In my past job as a food writer, I would always get asked just two things — “Masarap ba?” and “Saan ba masarap?” Everybody thinks because you get invited to a restaurant, you are the best source of what is delicious, believing you are pampered with the tastiest food.
In a way, that is true, but I have always been reserved about my judgement, even cautious in my reactions, because there really is no such thing as the best and the most delicious. Taste buds vary from person to person; everyone’s opinion is valid. And even one’s sense of taste matures.
For example, I never liked vegetables as a child. You would be hard-pressed to make me eat ampalaya. My idea of veggies then consists of potatoes, cabbage and pechay. I never touched onions or squash, not even eggplant, and most certainly not okra.
But my taste buds have grown up, I guess, because I now eat all of them, regularly having a green salad when the chance presents it.
I’ve realized that maybe I don’t appreciate certain dishes simply because they aren’t something I grew up with. In our house, we have shed dining on tinapa and daing, save for daing na bangus, because my folks are watching their salt intake. So, when I am served it at a friend’s place or out-of-town, I give it a try and keep open-minded about it. Or dine on something else.
Likewise, people who cook, whether they be Michelin-starred chefs or kusineras at carinderias, are human, too.
They have their off days, too. Perhaps today’s sinigang at a new place is the best you’ve tasted in quite a while, and later be saddened it no longer tastes the same the next day. Even if a chef is trained to navigate a recipe and produce the same product day in and day out, there will be days when the magic just isn’t there. And we all have those days, too.
I heard a famous food critic gave restaurants three visits before writing about them so they get a fair chance.
If a place didn’t measure up, she wouldn’t write about it. That’s why her columns were considered THE verdict by all foodies. Her articles broke or established a restaurant’s reputation.
I went to this hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant she visited once and was amazed to see a line outside; it took me 30 minutes to get in. While I knew what I wanted to try, other diners didn’t.
They ordered exactly what she had. The place eventually closed down because it couldn’t cope with the crowd that didn’t want to wait, much less those who didn’t want to try its other dishes.
The development of blogs and online portals of any kind has seen so much writing online about food and establishments. Everybody has an opinion of where the best dish can be had.
I have never trusted those write-ups having fallen victim a couple of times to dubious reviews.
For example, one website promoted years ago a list of the top five restos in Metro Manila serving Hainanese chicken rice. Luck would have it I found myself outside No. 2 one night in BGC. The place brandished a printout of the listing outside their door. Of course, I went in. Turned out No. 2 wouldn’t even rate No. 3 or No. 4 on my own list. I have no idea if that restaurant is still there.
This remains true during this pandemic when most of us had food delivered. Many of those glowing reviews are meant to make you order. So, always take those reviews with a grain of salt.
Let’s face it. You cannot try everything. You cannot eat everywhere.
There are only three meals in a day, five if you count morning and afternoon merienda.
One’s stomach can only take in so much in a day. The tongue also gets tired from trying to taste everything.
You cannot have the budget to eat out all the time. And you can’t get a free meal all the time.
So, if I get asked “Masarap ba?” or “Saan ba masarap?” I first eye the person in front of me before I give a reply.
Chances are I will tell you just one of two things — “Bawal sa akin ’yon,” or “’Di ko alam.”
And then I will ask you in return — “Saan ba masarap?”