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Curious about Foodie vs. Chowhound

  • w

I read with interest the article on the front page of this site about the difference between a "foodie" and a "chowhound." I really don't like labels as everyone brings a unique spin to this passion. However, based on the article, and after being on these boards for over a year now, I'm beginning to wonder if the line between the two is getting fuzzy. The article says that foodies go where they are told...but aren't we doing that very thing here? We ask for "where to go for chow" on all the different city boards, etc. Isn't Chowhound now putting out its own guide for some cities? How is using that different from using Zagat or any other guide?

Don't get me wrong, I love coming here, I have been helped immensely by Chowhounds far more knowledgable than myself, and I think I might have helped a few along the way, too. But just curious to really understand the difference...starting to wonder if I might be a combo of the two. I did hear Jim Leff say in a recent intereview that a foodie is more about cooking, and since for me, that is an equal passion to finding great food out (or perhaps an even greater passion), perhaps I lean more toward that side of things. Not sure yet. If I discover I'm more foodie than chowhound, I hope I can still come here!! :) Maybe I can start a new term...the chowdie?

Would love to hear how others make the distinction and if anyone else feels you might be a bit of each.

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  1. i posted about this a little while back, but didn't get much response.

    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    6 Replies
    1. re: mark

      Interesting! (and so my new term isn't new at all...oh well).

      Hmm...by your definition, I don't think I fit that totally. I'm fine with going to a place on my own, and I certainly don't need "buzz"... but I also don't mind a little info either...one or two people who may have been there and what they thought...mainly because I like the dialog. Even if they thought negatively, I'll still try it if it sounds good to me and then we can have a fun discussion afterward.

      Again, if a person comes on this website, asking "where's the chow in Detroit?" does that mean he's not really a chowhound because he's not willing to just land in Detroit and find out for himself? I'm not being snide...I'm just trying to understand the terms. I did tons of research for my trip to Paris because I was only going to be there for a week and had no idea when/if I was going to go back and so I did want as much info as possible...but we still ate at a few places totally on our own and had a blast. But I was VERY grateful for the help I received here. Perhaps a "true" chowhound would have just gone and thrown caution to the wind. But I gotta tell you, I love reading about food and restaurants and doing the research was half the fun. So maybe that's the foodie in me. Though it would certainly seem that chowhounds love to read about all of that as well, or this board wouldn't exist. :)

      I still think the line of distinction is fuzzier than we might think.

      1. re: wyf4lyf

        >>> Perhaps a "true" chowhound would have just gone and thrown caution to the wind. But I gotta tell you, I love reading about food and restaurants and doing the research was half the fun. <<<

        No. If that is the one thing I got out of my thread about Chowhound strategies is that two things are important ... being informed and being flexible.

        If you inform yourself about the cuisine or restaurant, then you are more likely to zone in on the best food in the menu.

        Being flexible is that even though everything you've read says 'order the burger', if you get there and something else interests you, you order that.

        I've met very few Chowhounds, maybe 3-4 tops. Most people I've met at chow events, and read on this board, including myself, are a combination of both.

        I can be a foodie when it comes to some upscale restaurants. I get sucked into the hype and then refuse to trust my own taste that what I'm eating isn't all that, but the chef has an armload of credentials so it must be good.

        I love Chez Panisse and Alice Waters, but it took me quite a while and $$$ to admit the ice cream at Cafe Fanny tastes awful ... at $4.50 a scoop ... but it's organic Meyer lemons ... lovinging crafted ... it MUST be good, it must be me. Nope. It's awful.

        I'm a foodie when I get sucked in by atmosphere ... the great view or the ambiance of the restuarant.

        I'm a foodie in the dives sometimes when I get sucked in by Chowhound chatter and believe it must be good because everyone else I respect on the board says so.

        In all of those cases it takes a while (and ususally $$$) for the Chowhound to kick in and decide the food at these places isn't all that.

