Foodosophy of Evolving Taste – Part 1

First off Happy New Year to everyone. Secondly a very big very thank you to Shokutsu et al. for keeping things moving in my protracted absence. I’d change the blog to be called shokutsuosophy, but it doesnt quite have the same ring. Hope you’re ok with that 🙂

Unfortunately, without a good internet connection, im not able to post anything with pictures, but i wanted to discuss a topic that’s been on my mind recently. It’s about the evolution of taste. What does it mean for people who blog, and how does it shape how we view food?

Let’s start with the definition of evolution: “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form”.

What im referring to is the natural propensity of taste to change over time. I feel this happens personally, as in to individuals, and it happens culturally as well. Today, i want to address the personal aspect.

Personally, i’ve noticed that my own tastes change and evolve quite often. The more repeated exposure i get to certain types of foods, and really, the more exposure to different tastes (in wine, coffee, food), the more what constitutes my “ideal taste” changes.

For example, let’s look at Pho. Most of us can remember our first bowl of this mysterious liquid – warm, soothing, filling, there’s something very primal and satisfying about a bowl of Pho. Whether or not it was a “good” expression, or a “bad” expression of Pho, we didnt care. It was a real aha kind of moment. If i could honestly remember my first bowl of Pho, and if i was to be completely objective, i would put money down that it would be something i passed off as mediocre to me these days. But i sure didnt feel that way at the time.

Now – literally thousands of bowls of Pho in, my tastes have changed. You can call it “evolution” if you want, but im not 100% certain it is based on the above definition. Better, after all, is a relative term. In some cases, people may view the change as a de-evolution.

I prefer clean simple expressions of broth. Deep and complex in flavour, the tastes dance across your tongue as you slurp a proportionate mix of beef, noodles, and soup. But that isnt the only thing i’ve learned to appreciate. The texture of the meat, the grain it is sliced on, the thickness, proportionate to the proper texture of the rice noodle – not gummy, not al dente, the temperature of the broth, the proper condiments, lacking in the overt sweetness of excessive MSG, the ability to balance the dish with a touch of acidity. This is the Pho i crave. Based on my experiences, this is what was the standard for quality in Vietnam.

What am i concerned with? Well, as i build a body of experiences, my criteria for how i evaluate a place changes. Pre-Vietnam, i had a different standard with which i measued Pho. In the ebbs and flows of dining experiences, what is important to me changes. As i learn more, discover more, and taste more, how i previously measured an establishment may change – and how i feel about a place, will also change. As i taste things i like better, my standard is bound to change with it.

What does this mean? Well, it means there’s almost a certain lifespan to information. What i wrote two years ago I may or may not agree with still. Experiences that were positive, i may no longer feel the same way. Just like experiences that were negative, I may feel differently, just because i measure them by a differing standard.

What i want to know is how should we manage this information? Let’s be honest, what we write impacts people’s business. Is leaving a snapshot in time, a set of experiences at a certain period, up on the internet in perpetuity fair? Should there be a lifespan to information – a “best before” date? Should, as readers, we keep the date of reviews in mind? I dont know what the right answer it, but it concerns me. I’d love to your thoughts on this, no matter your opinion. Thanks!

[Part two will address the idea of cultural evolution of food and taste. I’ll get to that later.]

11 thoughts on “Foodosophy of Evolving Taste – Part 1

  1. Interesting topic. I don’t know if a best before date would work on line but I certainly make note of when material is posted, whether I’m looking at a food-related website or any other. Recent reports of a restaurant’s performance tend to have more impact on my thought processes about trying it out than older ones. Chefs change, ingredients change, and as you say, tastes change over time.

  2. Congrats on getting the blog to this stage of maturity. I’ve been thinking about this as well in terms of information staleness. With a dynamic topic such as meal reviews, the chefs may change, seasonal menus are different, it is really hard to know whether a review is still relevant. There are options such as keeping this as a point in time narrative, focusing more on your experience rather than as a restaurant review and recommendation. The other extreme is to evolve to something like formal restaurant reviews and going back on a regular basis to update.

