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  • Stephanie Yuen
    Stephanie Yuen

    Stephanie Yuen

    • Canada
    • Food Journalism
    • Asian Culinary Culture
    • 0 followers

    Stephanie Yuen replied 6th Apr '14:

    Dining out is not about eating good food in a nice place anymore.

    The good, the bad and the craze of dining out

    Stephanie Yuen

    Let’s face it, dining out is unavoidable, be it fine dining or standing in front of a food cart at a busy corner downtown somewhere. Food is what human bodies need, it is a socializing food. Food also feeds our curiosity and social media frenzy.

    Starting with ‘restaurant’ and ‘chef’, any food-related terms have been polarized ever since Food channel frequents our homes. Hamburgers become gourmet; steaks more juicy; vegetables look more glittering; even those that we don’t usually feed our kids look mightily good on the screen. Yes, with the help of conventional and social media, eating in and dining out have entered a new threshold.

    Consequences? You bet!

    Everyone, well, at least every other person, is now interested in food! We pay attention to the highly regarded restaurants and crown every restaurant chef who appears on TV ‘celebrity’. Restaurant industry has been directly or indirectly sugar-coated.  Do not forget we are also paying extra for the supremely-ranked restaurants and of course, the celebrity chefs!  The truth of the matter is, not every dish and each bite is as good as it should be. Diners who enter these famed establishments and indulge in the celebrity-ranked dishes may not know or mind the difference. Too bad for the rest who prefers value for the dollar!  Reality is tougher for these folks who save up to ‘experience’ a fine meal.

    On the other hand, bad news travels as fast. Audiences now have a clear picture of how pigs, cows and poultry are treated by huge corporations.  Awareness is always a positive thing!

    The good:
    1/ We do pay more attention to what we pay for and put in our mouths most of the time. Conscience programs such as sustainability, ocean wise, humane practices, organic and slow-food movements are gaining momentums.
    2/ Kids learn to appreciate food and cooking better.
    3/ Understanding culinary culture because of the love of food leads to better understanding of ethnic culture as well.

    The bad:
    1/ Too many urban go-getter or trend-followers who believe it is their responsibilities to try out each new restaurant, pay $20 for a fancy-named martini with no regrets, knows about the best cup- cake bakery in town and follows food bloggers, chefs and restaurateurs tweets!  
    2/ We pay too much into food-related topics. An ordinary dine-out meal takes over the conversations and social gatherings. Instead of sharing other pertinent topics and thoughts, we let our palate do the talking!
    3/ The simple joy of fine-dining has been dramatized by who’s the chef, what’s the trend, are the menu-offerings creative enough….

    The craze:
    1/ Everyone (well, at least those who tweets) takes out his/her camera and take pictures of the food, tweets what they are eating, who with. They all become anchors of their own ‘food show’!
    2/ The art of plating takes over - the food preparation, flavour, texture and the match-making of ingredients are all shifted aside.
    3/ Those who can scribble, tweet, take digital photos and blog make much more noises than what the food/meal really are. Interestingly, they all believe they are experts. The sad thing is, others follow!

    The value of dining out

    In the real world, there are rich folks who do not blink when they pull out a $100 bill in a restaurant for their own portions of the meal; those who do not pay too much attention to too many real needs; and those who use the $100 to pay for the family’s grocery for one whole week. Dining out to the rich folks, and the live-for-today souls is distinctly different than the family of 4 who can only afford to eat out for special occasions. And of course, for those in between! Please do take note, I am not including any alcoholic beverages here.

    Be it a $50 of T-bone steak dinner in a fancy restaurant or a family meal for 4 for $35 in a neighbourhood diner, it is all about value, dollar to dollar. Some believes lit candles, soft music, young waitress or proficient staff and a big wine list are parts of the value; others look for hearty cooking, good portions and friendly atmosphere. If you ask me, there are certain specifications for different occasions, but for an everyday meal in a restaurant; with a buddy, the boss or the family, it is still all about the value obtained from that meal.

    You and I both know healthy meals are ideal; but for many they may have to be a compromise. We all like to eat healthy at all times, but what the price tags say brings out another discussion due to various reasons, hence we have to leave that at the back for now.  A valued meal in my book refers to one that is not pretentious and allows the diner to sit comfortably while enjoying a decently tasty meal, served with a smile. The diner will leave full, happy and contented without the feeling that she or he’s been undersold or cheated. 

    To the ordinary folks who have limited income, fine-dining is a special event, may even be an invited event. Fast-food chains are easy to find and cheap to feed the family restaurants. With almost every one of them yelling ‘we serve healthy food too’, the guilty conscience is somewhat gone out of the window. However, in the modern day society, fast-food chains do serve some purposes and will never go away. Neighbourhood establishments somehow get the nod from a large percentage of the nearby residents. After a while, they may become the family kitchen away from home. Warm and cozy, the restaurants up   the block or a short-distance away is where family gatherings take place. One thing for sure, the total of the bill do not usually breaks the bank.

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