let’s talk about food

Growing up, we never really talked about food. We didn’t rhapsodise about it; we just consumed it in huge and varied amounts at home, at restaurants and at hawker stalls. In fact, our food reviews came in the form of: “ho chiak!” or, as my dad would say, “Not bad.”

We’re a family that goes out to eat at least once a week, maybe twice, and this has been our routine ever since I could remember. Yet, I can’t quite wrap my head around describing the flavours and textures of dishes, whether a dish “sang” or fell flat on my tongue, or committing to recommending a restaurant or not. I eat food, and I love food, and I would gladly write about food if I found an avenue to do so. But I can’t help but think about Coco’s Cantina’s recent move to issue a ‘ban’ on all food reviewers in apparent retaliation to Peter Calder’s unprofessional move at starting a Real Review saying he hated venison. (That dude is so fucking bitter, anyway. Someone bring him to a mimosa-filled brunch, stat.) And I can’t help but think of the owner of the restaurant Peter Calder hated the venison at, who stated that she thought there was a place for reviews, but the reviewer should have some sort of ‘expertise’.

I have no ‘expertise’. I do not live and breathe food, and yet my account on Zomato is sitting at 9-or-so reviews. Should they just ban me? Granted, I’m not publishing on a platform like NZHerald, and it should be pretty obvious to everyone that I’m not a legitimate source, but now I feel a little weird about it. Is there a place for everyday-eaters like me, reviewing on a platform on Zomato? I can’t help but take some of the reviews on there to heart – I sometimes decide where to go based on their rating system, (I loathe to admit. But there’s hundreds of restaurants in Auckland, how else can I filter through them all?) and I read reviews there on the regular. I wouldn’t consider myself a #selfproclaimedreviewer (you hear that, Coco’s? Don’t ban me, because I love your pasta) but there is a sort of satisfaction in making sure your opinion is heard. I don’t think it necessarily comes from any place of vindictiveness – in fact, I would never write a horrible review on Zomato, unless they really and truly screwed up (like, killed me, or something). I think there’s a lot of reasons for it. It’s like this feeling that we are the customers, not the Peter Calder’s of the world. It’s a community, you know? You’re on Zomato, and you see all the other people that went to the same place, had the same food as you, maybe had the same experience, so you need to contribute to that and let them know that – yes, this place is the bomb! Or maybe you had a totally different experience and go – hey, wait a minute, yes, you have the right to your opinion, and I totally hear you, but here’s another angle, and maybe someone else will think the same?

Like, you read a review in the papers, and it’s so definite. It’s fucking there in black and white, static, unchanged. It’s printed; it’s published; it’s done. With Zomato, and for the internet everyday-reviewers, it’s a totally different ball game. It’s not definite. You can go there again. You can change your mind. You can read all the reviews and get a different perspective on the food. (And isn’t food one of the most subjective things in the universe? Why should one food review be published, and that be it? Are people really interested in such a thing?) And do I really need to be an expert? Can’t you just hear me, an ordinary person with ordinary tastebuds and probably limited technical knowledge on food? I mean that’s what I want. And I always tell people – if I don’t like your food, or a food at a certain restaurant, doesn’t mean the restaurant or the food is crap. I am not neutral. To pretend to be so would be immeasurably stupid. I have likes and dislikes developed and honed over the years, through my upbringing and through my childhood. Restaurants find customers through this Not Novel phenomenon.

So I guess what I’m saying is – I really like food, and I’ll probably be telling people about it, despite an untrained tongue. Not really reviews. Think of them as personal essays, if you want. Sorry.

restaurant review: kura

I could write a love letter to the multitude of Japanese restaurants found on every street in Auckland, a miso soup never too far away. This night, an hour before me and my friend were due at the movies, we ventured down the death-defying stairs into a unmistakably Japanese-decorated room, overdressed in winter clothes. I didn’t expect how buzzing the place would be (though it was a Friday night, so it was silly of me) but we managed to grab the last two places at the bar. Because of the Q theatre nearby, our waiter asked if we needed to leave at a certain time – amazing.

