Setting the bar


Baba ghanouj and chicken shawarma at Shoshana

I once met with a street food writer from Singapore who said he thought food bloggers should be subject to a certification process, to prove their opinions were worthy of publication. My immediate reaction was — and I apologize in advance — “How Singapore”. My second was to laugh, in relief, at the fact that nothing on earth would ever be able to stop anyone from ever publicizing their useless, worthless opinions on anything. As long as Perez Hilton and Andrew Breitbart and anyone else who has pulled a string of words out of their ass is able to publish all the nonsense they can muster, I and my uncertified, unqualified brethren will be safe.

Because let’s be honest here. Not only are we “writers” (and by “writers”, I mean people who write stuff in a public forum, like internet commenters). We are also “food writers”. That means we are doubly cursed. Let’s face it: anyone who can read can write. And most people who can write think they are pretty good at it. This is the reason why writers are some of the most miserable human beings you will ever encounter. The value of their work — unlike, say, a cheating sack of shit like Tom Brady — is completely subjective and unmeasurable, unless you count Nobel Prizes or book sales (and no one wants to count sales unless they’re JK Rowling or Dan Brown).

Now apply that to food. EVERYBODY EATS. Everybody eats more than they read and write. It’s a fact. Google it, as Marco Rubio would have said. And most people have an opinion on what they eat. So food writers are doubly useless. They write about what everyone, literally every person on earth, does every day. Everyone is an expert on this.

Sometimes I tell people that I’m more into the historical and social and political ramifications of what we choose to put into our mouths, and that the taste/atmosphere/and even artistic aspects of food are secondary to me. This is mostly true. But I usually don’t feel like I have to make excuses for how useless I really am. I’m a food writer. Food is fuel. My opinion is not more valuable than yours. And as crazy as I am about food, well, so is everyone else. Because food keeps them alive. The bar is that low. The bar to food writing is practically in the basement, it’s so low. I could be worthless, the absolute worst, and maybe I am … but I will always be qualified to be a food writer.

I think the people I went to journalism school with probably see food writing as cushy, a waste of a degree in a way that, say, being a political correspondent in Afghanistan would not have been. To them, it’s like selling out. So I wonder about selling out in other fields, too. Like, how terrible, really, was “Star Wars” for George Lucas? Did its incredible success basically suffocate his artistic vision? Some cinephiles would argue yes. And of course there are musical equivalents, so so many of them. Do you think those guys in Genesis miss the days when they were playing behind Peter Gabriel dressed as a condom to a crowd of budding dungeon masters? Or do you think those days are a faint haze that they try to forget as they sip their pina coladas by the pool at their estates in Mallorca? I think I know which way Phil Collins is leaning. And “A Song of Ice and Fire”? How thrilled is George RR Martin with its success now, really? You know the answer.

Luckily for me, I will never have to worry about the corrupting influence of success and the need to compromise for your fans, because I have always been a sell-out, and I have no fans. Not so for Shoshana, the longstanding kosher eatery in the Old Town that has been around since Khao San Road (i.e. “backpacker’s paradise”) was a thing. Testament to the scores of Israelis who flocked to the area while on holiday, Shoshana is still known for its Middle Eastern/Israeli favorites like hummus, shawarma, shakshuka, falafel and a creamy, garlicky baba ghanouj (“eggplant salad”) that may be the best in the city. They also now do schnitzel and chicken livers, and even bagels. Oh yeah, and there’s Thai food. Why? Well why not? Even though they’re in the middle of Old Town and there may be hundreds of better Thai food places around them, staying alive and thriving after all these years means expanding your menu and installing air-conditioning and putting in more tables. So if eating at Shoshana at lunchtime occasionally feels like eating with the pirate’s crew on the Black Pearl, know that this is the price both you and they pay for success, and that the food is still worth it.








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8 responses to “Setting the bar

  1. With all the pretty pictures of Thai food, I can hardly wait for the monitor that utilizes “scratch and sniff” !!!!

  2. Chissa Duangnet

    This article was so so good. I laughed out loud 4 times. And it made me think about how we qualify perspective. I would think dancing behind Peyer Gabriel as a condom would be a pinnacle of achievement , but who am I? Who are any of us?

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