Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Apr 21, 2008 09:29 AM

How do you know it's good?

How can anyone know if an unfamiliar foreign dish is "good"? I was reminded of this when Thomas Keller (French Laundry) said of molecular gastronomy that you taste it without any reference to some previous dining experience. That is, if you eat fried chicken, you compare it to all the other fried chicken dishes you've ever had. But if you try something weird at El Bulli, you can't compare it to anything else. Although it does have to conform to your cultural expectations of taste, smell and mouthfeel.

I think the same is true for most people when they go to an ethnic restaurant. If you've never had Korean food, can you really say that some version of Soon Tofu is any good? Compared to what? I overheard some boys from Idaho complaining about the Mexican food in LA. They were looking forward to getting burritos from Taco Bell. I feel like many of the posts on CH in the past few years have been written by people like these guys. They are so used to the swill at their local sushi, chinese or indian joint that they measure all new places by that poor standard. Consequently, I've had lots of bad meals based on recommendations from people who don't know any better.

There are a few regular posters who've developed an obvious expertise on a cuisine in an area (i.e. Chinese in LA, pizza in NYC). I propose that Chowhound anoint these people as "Star contributors" so I can quickly locate their posts in a thread. This would really help when I'm traveling to new places.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I know how you feel.

    Often I really like something I ate, then someone else tells me it wasn't good, then I feel bad 'cause I didn't know enough not to enjoy it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: FrankJBN

      I think you should always feel good when you really like something you've eaten!

    2. That's a good question. I've had bib bim bap at a few restaurants and didn't care for it but maybe I've just had bad bib bim bap (try saying that three times fast).

      As for the star contributors, you can add people to your reading list so you can follow their posts.

      1. I understand what you're saying. I think if you've had a dish many times, you'll have a better idea of what is good because you have references for comparison. But if you've only had it for the very first time, I think it's more fair to say whether it was to your liking or not.

        1. I'm guessing this is a matter of pure semantics. I think I know something is good because it tastes good (ie good to me) - why should I care whether it's good in comparison to something else? Good is so widly subjective and varies on a person-by-person case. On the other hand, authenticity (ie something that is a good - there's that word again - representation of a dish whose recipe/method is widely accepted) does require some level of expertise, and I think that's what you mean.

          Example: Eat_Nopal is someone around here I would turn to for [good] authentic Mexican eats, but does that mean that I think that refried beans (sans the animal fat) inside a flour tortilla and smothered with cheddar and sour cream is not good? Nope. It's just not authentic Mexican food.

          You want authentic southern fried chicken? Ask a Southern grandma (obviously, one who cooks). You want "good" fried chicken? Ask someone whose tastebuds you trust. These two things may or may not coincide.

          1. "Authentic" does not necessarily mean "good".

            Neither is a sufficient, nor necessary, condition of the other.

            Authentic scrapple, to me, will never be very good. Spam, on the other hand, no matter how inauthentic, will also hold a soft (read: "good") spot in my stomach.

            Conversely, I really think the vegetarian burrito at Chipotle is quite good, but by no means do I have any illusions that such a wrap is "authentic".

            I think you should just eat what you enjoy. Trust your senses. After all, what's the point of eating something that you don't enjoy -- even if it is uber authentic?

            1 Reply
            1. re: ipsedixit

              I agree, good and authentic are separate conversations. It's "good" if I like it. Whether its authentic is, on some level, irrelevant to whether I think it tastes "good." I may find it an interesting experience, I may be fascinated to learn the history and why that particular preparation is authentic and think it was great to have eaten it, all without thinking it was good.

              I also don't have much to go on about authenticity as regards any cuisine outside of the Southern US save for what I read and what people tell me. And as we all know, sometimes there are many sides of that story.