Japanese service is so, so polite, and I was charmed. It reminded me of Japan, and my friend (who was raised in Japan) said the same thing. Due to time constraints, I ordered the Seafood Lovers Donburi, which comes in a square box with picturesque fish laid on top sushi rice, a muscle on the side. I tried to take a picture, forgot about the flash, tried to avoid eye-contact with anyone that saw me, and promptly deleted the photo straight away. I love, love sashimi, and the sashimi here is very, very thinly cut, super fresh and super yummy. It’s a Very Light Dinner, which was absolutely fine with me because I had had a decidedly Not Light Thai lunch, and it left me satisfied without feeling absolutely gross.

Man, I love food.

Kura Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

where’s the line between being honest with yourself and self-pity?

i gotta admit – it’s fucking blurry. i can’t see shit.

you know when you’re reading something online and then it just hits you: i’m not even really that good at the things i say i’m good at. i don’t even rate among the top 100,000 in the world in the things i think i’m good at. i’m so average at the things i’m good at, i might at well be not good at them at all. and then you say to yourself: ok, if i admit to myself that i’m shit at this thing i previously thought i was good at, it can’t hurt me and i can just go on with my life settling for what i clearly deserve.

and it’s mostly the truth. my strengths have always included: stringing together sentences (which, like, everyone can do, what the fuck) and knowing the name of that Actor’s Name who slipped your mind. the first thing, well. like i said, i am actually probably woefully average at writing. every one writes. if you write opinion pieces or anything that’s just Kinda-About-Life-In-General, there’s a limit to how good you can be, really. or at least, anyone can churn out 700 words on why they hate their life. and this isn’t revelatory to me, this news about being just Pretty OK, but sometimes you just got to wonder. when do i slide from being honest with myself to actually just fucking up my self-esteem and any potential future prospects that i would be proud at landing?

being honest with yourself is good – no one wants to be that guy who gets up on the X Factor stage genuinely believing they were the ed sheeran. but then, the mere concept of honesty has to be called into question, i guess. you’re stuck in your own mind 24/7; you can’t even escape it in your sleep. you’re bound to have a warped idea of who you are and what you’re capable of, and it’s pretty easy, even inevitable, for everything to get tangled up in there until it’s not honesty at all, but it’s really just you feeling sorry for yourself. and that’s the point that i just really can’t pick apart. i’m forever stuck in the middle of that hot mess, like a pendulum swinging between thinking i’m just being realistic and thinking i’m just being silly and self-hating.

there’s really no way to avoid it. you could always get an outside view, but people lie. people lie all the time. (i mean, how do you think that guy on X Factor got up there in the first place?) if you’re like me, you kind of just have to stumble through life, being vaguely confident in your own abilities but freaking out about it constantly in your spare time. like, it’s so easy to just sit there and tell yourself: “you aren’t good, and it is OK.” AND THAT WOULD BE OK! but what if i’m actually good??????

WHAT IF I’M ACTUALLY GOOD!!

(if you’re a life coach or motivational speaker, contact me.)

why even write the article when u have nothing to say? dear spinoff

The Spinoff – it’s free, it’s there, and it beats NZHerald (mostly).

Their funding seems to stream in from sponsors like Lightbox, so it wasn’t surprising that one of the top stories in their TV section was about The Mindy Project, seeing as Lightbox had just posted up the season finale not too long ago.

The headline was ‘A series of thoughts and feelings from The Mindy Project finale’. Well, at least it was fucking accurate. It was indeed a vapid series of thoughts and feelings in the form of the ever-readable listicle, accompanied by photos (didn’t even spring for GIFS), and a helpful reminder at the end to watch the show on Lightbox.

Now, I don’t blame the writer of this article, who in fact was probably told to write a content-light, devoid-of-any-real-opinion piece in order to slap it up so they could continue to appease the sponsor. But, like, could they not?

I, too, ‘devoured’ the season finale of a show that I continued watching in the hope of it getting better (and to support Mindy Kaling, who I’ve always loved and looked up to) but to be honest, it fucking sucked.

There was so many (more critical) angles to take – like how Mindy got engaged to another – but perhaps slightly more attractive than the rest – white dude, only to stare out the train window with a look that probably foreshadows the fact that the first episode of Season 6 will open with Mindy getting the hell out of dodge. Or how it continues to repeat the same themes and tropes over and over again (like Collette proposing to her girlfriend, realising that wait, she can’t actually be trapped in a marriage, and forcing Morgan to break up with her for her).