    Perhaps some polling of your readers may help you decide what your readers read this blog for. Personally, I enjoy reading about the experience that you guys had and some of the comparisons you make. What I think is special about your work is the more global perspective and comparisons as opposed to just local reviews.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I have a concern similar to yours and, fortunately, I do have an answer of sorts: It is up to the readers to check the date of the post. Just as you mentioned, things have changed and what we write applies at that point and time. Things move along and, as a result, what was written then, could no longer be applicable. Of course, given that a lot of people have short attention span, that might be difficult…

  4. To be honest, I find f o o d o s o p h y reviews and the blog to be very helpful. Yes, a biased post based on your own experiences at the restaurant are provided however, it is through word-of-mouth and recommendations that some of the best places become known; even then, not everyone is going to like the same thing. It is up to the individual to make their own discoveries.

  5. Gray Elf – do you think it would be responsible to remove old reviews then if things do significantly change?

    Andy – i agree 100% in the sense that we should (and we try) to focus on the experience – but inevitably, no matter how you detail it, the majority of people are still going to read it as a review. While we try to use as much due diligence as possible, it’s not feasible for us to create timely content while maintaining the standards and rigor i feel are necessary in real reviews, so i think we can safely remove that one! As for polling our readers, we’ve tried that in the past to no real success.

    Your compliments (thank you by the way) do have me thinking though – might be a way to refine our approach to things to be more micro/macro – the idea of local vs broader scale. The only issue i see with this is that sometimes, a local hole in the wall is just that, and it often doesnt need a global perspective – to use the big line from 2010, sometimes it is what it is.

    KH – yeah – i think you’re right that sometimes things arent read carefully. As Almattone pointed out a few days ago, it’s interesting that a restaurant linked to his review when it was a strong balance between positive and negative. Did they not read carefully?

    Leahhg – thanks for simplifying it 🙂 I think i have a tendency to overcomplicate things sometimes. At the end of the day – getting people to try places that deserve to be tried is the important part – they will make their own discoveries. While i sometimes hope everyone will love the same places i do, i understand why they wouldnt. Congrats on your upcoming graduation btw!

    So what im taking from all this is:

    – information staleness is an issue but there is little one can do on this side of the equation to manage it.
    – the value in what we share are more in providing some personal, global perspective, and in exposing places that people should try, and that is less prone to information staleness than “reviewing” establishments.
    – we have some amazing readers.

    Ok – got it! Off to catch a flight. I’d appreciate any additional thoughts – there’s still a lot to think about.

  6. Thank you for refraining from opting for a brand name change to the site. 🙂

    From a purely back-end perspective, I think we can explore linking any “update” posts on previous/older entries on the originals themselves. I know for some, I’ve added notes at the top of older posts to reflect any changes (e.g. closures, new thoughts that are expressed in another post that people should check for an update). Will require some legwork to go back, but think its manageable to complete this task.

  7. great topic. this had been on my mind for years. we are creatures of our experiences. you touch on a good point. it’s evolution.

    after 1000 bowl of pho made by just as many cooks your experience will certainly be different than when you had it the first time.

    just leave your post. most folks are bright enough to read the dates. but do updates. you can only report your experiences and what you honestly feel.

  8. This is definitely a case where the journey more fun than the destination. I know my relationship with food is an ongoing process – much like what you describe here. My palate has evolved along with my growing number of experiences with food.

    I don’t think you have to worry: the internet is now happening at a real-time pace and self-imposes a near immediate “best before” date. Information isn’t static and the most bloggers can really do is provide ephemeral snapshots as this stream of flows by.

  9. Ok ok. Posts will be left as is. As Shokutsu points out, we will endeavor to provide updates to try and maintain somewhat current information.

    Of course, for the most part, after a few bad experiences, im not usually willing to go back to a place with food i don’t like just for the sake of an update. It’s probably a bit unfair, but that means some negative reviews may always stay that way…

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