        Like this board, the SF Guides are like nothing out there. Some of the critical things I've read about the book are the things that make it great ... that make it Chow-houndly.

        Repeating something I wrote yesterday. One person complained elsewhere that sometimes the book oddly selects only a single item, and sometimes that isn't even the thing that the place is known for.

        That's what makes the book Chowhound. It gets you there, but it is up to you to be a foodie or a Chowhound. Slavishly order the thing mentioned or explore the other stuff.

        Besides, there are a million books, reviews, and sites that can tell you what the place is known for. The Chowhound guide steps out of that box.

        Not that I don't often get at least one thing suggested, but because it isn't the usual laundry list of "you must order these dishes", I get to find out on my own what is there. The best thing is getting me to step in the door ... or sometimes the place next door that isn't mentioned. Sometimes I don't actually make it to the place in the book because something more interesting pops up on the way there.

        One of my favorite bakeries I found there, and after a year I have yet to try the banana cream pie suggestion in the SF Guide.

        And although my copy is dog-earead and I've used it a lot, I can't recall if there is anything about how any restaurant looks in there. There might be some of that, but all that sticks in my mind is food.

        The best I can do is try to be a Chowhound ... but I think it is something you are born with like a talent for art. The rest of us go to classes to improve and gain an understanding how to paint. And so it goes with being a Chowhound, IMO.

        It seems simple, almost zen ... it's about the food ... yet even after a few years, I still don't get it all, but learn something new all the time. So all of this might be the wrong take on being a Chowhound. Just what I feel at this particular point in time.

        But it down't really matter so that in the end the hunt is fun for you and the result is delicous food ... however you get there.

        1. re: rworange

          That was a great post. I think we're on the same page. I realize now that it was quite audacious to say on this site, "it's not always just about the food"...totally gives me away as not being a full-blooded chowhound. :) I, too, love great atmosphere, esp. on special occasions.

          I also think it's great to feel comfortable with whatever level of chowness we are at...and to not be ashamed of the foodie parts.

          I appreciate all you shared. Can you give me a link to your thread on Chowhound strategies? I'd love to read it. Thanks.

          1. re: rworange

            That was a great post. I think we're on the same page. I realize now that it was quite audacious to say on this site, "it's not always just about the food"...totally gives me away as not being a full-blooded chowhound. :) I, too, love great atmosphere, esp. on special occasions.

            I also think it's great to feel comfortable with whatever level of chowness we are at...and to not be ashamed of the foodie parts.

            I appreciate all you shared. Can you give me a link to your thread on Chowhound strategies? I'd love to read it. Thanks.

            1. re: rworange

              Well put. I see it (heavily abbreviated) as:

              Chowhounds go for the steak, foodies go for the sizzle.

              Ambience, great view, can be as valid a part of the 'hound experience and doesn't necessitate that it's foodie, unless that's the primary (or only) draw. That's where themed restaurants come from.

              But it's finding the best that's important - best 'hood for taco trucks, best taco truck on the block, best item from each truck, and be willing to accept that sometimes the taco trucks are really much better than the upscale, popular Mexican place next door in the first place.

              I also agree with another poster that true 'hounding happens on one's home turf - that's where you have the time, energy, and exposure to really check things out. And that's why it's important to ask other 'hounders when visiting somewhere - they've done that footwork for us and we return the favor when they ask about our home town. (side note: I wish more of us would search a thread first before posting the classic "in town for x days, where should I go") But here's where serendipity can happen. If you are somewhere new, and try someplace cool, you can post back and maybe introduce the locals to something they've overlooked or forgotten.

              Anyway, good question. Thanks.