Or, like, how it isn’t even funny anymore?

I just have a lot of feelings about this show – pretty much the only prime time television show (before it got axed and put on Hulu) to have an Asian woman at helm. When it started I was stoked, but was soon disappointed at the countless white boyfriends and even the prioritisation of white males as the other leads on the show. Morgan, Jeremy, Peter, Jody. Can we talk about why Jody had to exist? And don’t come at me with the ‘Mindy Lahiri is a White Man’ episode, which attempted to fix this with Mindy saying she wanted to ‘be friends’ with another Asian woman doctor, only for this doctor to never appear again and probably never appear again even if there is a Season 6.

I couldn’t even list all the forgettable white dudes that have appeared on the show, and lame in-show acknowledgments about this does not fix the problems, writers. Seriously.

And to The Spinoff – I don’t even know why you bothered. Sponsored content indeed.

cafe review: the junction eatery, birkenhead

39 Birkenhead Ave, Birkenhead

img_6067My mum and I just checked out this new ‘eatery’ (I’m sorry, guys, I still hate that word) just this morning. We’re semi-regulars at Birkenhead, but more for Asian food than ‘eateries’. In the car, my mum told me about an article she read about this new place, with the owner stating that he wanted to create a Takapuna or Ponsonby-like experience smack-dab in the middle of Birkenhead Ave.

You really can’t miss this place – it’s flashy and uber-modern and a bit jarring, to be completely honest. There are massive steps that ascend to a balcony and the second-floor, created so high up to take advantage of the panoramic sea views. (Even writing the phrase ‘panoramic sea views’ makes me feel like a real estate agent.) We climbed these stairs after taking a peek at the cabinet food, where you can get a tiny chocolate twist for about $5.00. I guess with the Ponsonby-like experience comes the Ponsonby-like prices.

We were greeted promptly and shown to a table by the grinning owner (I presumed she’s the owner, but I could be wrong, I guess), menus at the ready and water whisked to our table. The service was friendly and fast, although it’s a bit disconcerting to have so many of the waitresses and the aforementioned owner hovering around you constantly in a small space. I don’t necessarily blame them though – the second floor is so far removed from the first, that it would be impossible to give good service from a safe distance behind the counter.

We decided to share the veggie packed waffles with beetroot infused salmon and chive mascarpone ($20), and I, of course, ordered a latte ($4).

The coffee is Atomic, which was fine. I think I just have negative associations with Atomic, which is not their fault. (There are, like, two cafes on campus that serve Atomic and I’ve gotten one too many cups before dull lectures.) At least they’re always a double shot, which I appreciate.

I also think I had unrealistic expectations for the size of the waffles, since me and my mum were sharing. So used to getting decent-sized waffles at the likes of Little King, the portions here are a lot more modest. However, it was super-tasty and more than enough for a light breakfast – the waffles tasted like softer cheese scones, and the mascarpone was pretty nice. My only point of contention was the salmon, as calling it ‘beetroot infused’ implies it may taste different from the norm… which it didn’t, really. Plus, there wasn’t that much of it. Maybe my tastebuds are plebeian.

All in all, it’s a nice and… interesting addition to the Birkenhead food scene. I’m not completely sold on the by-the-sea, look-at-me exterior, but what do I know. It definitely doesn’t feel like Birkenhead, and whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m just not sure.

The Junction Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

why the fuck should i be embarrassed about watching a tv show

riverdale.jpg

Should my admission that I watch Riverdale always follow by, “It’s trash, but entertaining trash?”

I watch a shit load of television. I watch television at home, and I watch television for my job. I don’t think I’ve said this yet, but I work as a Caption Producer part-time. This has resulted me in being exposed to a multitude of shows I wouldn’t normally watch, but, you know, I still enjoy. (And some I don’t. Fuck fishing shows.)

