Sunday, 28 August 2011

Critic of Food Critics

Being humble and honest should be the mantra of food critics, rather than pretending to be all-knowing and all-sensing and without a care for health. Whenever I hear or read about food reviews, the first thing that comes to mind is not the food being discussed, it is who the food critic is.

The most refreshingly-honest review in recent memory is one by student Gloria Yu who has a regular column in The Standard. In her article, Symphony of spicy flavors awakens senses, she states:
Biting it [Sichuan catfish dish] released a most mind-blowing sensation in your mouth. It numbs your tongue for the first few seconds, then it turns tart ... and I don't even know how to begin explaining the rest of this culinary experience.


Yes, if a food critic is unqualified or inexperienced in something or who recognises his or her limits, then the best policy is to be humble and honest.

Contrast this to Yvonne Lai's search for ham dan jing yuk beng, a local Hong Kong traditional dish of steamed minced pork with salted egg. She and her companion(s) visited two local eateries, Man Sing Café and Happy Fish Bistro, both in Tai Hang.

Two local eateries and their ham dan jing yuk beng dishes. Pic from SCMP.

Here are Yvonne Lai's seemingly superficial sentences:

For Man Sing Café
We find ourselves staring at a tower of pale, glistening pork with a bright orange salted egg yolk twinkling like the star on a Christmas tree. Around this impressive structure was a moat of sweetened soy sauce with floating bits of freshly chopped spring onion.

We carve out morsels of the soft, almost fluffy mass and take bites with mouthfuls of rice - and the meat just melts in the mouth. The combination of the pork's natural juices and the generous amount of fat and salt - there are some bits of gristle - make the use of soy sauce unnecessary for moisture.


The salted egg is no competition for the mince itself in terms of richness. We speculate about the amount of fat, and briefly wonder what it's doing to our arteries, before polishing off the rest of it. It is whipped to achieve such an airy texture. This is definitely a minced pork dish that inspires gluttony.

For Happy Fish Bistro
The steamed minced pork arrives in a wide oval dish - the meat's flat shape is more usual for the dish. The salted egg yolk sits in the centre, with the egg white cooked solidly around the edge of the pork cake.

There are spring onion bits, but no soy sauce on this dish. As we take a spoon to the meat, we find that it is much firmer than the one at Man Sing. It's packed solidly, with an almost gummy texture from the cornstarch in the mix.

Clearly, they believe in using less fat at Happy Fish Bistro. The result, although probably healthier, is a drier, harder cake.

Here, the egg yolk is the star. Seeming somewhere between soft and hard-boiled in consistency, the yolk flavour had a rich intensity that Man Sing's did not, giving the mince some added character.

Yvonne Lai's verdict: Happy Fish Bistro's steamed minced pork is just like mum makes. But Man Sing's other-worldly, fatty pork pyramid is the one we can't stop thinking about.


My verdict: To help readers like myself gauge a more complete picture of food critics, perhaps a photo revealing the general appearance and healthiness of the people who are giving us their recommendations would be useful?

Related Post: A Body Like A Fish
In this post, I mention the chubby and cuddly food critic Leung Man-to. He is obese. Anyway, some people may equate an obese food critic to be somewhat good as a food critic; whereas others may equate an obese foodie to be biased more towards large portion sizes, high-calorific ingredients and a lack of self-discipline. But at least a picture can give readers an impression about whether a food critic should be taken seriously or not.


Blog of Note
BTW, Nanamoose does food reviews well. Her blog is a humble, honest and hearty collection of mostly great reviews.


Reference

Symphony of spicy flavors awakens senses (The Standard)
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anyone who was in contact with me last week, regardless of whether it was for a minute on Skype or for a few hours at the office, must have heard me mention my latest obsession - Sichuan food.

Let me clarify something first: I was never crazy about spicy food. Spicy food for me was a bit like watching horror movies - you pay to torture your senses.

While in Shanghai for a few days, I decided to become adventurous. Along with my friend, we checked Dianping (the Shanghai version of Openrice website in Hong Kong) and settled down in a Sichuan restaurant near People's Square for afternoon tea.

We ended up ordering two of the province's signature dishes - Kou Shui Ji (literal translation: saliva chicken) and Shui Zhu Yu (water cooked fish).

My friend and I started catching up while we waited for the food. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she whispered a horrified "Oh..."

I turned and towards us loomed a ginormous china bowl.