            2. re: wyf4lyf

              i'd have to categorize myself as a "chowdie", but with 'houndish tendancies, when i'm making travel plans. whether i'm a 'hound or a chowdie depends upon where i am and how long i'll be there. if i'm staying someplace for a short time, then i prefer each meal to be good, and follow the chowdie route. i do, however, try to hit at least one place of which i haven't heard. at the minimum, i figure it will be, good or bad, my contribution to forums like this one, and serve as payback for all the effort others have made that i took advantage of when making my plans; if it's good to boot, then i've also made a special find. when i'm in a place for a longer time, i don't mind a few average to bad meals (i don't enjoy them, but just chalk them up to experience), and am more willing to strike out on my own and explore.

              for dining in my home town, i tend to rely on my instinct and the suggestions of friends who know my tastes. while i enjoy the discussions here about dining in my home town, i find those threads to be less helpful than those for places that are new to me.

              for me, foodie has a more negative connotation. while i realize that others may disagree, when i think of a foodie, i think of someone who only goes to the buzzed about places, and only appreciates the food for who made it or what it costs. i guess, since i grew up in a family of excellent, although not well off, cooks, that i always attach a value to food. when a meal starts pushing into the double-digit-percentage-of-my-weekly-net-income-range, then i start thinking how i, or a relative with more expertise in that cuisine, could make the same, probably just as well, often better, and for much less money. when rated for value, i can honestly say that i've never had a meal that topped triple digits and was worth it.

              for me, ambiance doesn't matter. romance can be had anywhere. it just requires two people who want to be romantic. that's not to say that i eschew candles and linens, just that i can't force the mood, and take it when and where it occurs.

              i'm not sure "chowdie" is a good term. i just misspelled it with an "a" in place of the "w". completely different meaning. fortunately, i caught it before i posted it.

          2. i think you're gonna get a lot of response to this.

            i had a major issue a couple of years back when i used to frequent the Manhattan board. at times it really felt like people there were only discussing the most high-end, trendy places, and in my view they'd lost the point.

            for what it's worth, to me the spirit of chowhounding is about finding delicious food and sharing the info with others. expensive trendy places are just as valid as the guy with the cart on the corner, but after hundreds of posts like "what should i order at the newest batali place," it starts to get a bit tired. chowhounding does require some effort, after all.

            since i'm no longer in the US, and i love to cook, i spend a lot more time these days on the home cooking board. i was thrilled that they established one, and i think it's a goldmine of good info. i'm especially thankful for your babka recipe, and so are my friends!

            2 Replies
            1. re: hobokeg

              :) I still need to make that babka! I LOVE the home cooking board...so glad it's a part of this website.

              1. re: hobokeg

                I missed that babka recipe. How about it on the cooking board?

              2. I dont know what Jim was smoking when he said that thing about foodies and cooking....thats just nuts.

                seriously, everyone is going to have his or her own take on this - I personally hate the word foodie and I hate the hype machine. I think its all about amazing food, wherever you find it. Everyone's different with different tastes and knowledge, some go for high end and some for el cheapo obscure dives, some go for spicy and exotic, some for more familiar euro/American style but it has to be about the FOOD, not about the next new place. And we have to speak the truth to one another here.

                How we find the good food - through sharing here and every other way we can, from reading guidebooks to our own "chowdar" (like Jim's epic version).

                In the end, if you are happy reading and participating here dont sweat it. Call yourself what you want to.

                1. The thing about chowhounding and traveling:

                  In my opinion if you are doing some traveling and not spending too much time in one place, then asking where to find region specific food is the way to go. While you definitely should go someplace that sparks your interest, it helps to know where to go, what specialties there are etc... The thing is if you are only there a short time, it really does help to know what is good in advance. Since there is so much shit out there, and when traveling in the US it is so hard to find non chain restaurants serving unique food having the knowledge ahead of time can be key.

                  True chowhoudning to me is best when done in an area that one spends most of his time in. If you live in an area you can therefore better alot your time and resources for making good discoveries. You can try hole in the walls that you drive or walk by everyday, you can make special trips into off the beaten path neighbourhoods with a specific ethnic feel.

                  When traveling though it really depends on how much time you have in one particualr place.

