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Bad food

I was wondering if others have had the same experience as I and how they felt about it.

I was at a meal the other day and people there were strongly complimenting a home-baked cookie that I found, after one bite, no point whatsoever in finishing. I have also been at other meals where the hostess' food was truly lacking taste. This woman feels salt is so dangerous, I believe she leaves it out of recipes entirely. She often serves soup that tastes like a bowl of water with some chunks of vegetables in it. And gets compliments on it!

I guess I understand wanting to be polite, but what if the same people complimenting these poorly made foods are the same ones that also compliment your cooking and baking? And am I supposed to compliment food I find truly lacking? Am I just being too honest for my own good, if I refuse to lie and compliment bad food?

What to do?

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  1. Best to just say nothing and make up some excuse to not go to any more of her get togethers. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

      I have a friend that thinks she makes "the best" fried chicken and it's always overcooked, dry and the crust is too brown. I tell her, Wow, you sure cooked the hell out of that chicken! She takes it as a compliment, and I graciously accept leftovers to take home.

    2. You are supposed to be a gracious guest if you accept the invitation. If you just cannot stand the food, and do not find the company enough to make up for it, politely decline. If you wish to attend for reasons other than the food (or because of, say, family obligation), say something nice about the event, the company, how good it is to get together, etc.

      Just because you do not like something does not mean that other people share your tastes. I have a family member who is a decent, but not particularly flavorful, cook. She gets raves from other family members who really enjoy it. I can honestly tell her I am happy to be able to be with them all for the meal. All is good.

      Sometimes manners trump honesty.

      1. I will not give a round-about compliment ("Such creative presentation!") if it makes it obvious I'm avoiding praising the food. There's always a way to "kiss the cook" and it's worth doing. I am a very honest person but I'm kind and appreciative, too, and will always compliment the cooking.

        1 Reply
        1. re: fern

          "thank you so much for a wonderful dinner" can go a long way. "wonderful dinner" (for the scrupulously honest) can mean the get-together, whatever.

        2. Queens, I have a mother in law who raves about the Olive Garden, I truly wonder sometimes if I am "normal" because I think the Olive Garden is the McDonald's of Italian. If mainstream tastes are such, then I am happy to be a weirdo. I think that most people are happy with mediocrity and mundane. It is "safe". Me? I would rather hang with Andrew Zimmer.

          1 Reply
          1. "This is very nice" is what jfood normally states.

            And now this thread enters the "Threads not to respond to" bucket as the "totally honest" posters tell you to tell the cook she needs cooking lessons.

            8 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              Indeed. It always really surprises me how many people will go on and on about manners as it relates to not be loud in a restaurant, bringing a hostess gift, etc, but apparently being kind to a friend/human being is just WAY out of line. Refuse their invites! Tell them how awful their food is! Spit it into the garbage while they watch!

              1. re: GirlyQ

                I don't think any of the "totally honest" posters would advocate what you're suggesting. But don't you have friends that you are close enough to, that you can be honest with each other about your faults, in a supportive way ?

                Not that I'm suggesting you do this with just anyone. But it should be OK to do it with certain people that you have the right kind of relationship with.

                1. re: dump123456789

                  Only if they ask, and you're sure they really mean it. Then, still using your head and being kind, you could find a supportive way to discuss the issue and offer assistance if it is desired. No matter how close I am to someone, I'd never bring up the "fault" of having poor cooking skills.

                  1. re: fern

                    Fern answered perfectly for me.

                    1. re: fern

                      I get your point. But personally, I like having one friend whom I can count on being honest and supportive with me, without my asking for it. I don't like it when I realize that I've been "humored" while people are talking smack about me behind my back.

                      Or is that what a spouse is for ?

                      1. re: dump123456789

                        It all depends on your relationship with the cook. Within my close circle of friends, I feel free to criticize their cooking all I want. On the other hand, I would never ever criticize anything, say, my mother in law made.

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          This represents my position as well. I have a close circle of friends who will tell me they really don't like my rice pudding and so on and with whom I will be similarly blunt. However, I wouldn't take this approach with others with whom I am less familiar.


