I showed my family ‘Wong Eats Hong Kong’ for the first time this weekend. And instantly, my mother complained that I took terrible pictures of food, a point which I got defensive over – not because I wanted to defend my photos, but rather, I fail to see the need for a good photograph in order for good food to shine. I am aware that part of the appeal of visiting a food blog is to see stunning images of food that make you salivate and yearn for a bite. A good picture conveys a thousands words and more: why type up a thousand words explaining how perfectly golden and crispy a fried chicken drumlet was when I can simply show you a picture? It saves both your time and mine, and makes both our jobs easier.
But bear with me for a second, because I have come to realise that people who spend eons photographing food for a single perfect shot are people who do not truly appreciate food. Before you launch a barrage of insults at me, I must stress this: I am not condemning the act of taking a picture in a restaurant, I believe that all good memories must be kept and documented. Rather, I am criticising those who focus more on how their food looks in a photograph than actually the food itself; the people who snap fifty shots of a single plate of food and then uploads it instantly on social media with the unbearable hashtag #foodporn.
First of all, dining is a multi-sensory experience. You see, smell, taste, and in some unique instances, hear what is plated in front of you. By trying to encapsulate the entire meal into just a visual experience is not only doing your food a disservice, but also to the brigade of chefs who tirelessly worked to prepare it. While pictures can save you a thousand words, a picture can never inform others how it tastes and smells – something even more important than visual stimulation. Food should be enjoyed as the chef has meant for you to prepare. If something should be served piping hot and eaten immediately, do it! Yet sadly, we see time and time again beautiful plates of hot food lose its lustre, colour and flavour because foolish diners snap endless photographs of it. This is why I detest all the so-called Instagram foodies – by the time they actually dig their forks into their plates, whatever freshness and life the dish possessed has all but dissipated in the air. That statement also holds true for the home cooks who dedicate a large portion of their time preparing the perfect setting so the color of the background matches the color of the salad that they have cooked. All this seems excessive, needless and wasteful – Good food can shine on its own irregardless of what accompanies it. A plateful of perfectly crisp, juicy roast chicken will look tempting even if it was photographed on a dusty Hong Kong pavement (Hipsters might even call it artistic and buy the picture for thousands of dollars).
Secondly, and this is a point to do with the human nature of snobbery, is that people take pictures of food for bragging rights and purposes. This is particularly common in fine dining establishments, where diners shared platefuls of immaculately prepared food on whatever social media, web blogging platform they have. Food is pure and pristine – an animal died for whatever protein dish you are having, while vegetables are the works of labour of many farmers and retailers. It is our noble duty to maintain a certain level of respect to the plates of food in front of us. And we show that respect by eating it the way the chef intended the dish to be eaten and focusing all our senses on the explosion of flavours in our mouths while doing so, not by bragging about it online and marking it with a series of #hashtags.
If you really do want to share your experiences to others, do so with words, with pictures only being used as accompaniments. Snap quietly – preferably with a smartphone, discretely, and for the love of God, turn off the flash. A sudden sharp burst of light in a fine dining restaurant not only disturbs the diners around you, but also creates an awkward scenario for yourself where you find yourself being stared at by the entire restaurant. But seriously though, being true gourmets, your focus should always be the food in front of you. So, sorry mother; these shitty photos are here to stay.