                  1. It's easy to understand loving to eat good food. everybody does. Some may not care all that much whether they ALWAYS eat delicious food, all the time. But everybody loves good food. It's no accomplishment.

                    ONLY eating delicious food is a step beyond. There's so much food available to us in the developed world that it's not difficult to do.

                    Cooking delicious food - now that's Zen. That's the real deal. That's LOVE.

                    1. r
                      Robert Lauriston

                      I don't share Jim Leff's definition of "foodie." To me it just means anybody who's way more into food than the average American.

                      It's not just about being willing to spend $200 on a meal or appreciating foie gras and truffles. It's also about driving out of your way for the best loaf of bread or slab of ribs.

                      The people he disparages I call trendies.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        That's just semantics and substituting your own word for the same sentiments.

                        Some people really appreciate good foods. As you said they will drive out of their way for something special.

                        Some people will drive out of their way for a meal because they read about it ... wherever ... and it is the thing to do at the current time.

                        Some people don't care about food at all except to keep them alive. I call them Red Lobsters.

                        1. re: rworange
                          Robert Lauriston

                          It's definitely semantics. I pretty much share Jim Leff's views, just not his choice of words. I was using "foodie" to identify myself as what he calls a "chowhound" probably 20 years ago.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I'm going to be glad when there is the ability to edit a post.

                            Yeah, the term doesn't matter and the only deal is that this site helps people to, as is often said, eat deliciously.

                            Before I get anyone annoyed, there are days when I'm a Red Lobster and only want to satisfy hunger.

                            I recently had the new McDonald's snack wrap ... awful ... flabby, rubbery tortilla wrpped around tasteless fried chicken and filled with anemic shredded lettuce with cold from-the-bag shredded American cheese. I'm certainly no true "Chowhound". There were two taco trucks sitting next to the McDonald's.

                            It's just people shouldn't strees over fitting a description.

                            What ever type of personality ... let's say

                            Type A - cares about food because they really like it, defined as a Chowhound on this site.

                            Type B - cares about what's popular

                            Type C - doesn't care about food except to keep alive

                            There are few people that are any one type and being more of one of one or the other isn't good or bad, just what is.

                            For me, this site has been more about learning the benefits of a Type A life. It's been more fun and delicious ... for me.

                            1. re: rworange
                              Robert Lauriston

                              I don't know any type Bs personally so I'm not sure they exist.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I have some female relatives who fit rw's "type B" classification. They are sophisticated, afluent, very well dressed culture vultures who are also borderline anorexics. When visiting SF from out of town, they have already done their research and they KNOW what's new and hot and have an itinerary for 2 meals a day for their stay here. Questions to them about the taste of the food elicit vague diffident responses. They do go into enthusiastic detail, however, about the restaurant's food styling, decor and atmosphere.

                                1. re: Niki Rothman
                                  Robert Lauriston

                                  Oh yeah, I did know one clothes horse years ago who liked to go to certain trendy restaurants to see and be seen.

                                  But that contradicts Jim Leff's claim that what he disparagingly calls "foodies" go to places because they heard the food is good. That's irrelevant to these people.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I think most of us consider going to places where we have heard the food is good.

                                    1. re: wally
                                      Robert Lauriston

                                      I was misquoting. What Jim Leff said was, "Foodies eat where they're told. They get excited about the hot new restaurant/cookbook/ingredient. They'll go to unfamiliar neighborhoods to eat, but only with their Zagat securely in hand to guide them to The Accepted Places."

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Re. type B - I know many.

                                        Essentially, these are people unwilling to take any risks and averse to initiative; they won't try anything on their own unless someone "authoritative" - e.g., a publication, whether Zagat or a magazine - points the way. But once the way is pointed, they want to go there right away just so they can say they've "done" such-and-such, before it's "discovered" and no longer fun.