                          I will not lie. I will evade, I will obfuscate, and I will be tactful.

                          If I am asked point blank, I will tactfully and politely say the truth with emphasis on what I really enjoyed and liked about anything.

                          i.e. "Are you enjoying everything?" – "I really XX. How'd you make it?" or "This must have been a lot of work. Thanks for having us." or something similar.

                          "Do you like the XX?" – "You know, I really like the ZZ and the YY, but the XX just isn't my sort of thing" or some other such.

                          1. re: Atahualpa

                            I'm with you. With my friends who cook and take food seriously, I'll tell them what I think about the food (good and bad) and I expect them to tell me when they don't like something. But with friends who don't like to cook, I'll always find something nice to say. I have some friends who are "nervous" to have us over for dinner because they think we'll be too hard to cook for. Which is nonsense. We don't choose our friends based on what they can cook. We choose our friends based on who we like to hang out with.

                            Quite frankly, there aren't many meals I've had served to me that are so dreadful that I can't find *something* nice to say about them. (There have been only a very few, and then I comment on what a lovely time I had, or what great conversation, or whatever).

              2. eat before you go! I have a step sister that can make anything taste of nothing. We all pretty much nibble before we go to her house or hope it's a potluck and then surreptitiously ask her what she made.

                1. "what if the same people complimenting these poorly made foods are the same ones that also compliment your cooking and baking?"

                  This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which a doctor Elaine is interested in says she's breathtaking, then turns around and refers to an ugly baby as also breathtaking. This, of course, results in Elaine becoming completely neurotic about what he meant about her looks.

                  There must be at least one aspect about this woman's food that you can make a non-negative comment about. If not, you can always thank her for her hospitality.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dump123456789

                    Yes, I actually thought of that Seinfeld also. As for eating before I go, I can't do that because I am always going for a Sabbath or holiday meal, and either going directly from synagogue (if it's the daytime meal of the Sabbath) or counting on it to be the evening meal (can't cook on Sabbath, so can't really eat a real meal when I get home.) Anyway, don't get me wrong. In the case of the really poor cook, I am really close with her and the family, and go for reasons other than food. Also, as her children have gotten to their teenage years, they do a lot of the cooking of the Sabbath meals, and they seemed to have picked up the knack from somewhere!

                    It was the compliment of the really dry, boring cookie at the other place that got me thinking about the issue. When someone says something like, "Wow, this is really great" in such a situation, it's all I can do to hold myself back from yelling, "No, It's not, it's really not"!!

                    1. re: queenscook

                      You could focus on the fact that these are the people you should invite when you don't want to be concerned about whether your food will be perfect, because they'll love it anyway.

                      1. re: queenscook

                        Sounds like me and my father. I always claim that I learned to cook at such an early age as a form of self-defense.

                    2. I was raised to know that my mom "put love" in the food. Those words were literally (and affectionately) used. Now I'm keenly aware of when I'm fed something with love in it. I can compliment that act with my whole heart, and I do. You can warmly thank someone for their hospitality, and their effort in taking care of you.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: Vetter

                          Amen. For me, the effort one puts in feeding me food trumps actual flavor.

                        2. I once had a music teacher that said "always applaud after a performance; either because you liked it or because you're glad it's over".

                          1. It seems that the OP's friend is phobic about salt, to the extent that she adds no salt to anything she makes. I've met (and eaten with) people who're like that.

                            I almost envy the ability of someone to enjoy the flavors of food without salt. I, myself, am a salt lover, and the best way to put me off your food is not to add any salt to it.

                            There are plenty of people who're very happy to eat extremely bland food. Unlike me, food doesn't have such a significant, meaningful role in their lives.

                            The few times I've been forced to sit through foods like this, I'll eat what I can and, if asked, comment that "indeed a lot of work must've gone into this food," and thank the hostess/host for the meal.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: shaogo

                              It's not a crime to add salt to your own food at the table if it doesn't have enough for your tastes. Not everyone has the same degree of salt-sensitivity. If a family always eats very low-salt foods they can taste a lot more nuances in the food than somebody who expects it to have five times as much salt. Personally I'm a low-salt person but I don't mind in the slightest if everyone else at the table shakes salt over their plate!

