The word ‘foodie’ has quickly grown in popularity over the past few years. Susan Wong dissects this term, what it means and how it applies to the Kenyan culinary scene.
Wiggle for me Texas-style barbecue brisket. Linger and swirl in my mouth Cognac. Comfort me freshly roasted Yirgacheffe coffee beans. Brighten my day sprig of mint. Coat my tongue rich and creamy ramen broth. Numb me Szechuan peppercorn. I could go on forever because food to me is sexy, therapeutic, experiential and most importantly, a passion that has always been a part of my life.
It certainly helps that I was born into a family of epicures. My parents’ temperature controlled pantry was the size of a bedroom with floor to ceiling shelves. I grew up marveling at our collection of dried spices, pickles, sauces, and toilet paper – their supply seemed never-ending.
I enjoy not only the eating aspect of food, but also its preparation: sharing time and conversations with others as we commune and learning more about the individual ingredients. I love the nuances of flavours, colours, textures, the endless ways ingredients can be prepared and combined, and the cultural context of food.
First used in the 1980s, the word “foodie” according to Google Ngram— which tracks the frequency of words in digitized books, has steadily grown in popularity and is pretty much everywhere now. It’s inescapable.
It feels like almost everyone is a “foodie” these days. If you enjoy eating food you’re a foodie. But who doesn’t like food? While eating as a hobby should not be the preserve for a select few, have we, however, debased the word by using it so easily?
Everyone’s a critic and someone calling themselves a foodie empowers them to talk about things that they sometimes don’t actually understand. I once attended a press lunch and a colleague from one of the newspapers couldn’t tell the difference between salmon and Nile perch.
Scary, I know. Very, very scary.
There are certainly varying opinions as to what a “foodie” is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it refers to a person with a particular interest in food. And to that, I would add a person who is keen on cultural education and culinary tourism. Someone who cares about the quality and origins of the food they consume, and about responsibility when it comes to how it was farmed or caught. A foodie is someone who is ready to accept that sometimes cooking may take a few hours longer or a few more trips to different markets to find the exact ingredient. Most importantly, a foodie will enjoy exploring and searching for defining culinary moments – basically not someone who eats only for the sake of hunger.
In regards to Kenya, the food scene is still in its adolescence in terms of choice, though it is growing with the influx of imported cuisines and cultures, quality produce and young talent.The general sophistication of diners’ palates and preferences are still developing and only those privileged to travel and explore other cultures have sampled other cuisines in their native lands and not just an adapted version in Kenya. There is a limited number of restaurants that aren’t just in business to make a quick profit off of Kenyans that are enjoying their spending power but rather are interested in serving diners a great experience regardless of price point.
Kenyans are vocal about their opinions, creative and tech-savvy. As a result, the thriving food blogging and foodie community continues to grow strength-to-strength, but are some of these opinions and reviews based on comparisons that are international, regional or local?
It’s only natural that everyone is a critic. We all make the judgement: “Will I come dine here again and would I refer this restaurant to a friend?” With the exponential reach of social media, the growing influence of bloggers and foodies and the convincing opinion of a trusted friend or family member, a positive recommendation can be great for a restaurant’s publicity but a negative one could actually damage a business or discourage a talented chef. The vol-
ume of all this critical chatter, often based on little knowledge, drowns out other aspects that foodies should champion.
In the same breadth, based on knowledge and experience, opinions should be critical. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion if you know what you’re speaking about, but don’t be mean about it either. Your goal should be to better a food experience, sort of like contributing to open-source software, and not to attack someone or to prove that you know more.
A word of caution: don’t believe everything you read…even what I write. Use it as inspiration and an invitation to see food from an experiential perspective. What’s important is that a foodie will want to experience it for themselves. So go out there, eat and revel in it. Don’t let chatter, sometimes based on lack of knowledge, turn you off from trying a new restaurant, or a highly-produced television show define your experience. Only through experience and self discovery does one really live up to the title of “foodie.”
Nowadays the word “foodie” is considered fashionable, trendy and, more than anything, is a marketing buzzword. The use of the word is not necessarily negative, but its application has evolved and we must remember that it’s because of this evolution a new generation is now closer to food and all its aspects. While we’ve slowly become disconnected with the production, quality and origins of our food, the word “foodie” has in some respects, helped the food movement thrive. The more foodies that celebrate the entire culinary experience, the more people will be interested in good food and the more discerning palates will become. Restaurants that offer mediocre service or inconsistent food will be challenged to do better.
Great restaurants will be pushed to continue to set new standards.
The more foodies, the better for the culinary scene, and the better we can all eat. So if you’re a foodie, do us all a favour and continue to seek, explore and share. Maintain that open
mindedness and humbleness when sampling and learning about new experiences; because without the experience, food would have no life –no breath.