After quickly recovering from my shock, I picked up a slice of catfish with my chopsticks and waited a few seconds for the excess chili oil to drip.

The flavors were truly INSANE - like exposing your taste buds to some spicy fireworks. There was also a herb that very much resembled a hybrid between a peppercorn and caper.

Biting it released a most mind- blowing sensation in your mouth. It numbs your tongue for the first few seconds, then it turns tart ... and I don't even know how to begin explaining the rest of this culinary experience.

People often generalize about Sichuan food as being spicy.

But this is a single, straightforward adjective which could be used to describe only a fraction of this amazing dish, as you would KFC wings, or your sauce of choice at Subway.

But this was like an orchestra of flavors playing in your mouth - and it played some legendary score that our ancestors composed centuries ago.

Student Gloria Yu lives life with passion and writes about it with hope.

Classic pork dish brings locals together to chew the fat (SCMP; paywall)
KITCHEN CONTENDERS: TAI HANG
Yvonne Lai (yvonne.lai@scmp.com)
Aug 11, 2011

The neighbourhood of Tai Hang is the proud home of the 130-year old Fire Dragon Dance parade during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It retains a traditional Hong Kong village feel, despite the development of upscale flats up Tai Hang Road and the spillover of shiny, new shops from Causeway Bay and Tin Hau.

Among Tai Hang's central blocks of low-rise residences, car repair workshops, restaurants, fruit stalls and newsstands, everybody seems to know each other. Nothing brings locals and newcomers together more than a home-style Cantonese meal, and Wun Sha Street is lined with tiny shops serving just that.

On any given night of the week, neighbouring restaurants Man Sing Café and Happy Fish Bistro set up tables on the pavement and dish up local favourites such as the steamed minced pork with salted egg (ham dan jing yuk beng) we have chosen for this tasting.

Man Sing doesn't have English signage or menus, but it does have a bright orange shopfront that you can't miss. The strictly first-come-first-served policy means no reservations and the whole dining party must be present to be seated. On a busy night, which was the case when we visited, that could mean eating surrounded by an audience of waiting diners just a metre away from your table.

The waiting staff barely stop long enough to take our order of minced pork and rice before zooming into the small interior and zooming out with drinks. The dish follows within a minute, and we find ourselves staring at a tower of pale, glistening pork with a bright orange salted egg yolk twinkling like the star on a Christmas tree. Around this impressive structure was a moat of sweetened soy sauce with floating bits of freshly chopped spring onion.

We carve out morsels of the soft, almost fluffy mass and take bites with mouthfuls of rice - and the meat just melts in the mouth. The combination of the pork's natural juices and the generous amount of fat and salt - there are some bits of gristle - make the use of soy sauce unnecessary for moisture.

The salted egg is no competition for the mince itself in terms of richness. We speculate about the amount of fat, and briefly wonder what it's doing to our arteries, before polishing off the rest of it. It is whipped to achieve such an airy texture. This is definitely a minced pork dish that inspires gluttony.

The next night we make our way to Happy Fish Bistro, which is famous for its steamed pomfret (no surprise) and roasted meats. But like any self-respecting home-style Cantonese restaurant, it has its own versions of steamed pork mince.

We are tempted to order the one with preserved vegetables, but stick to the salted egg version for the sake of the review. While the tables inside the small dining room are full, the atmosphere here is more relaxed and service more leisurely at the only table outside.

The steamed minced pork arrives in a wide oval dish - the meat's flat shape is more usual for the dish. The salted egg yolk sits in the centre, with the egg white cooked solidly around the edge of the pork cake.

There are spring onion bits, but no soy sauce on this dish. As we take a spoon to the meat, we find that it is much firmer than the one at Man Sing. It's packed solidly, with an almost gummy texture from the cornstarch in the mix.

Clearly, they believe in using less fat at Happy Fish Bistro. The result, although probably healthier, is a drier, harder cake.

Here, the egg yolk is the star. Seeming somewhere between soft and hard-boiled in consistency, the yolk flavour had a rich intensity that Man Sing's did not, giving the mince some added character.

The verdict: Happy Fish Bistro's steamed minced pork is just like mum makes. But Man Sing's other-worldly, fatty pork pyramid is the one we can't stop thinking about.

Man Sing Café
G/F, 16 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang
2576 7272

Happy Fish Bistro
G/F, 12 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang
2808 4228





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