                              1. re: shaogo

                                I think there are some people who are able to use limited seasoning/salt and still able to taste the flavors when others find the same food bland. I used to have a roommate who found many foods to be too bland without hot sauce on them. Once a food got so hot for me that it was inedible, she still couldn't taste anything.

                                I'm a fairly low salt person myself, even in my family. My mother smokes quite a bit, so almost everything she tastes needs more salt, while the same dish seems absolutely fine to me. It's still fine to be gracious even if you don't love the food. You don't have to use phrases that indicate you thought that the food was delicious.

                              2. Maybe try saying to her "I can't tell you how good this is" (g) if you are fearing that others may see your silence as dislike and you don't want someone asking you directly "Do you like it?" and having to lie like a rug or be thought of as "mean" -

                                1. Far too many people are only used to processed, commercial, and store bought foods. That is their standard. Even a mediocre homemade cookie is likely to be much, much better than whatever's mass-marketed to kids.

                                  You can't be upset that they compliment bland food and then compliment your food. Maybe to them the bland food is good, but yours is even better. It would be rude to tell the bad cook, "Oh, this is good... but Queenscook does it better." Or maybe all food is good food and anyone who takes the time to cook for them deserves some appreciation.

                                  1. Yes.

                                    You are supposed to compliment food that you feel is poorly made when someone hosts you in her home, in fact you are meant to fawn a bit. There is a point at which kindness and gratitude far outweighs any inclination to play amateur food critic.

                                    If you simply don't like the hostess well enough to tell her her Dishwater Bisque is just lovely then you really should not be darkening her door.

                                    Don't you have an elderly relative who knits mint green acrylic sweaters? If you don't, I can lend you one and you can get some practice in.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Kater

                                      1. I like the people who invite me over to their places enough to treat them with respect. That means not bald-face lying to them. Give your friends some credit, they are not going to fall apart if you don't heap them with praise.

                                      I am NOT suggesting you say it is terrible, that it tastes like dishwater, etc. . . Take the bowl, eat some. Thank your host for the food. Be polite. However, when directly asked, you CAN say it isn't your favourite thing she makes, that your leaving room for something else she is serving, etc. . .

                                      2. Telling that elderly relative you really like her "mint green acrylic sweaters" is a sure way to get more of them. Of course you accept the gift graciously. Thank her profusely. Say that you appreciate all the effort that went into making it. Then, at some later moment, there are tactful ways of saying that you don't get a chance to wear them much, or you have so many from previous years, or you really love the hand-made character of her gifts and value them highly, but that you'd get more use out of a scarf or a tea-cozy.

                                    2. I'm in this situation pretty often. My strategy is to proclaim which is my favorite dish. I also usually try to find *something* else to compliment, even if it is a small component.

                                      "Thanks so much for dinner! I think the salad is my favorite! What goes into your dressing?"

                                      I can say this totally honestly even if I don't really like the salad.

                                      When friends come over to my place, I am always extremely critical of my food and ask people what they would do differently. I usually get good feedback, too. Because of this attitude, my friends always seem pleased whenever I say something positive about their food.

                                      1. I have to admit, this kind of posting, which appears on Chowhound with some frequency, leaves me baffled. Clearly, how one decides to speak to a friend about cooking is done on a case by case basis-- and that the biggest rule is to be a gracious guest: someone is inviting you into their home in order to feed you. Even if their options let you down.

                                        But this kind of posting especially puzzles me after the thread in which multiple chowhounds complained that no one ever invited them over because the potential hosts felt self-concious about their cooking. Don't posts like these foster this anxiety and lead to hurt feelings on all sides?

                                        I know I shouldn't be too hard on this post, as someone is looking, I presume, for a way to feel good about giving compliments and signs of appreciation to her hostess, but this thread, along with the in-laws thread, really stand as clear refutation of the chowhound promise not to act as food critic in another person's home.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          There is no bad food. Only unappreciative eaters.

                                          1. re: beevod

                                            I think that there is definitely bad food. Regardless, food prepared for you is a gift, and should be recevied with grace and charm.