyrical over someone’s cooking when the reader doesn’t really care? Everyone I know thinks being a food reviewer is a dream job. It’s like letting a kid loose in a chocolate factory. But after the umpteenth restaurant and an abundance of rich foods, you’d be surprised how wonderful it is to taste a simple plate of chicken rice or a bowl of fishball noodles from the hawkers.
Sometimes, one would rather forego a free meal than try (again!) to tell the difference between a subtle sauce and one that’s just plain bland, between a good, robust steak and one that’s delectable but a little overdone.
Fortunately, I’ve never gotten a bad stomach after a food review, though there has been an occasion or two when I have woken up with a headache after one drink too many. But often, I don’t just go away feeling stuffed; I come away with a new friend. I guess you could say checking out a new restaurant or menu isn’t always about the food – there’s a play of public relations skills on both sides, and a healthy exchange of the latest gossip, as well.
So heck, there’s no real cause for complaints. Oh, except for my editor, who wished I would expand my vocabulary a bit and vary my adjectives.
Everything said, reviewing food allows me to indulge in one of my greatest weaknesses – eating. They say to be good at something you’ve got to keep at it, which means to improve my writing skills, I just have to keep eating.
It’s a tough thing to strive at, but someone’s got to do it.