Guiding Your Palate

Are you eating based on what others are telling you to? This is exactly what the modern digital media wanted you to become – for your palate to be influenced by popular demands.

The Famous Little Red Book

Michelin guides in Andre (2 Stars 2016-2017)

It is so bizarre that our palates and culinary trends are guided by a little red book published by a tyre manufacturer. The original purpose of the Michelin guide was to encourage the novelty automobile owners to drive more of their cars so that it would wear out the rubber tyres. It gave a guide of taverns and inns, and places to eat – kind of an early 20th century Lonely Planet Guide.

Haute cuisine from The Inn at Little Washington (3 Stars)

Then it started a grading system of awarding stars to the restaurants in 1926, as the nouveau riche went on a gastronomic journey with they new found freedom on four wheels, which developed into the familiar three stars system we are familiar today a decade later. It also give gradings to hotels, and other stuff but they are often ignored.

Liao Fan Hawker Chan (Chinatown) 1 Star 2016-2021

There were many controversies and complaints about the fairness and variety of the restaurants reviewed. As a result of these external pressure, the Singapore guide introduced the first under $10 one Star street food restaurant in the world in 2016.

Ownself Judge Ownself

Odette in Singapore (2023 World’s #36, Asia’s #6)

In recent years, another guide received more prominence because they were selected by the best of the bests of the bests. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list is the result of a poll of over 1,000 independent experts, who each cast votes for establishments where they have enjoyed their best restaurant experiences.

Labyrinth in Singapore jumped up 39 places to #11 (2023)

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy is gender-balanced and contains 27 regions around the world. Each region has a chairperson (Academy Chair), and that chairperson assembles 40 people (including themselves) to vote. This panel is an equal mix of leading chefs and restaurateurs in that region, food journalists and critics, and well-travelled gourmets. Under usual circumstances, at least 25% of the panellists from each region change each year.

Ensue in Shenzhen (2023 Asia #31)

This motley crew has since expanded the lists to include regional 50 Bests, 50 Best Bars, 50 Best Hotels, 50 Next. So you have the strange case where the No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best (Le Du in Bangkok) is not even on the World’s 50 Best.

Pay To Play

Phenix in Shanghai (2023 1 Star, 2 Diamonds)

China’s miraculous economic rise to power in the last two decades created a lot of wealth. And with the money the propensity to spend on gourmet food exploded. But many do not know how to appreciate the foreign cuisine and depended on the so-called food critics to recommend.

Le Caviar fro L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon in Shanghai (2023 2 Stars, no diamonds)

There are two major culinary lists that are competing for your attention in China – the reverent Michelin city guide (now in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and expanding quickly) and 大众点评 Dianping.com. It is a website/search engine that started as a portal for the general public to rate a directory of restaurants and eateries in the major cities of China, like Shanghai (where it started) and Beijing. This search engine has expanded to be the Zagat’s guide for China.

Michelin-starred Yongfoo Elite has one diamond (2023)

Then it introduced its own gourmet list of restaurants – Dianping.com’s Black Pearl List. But only the years, the Dianping’s judging criteria has come under a lot of scrutiny. Both Michelin and Dianping have similar criteria in grading (stars vs diamonds), but Dianping’s pay-to-play element is more evident, which is similar to Best 50’s academy but made up of restauranteurs. So far, my experience with the Black Pearl list has been pretty dismal.

We Are What We Eat

Padang food from Sederhana

Once upon a time, we ate at home. And because time were simpler then, we ate simple food. Then as society and economy progressed, we moved up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and seek the finer things in life. Gluttony is a sin, and I for one am guilty of it. And I depended on these lists to help me navigate at first.

Tofuya Unkai in Tokyo

However, the choices became really disappointing after a while as they tried to maintain uniformity and consistency. There are many good restaurants that will never make it to any of the lists because the chefs were not seeking these kinds of fame and fortune. They just want to cook what they want to serve and eat.

Leputing in Taipei

And then, there’s the ethnic elements in every country. An international lists like Michelin or regional listings like Best 50’s will never be able to cover everything. You just have to trust your instincts to discover some surprises.

Written Jun 2023

1 comment on “Guiding Your Palate

  1. Pingback: Yaki ONE 鳥萬 @ Beijing – live2makan

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