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.