Thursday, June 9

What makes food "good"?

Knowing I was a food lover, a few years ago on my birthday I was presented with The Age - Good Food Guide 2009. I flipped and flipped through the pages, only to find that I would probably enter into one of those fancy restaurants once a year or less. And why, oh why, were the top rated restaurants invariably also the most expensive? Sure part of the reason is, a good restaurant with a reputation and excellent service would charge more. However, I'm quite sure many people feel that they're receiving better service, a better product, simply because it's costing them more. Well, I would probably do better using The Age Cheap Eats next time.

But what makes a good meal, a good dining experience? A brief scan through the editors of the Good Food Guide, the lead editors are in their thirties or forties, Caucasian, well known journalists, presumably with a fair amount of money to spend on their meals. Out of the reviewers, there is one Asian name out of a list of about sixty, and aside from ethnicity I'm sure the other generalisations about age, and social status would be reasonably accurate. By the way, I have nothing against these people, but am going through the general characteristics of those who are leading the public opinion on good food via newspaper articles, magazines.

Why does it matter? Well, for example, many Asian restaurants tend to focus more on authenticity, taste, and are less geared towards providing attentive service, or a quiet and romantic dining atmosphere. As students, many of us want a mmm delicious meal, in a pleasant cafe or restaurant, not overly noisy but not necessarily spacious and serene, not ugly but the interior design doesn't have to be a work of art. It's somewhere we can visit regularly and introduce our friends to. And it's at a reasonable price so that we haven't spent our food allowance for the month. We aren't simply looking for something to fill our stomach but we are hungry hungry students - oh the number of times we've been to posh restaurants and stared blankly at the tiny portion of salmon on the plate. You get the picture - what the majority of us value and consider a good dining experience, therefore, would differ dramatically from the food critics and their friends.

The internet does however, provides a good avenue for your average person with a budget to comment on food and recommend good restaurants. There are many good blogs and individual reviews out there. Haha but reading internet reviews there are always, without fail, a long string of unpleasant reviews that are basically several paragraphs complaining endlessly about the appalling, horrible service, food being thrown on the table, the revolting food, arguing with waiters, wanting to complain to management, never going back there etc. I've rarely labelled a restaurant with any of those words, in general, eating out is too fun to be unpleasant. I guess they're designed to express hate and anger rather than provide a balanced review.


  1. On your last paragraph, a lot of that is probably people's tendency to complain about bad things, and let good things go unmentioned.

    After a nice night out, most people wouldn't think to go write a good review, but after a not-so-good night, a lot of people would like nothing better than to go and right a nasty review!

  2. Haha that's right, human tendencies ;) finding a vent for our anger/injustice/etc

  3. Online reviews are very helpful in determining the good restaurants out of the many options there are. Firsthand experience is still the best way to judge a restaurant. Getting a heads-up would somehow make the bad experience less accentuated, and the good experience a lot more surprising. It's not just about the good food; the dining environment, and the service from the staff also matter.

  4. Hi Danny, thanks for your comment. Reading first hand experiences is indeed helpful. As for the dining experience, I think it would depend on your perspective and what sort of meal you are looking for. My expectations for an everyday fill-my-stomach meal is very different to that I look for in a restaurant where I would go for a date. Also, my opinion has changed since I've written this, shifting to more of an emphasis on staff and environment (but with food still being the key determinant of whether the restaurant is worth visiting).