                                        These are the people who crowd all the restaurants in Brooklyn and Queens as soon as a review in the Times appears, then tell their co-workers on Monday what a little outer-boro adventure they've had. They won't make an effort to find a new place to eat, not even by reading food boards - they need it served right under their nose by an article that shows up on their doorstep.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Yes, I think this might be a female type that loves having a stylish setting as a backdrop in which to socialize. A jewel needs a jewel box. Can you imagine going out to eat with them, and watching the food go largely uneaten and unappreciated? They always try to give away their food too, "Oh, here have some of my (fill in the blank) it's really good" When they've only eaten a small bite of whatever it is they're trying to get off their plate. Well, if it's so damn good then why don't YOU just eat it yourself?

                                    3. re: Niki Rothman
                                      Robert Lauriston

                                      Speak of the she-devil:

                                      "THIS was going to be great, I told myself. I was going to march into Michael's on West 55th Street, wearing the highest heels to come out of Paris, Lanvin's peep-toe stilettos with five-and-a-half-inch cone heels and a two-inch platform, and they were all going to look up from their Cobb salads with demiportions of Roquefort and —- well, it was going to be great."

                                      Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/13/fas...

                          2. "I did hear Jim Leff say in a recent intereview that a foodie is more about cooking"

                            nope, never said that. though sometimes I talk fast on radio (or am misquoted in print), so confusion is inevitable.

                            Here's the diff. "Foodies" are the people for whom the huge money media/marketing apparatus serves. They are the people who buy the splashy food mags and glitzy cookbooks, care about star chefs, worry whether they're using the correct high status olive oil, and never buy, cook, eat, or travel without the guidance of annointed authority. They are ingredient materialists, waxing rhapsodic over the glories of the artichoke, and summarily rejecting anything made with margarine. They don't go anywhere without their Zagat guide.

                            Chowhounds (I speak not of the denizens of this site, but a type of person who's always been out there, feeling uncomfortable with the "foodie" label) are the people who eschew all that hype. They realize that the authorities (including me!) don't have gilded palates or special info (in fact, we authorities are often lazy, clueless, and plain wrong). They're always looking for greatness, but they don't get their info from regurgitated press releases in major media. Instead, they go out and intrepidly explore and try stuff. And they soon find that the fruit is low and ripe on the tree - and that the experts and media and hype are not going to hip them to the full range of deliciousness out there (because that machine is all about biz agendas - nearly all conventional wisdom is artificially manufactured), so one has no choice but to do one's own exploration and reach one's own conclusions.

                            Every chowhound is a little bit of a foodie. Every foodie is a little bit of a chowhound. But if you introduce a foodie to this credo, s/he will often get very excited (that's how we grew this enormous crowd without marketing), and jump in full-force. Yet it doesn't work the other way. Anyone who's adopted the intrepid, iconoclastic, irreverent mindset of do-it-yourself exploring, discovering, and opining will never go back to lapping up the hype and consuming in passive lockstep to marketing pressures. In fact, one finds that the stuff one discovers today will be covered in the food mags next year and in Zagat in five years. Even a journeyman chowhound can kick the ass of 99% of food "experts" in terms of finding great cutting edge stuff (even if just on your own block - and Chowhound.com is vehicle for sharing that chowconnaisance!).

                            The users of this site range in their chowhoundishness. I'm constantly hoping more people will go out there and DIY. It's a zillion times more delicious to stumble upon greatness than to be guided to it. And there's all sorts of great stuff out there. Low and ripe on the trees. There's never been a moment in history like this. The sweetspot of contemporary American culture - the realm where genius currently blooms most prolifically and conspicuously - is in our restaurants. Lap it up, because zeitgeist doesn't last forever!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jim Leff
                              Robert Lauriston

                              One of my current favorite restaurants was packed from the day it opened, due not to publicity but to gossip, foot traffic, and word of mouth.

                              Then the hype machine picked up on it, it hit the Zagat / Gayot / etc. hot lists, the trend-followers showed up, and people on Chowhound started disparaging people who go there as what you'd call foodies.

                              Labels, schmabels. Just don't call me late for dinner.