Recently I started embarking on the wild journey that is Riverdale, a CW show based loosely (very loosely) on the Archie Comics. I started talking about it with my colleague and after we both established that we were watching it, melted into nervous laughter, because well. It’s not Great, by most objective standards. It’s campy, but self-aware about it, and tries too hard to be contemporary while still being set in a dreamy, Twin Peaks-like small town. But it made me think – am I rotting my brain by watching this shit, and how is it any worse than saying you’re watching Breaking Bad?

No one would delve into nervous laughter after talking about Breaking Bad, Mad Men or The Sopranos, all considered God-tier television about white people (and predominantly white men) with “amazing writing” and “complex characters”. But let me tell you – I was way more entertained by Cheryl fucking Blossom’s slow-mo into her dead twin brother’s funeral in a white dress than Don Draper fucking another woman who is Not His Wife.

Why do I try to frame my consumption of shows which may not hold technical critical acclaim in a way that dismisses the value of the show? Why do I always pre-empt conversations about these shows as “yeah, I know it’s trash but it’s entertaining,” or “yeah, it’s not good, but there’s just something about it.” Um, Jean, is that something the fact that it is good? And why do so many of these shows end up being on The CW channel, with the target audience young women?

Admittedly some of these shows have gotten general acclaim – Jane The Virgin, for one, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the other. However, those fanboys that salivate over Walter White and The Wire are not watching these shows. They’re not going on about how ‘complex’ Jane Villanueva is. Is the criteria of a show that is considered ‘good’ in most circles that boys jerk off to how good the writing is? Why aren’t any of these ‘complex characters’ women? (And why did you hate Skyler White so much? Oh wait, I know. Misogyny.)

Like, fuck The WireTrue Detective and especially fuck Breaking Bad. I’d watch something like Fleabag (which you should and must watch) over those any day. And now that I’m finally admitting to myself that I don’t have to prove that I only watch Quality Television to some douchebags in film school, I can finally stop calling the shows I watch bad.

Now excuse me while I go watch The Mindy Project. Did you guys know Mindy Kaling was the only woman on The Office US initial writing crew?

am i just an ‘asian writer’?

the-girl-in-questionI was having coffee with an Asian friend the other day who, over the whitest brunch imaginable (eggs benedict and a flat white), asked me if I felt comfortable being an “Asian writer”. By this she meant if I was okay with constantly re-asserting my Asian-ness in my writing, whether it was opinion pieces or fictional stories or a good old tweet. “Don’t you want to be known just as a writer?” she asked.

Okay, so. If you look at my history of the last few years, what my friend said may start to make more sense. During my very first semester of university, I took Sociology 101, where we were asked to write an autobiographical essay using a few key concepts. Most of my concepts surrounded race – internalised racism being one of them. Just last semester, I took a comic book class, where I did a little comic called “The Girl in Question” about growing up Asian in a white world. Asian diversity in Western media matters so, so much to me, and I am riled up enough to write-in to places discussing these Asian matters.

Rewind the clock back a bit to say, Year 2. Fresh off the boat from Malaysia, a tiny little five-year-old who sat alone on the very first lunch of her first day at school.

I quickly spun into erasing as much of my Asian-ness as possible, determined to be seen as a ‘real Kiwi’. I played netball. I shunned the groups of Asian kids who hung out together and only spoke in their own language. I tried so hard not to call my dad ‘Papa’ in front of my friends, even though that’s what I always had called him. I refused to learn Chinese (a decision I regret to this day).

Realising that I could be a ‘real Kiwi’ while embracing my Chinese culture was a long, slow process which took many years spent on the internet, reading posts and following blogs of other kids who went through the same thing.

It’s funny, because it’s not really this huge, angsty identity crisis that it may sound like on paper. Internalised racism isn’t obvious, and trying to undo it is also not always a visible process. It was really just teenage-me spending a shit load of time on the internet, reading everything that came along her screen. Lots of time thinking about why I liked it when people called me “not really Asian”, and then realising how fucked up that is.

So when I think about all of that, and I think about where I am now… I don’t really mind being the “Asian writer”. Do I want every single thing I write to be about being Asian? Do I want people to reduce me to an ethnicity? Do I want to only be given work that has to do with being Asian? Fuck no.

But do I believe in open discussion about Asian representation, Asian writers, Asian creators, identity politics, and, you know, just not being racist in general?

Fuck yes.