Reflecting on Reviews

Being the new year, it seemed like an opportune time to look back at my blog and evaluate their value to both me and my potential readers. This is a reflection post, and is more useful for me than any reader who happened to stumble upon this small little food blog.

I started off my blog with food reviews, partly because I felt like I can contribute something in terms of my thoughts about food, and partly because food reviews are comparatively easy to write, when weighing in against other options like recipe development, food history, or in-depth guides. For instance, my Lor Mee article took a few days of secondary research, just actively browsing and looking at Lor Mee related articles, blog posts, reviews, recipes, videos, or other content I can find. In comparison, a food review at most takes up half a day, with me travelling to a certain location, eating, evaluating, researching on the food item/stall, then following a general review template.

However, having actually written some reviews and having an excess of 1200+ photos which can potentially convert into 100+ blog posts if I chose to commit more time to, then begs the question.

Why do I write?

This particular question constantly bugs me whenever I encounter a new experience with food. Often, the reaction I have to a new place or food item is “meh”, which usually results in a mediocre score and an uninspiring review, that at it’s core is basically just a 600 word essay saying “it’s ok”. It should come as no surprise that food with a common dish name, like Chicken Rice, tastes somewhat similar to each other. It is also pretty common that businesses emulate what other successful businesses have done, which results in pretty similar things for a lot of food. To add to that, food operators also often source from similar suppliers, or may even just be a rebranding of an existing company.

The amazing gourmet experience doesn’t exactly come often, for someone who eats at where ever I happen to travel to. And having actively thought about the food I am eating for the months so far, I can very safely come to the conclusion that I am actually not very qualified to be giving food reviews. Marco Pierre White once returned his Michelin Stars (or tried to) after achieving 3 stars, for the reason that the Michelin inspectors have less knowledge than he did. Though on a smaller scale, food reviews on my blog are probably the same. I am less qualified than the chef in terms of preparation of the food, have a less-trained palette to identify flavors compared to seasoned restaurant goers, and know less about the food business than experienced restaurateurs who spent their lifetime in the industry.

I think for someone to be qualified to judge a dish, there are a few requirements.

  1. Understand how it is generally prepared, and how each individual step/ingredient contributes to the overall taste.
    • Generally this also means the person can replicate the dish at varying qualities, though not necessarily in a commercial setting
  2. Know what makes a certain dish be called a certain name, if it has a common name.
  3. Have ate similar dishes at varying quality, and knowing the specific differences that makes each quality inferior or superior to each other.
    • Say for Chicken Rice, an excellent quality can be the Michelin Starred Tian Tian; an above average quality can be your decently popular neighbourhood chicken rice stall; the average quality can be those found at Cafe Anana.
    • This generally means that a dish is eaten at least 4 times.
    • If the reviewer has prepared the dish before at varying quality, that would be suitable as well.
  4. Writing/communication skills to accurately describe the dish, and convey the experience is useful, but in my opinion not necessary.
    • A person who fulfills the above can simply judge a dish by shaking his/her head and walking off, and it might mean more than someone who doesn’t and vividly describes the experience such that I feel like I too ate at the place.

To a lot of the things I ate, given my own criteria, I am a lot less than qualified. What I can provide is an everyday man perspective, and whether I think other people might like the food.

Then comes the next question: Why do people read what I write?

It comes as no surprise to myself, though a little saddening personally, that majority of my viewership comes from fast food reviews. Most people are also new visitors, coming in through organic traffic from google search. Readers are likely the ones who want to understand other people’s experience with a certain food item, and maybe whether they should try it themselves.

With this in mind, I have to ask whether my reviews are bringing value to my readers. Is a 600 word review saying “It’s okay” worth more than simply posting pictures and literally writing “It’s okay”? Are my posts more valuable than the Google reviews that pop up? I do not know that, but the only metric available to me are views.

Moving forward, I will continue to write reviews, but I think I would want to focus more on food knowledge (such as the food origins articles), as I feel that I can contribute more that way, as well as also making myself more qualified to actually review food in the process.

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