I’m constantly accused of being a food snob by my family. Several events of late have inspired me to examine how true this is.
What tastes good, of course, is highly subjective, but I wonder if all of us in Hong Kong have an element of food snobbery, given our obsession with eating.
I hate Chinese fast food restaurant Cafe de Coral for its mediocre offerings and inflated prices, which has led my family to think I look down on cheap food. That is not the case: I love nothing more than slurping on a bowl of soup noodles at a dai pai dong. I just don’t want to pay for average food that simply isn’t worth the money.
When a relative took my por por to Pizza Hut and said it was Italian food, I was so outraged at her being told such a bold-faced lie that I now plan on taking her to Carbone.
And recently, I conducted an interview with a chef and restaurateur specializing in a particular type of cuisine. When I told them about the types of dishes I enjoyed when I went to restaurants serving the cuisine, they told me those dishes were on the “middle to lower end of the scale.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. If something tastes good and is done well, why write it off because it’s not on fine-dining level? Aren’t great chefs supposed to embrace all types of food? My mind wandered back to what a chef and proprietor of a three-Michelin-starred restaurant told me earlier this year: “You should eat at McDonald’s.”
And what really makes a food snob, anyway? Some say it defines a diner with an elitist attitude, who won’t go to cheapo places. I even saw a definition that went as far as to say food snobs go to high-end establishments for the sake of appearances, rather than taste. Others argue that it describes an individual who has really high standards when it comes to how well food is made — the cooking technique, seasoning and so on.
Take my friend N, who is something of a food snob — in his own way. He prides himself on his taste buds and complains about “bad food” — not the kind that makes you ill, but dishes that just aren’t done well. He also says, for example, that he won’t have Japanese food outside of Japan. To be fair to N, I can actually understand that. His sentiments stem from the unrivalled freshness and quality of the seafood you get on the ground in Tokyo compared to, say, an all-you-can-eat place in Causeway Bay.
Meanwhile, I’ve also noticed that lots of older folks in Hong Kong are food snobs. Their attitude is rooted in tradition: the older generation tends not to be open to trying out new things. I’ve heard stories of certain diners turning their noses up at dishes that don’t contain the holy grail of deluxe ingredients in Chinese cuisine: abalone, sea cucumber, shark’s fin and fish maw. The relative who took my por por to eat crappy pizza happens to work inside a kitchen, and I’ve heard her dismiss foreign cuisines before ever having tried them.
My por por is not someone who does this — yet she doesn’t consider a burger and fries a “real meal.” For her, it only counts when there is rice, I’ve come to realize. When we have dinner celebrations for special events, like Mid-Autumn Festival, we need to have a full Chinese meal with chicken, goose, vegetables and soup.
Are we food snobs? Maybe. But when it really comes down to it, good food doesn’t have to be expensive, and expensive food isn’t necessarily good. I’m looking forward to going back to the restaurant that serves food in the “middle to low end of the scale” this week. Would any food snobs care to join?
All Tea No Shade with Andrea Lo.
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