Buttered Up: Rave reviewsBY SARAH KHANNA
It is a rare occasion to find me visiting a Cairo restaurant based on a local review; but how much of this is my fault, this fear that I should not trust what is seemingly penned down without an afterthought? Do I skip over errors in technique descriptors and succumb to a world of uninteresting words that gives me nothing but cues that the reviewer cannot move past terms like “mouth-watering,” “amazing” and, I say this with a sigh, “perfect”?
Today, many Egyptians who have not stepped foot in a kitchen have decidedly taken on the online job of restaurant critic, with a virtuoso opinion that is customarily courteous and inclusive of the word “yummy,” that disregards the gray and congealed sauce that has been served atop a dry and under-seasoned steak.
It is known that the internet has opened doors to many who would in the 1980s have had no place to sound their voices. Food blogs and restaurant review aggregators have come to Egypt. We are now able to click through a multitude of links that invite us to eat at neighborhood restaurants through our screens and other people’s palates but most of the verbiage dedicated to restaurants ends up similar in style: dazzled amateurs happy with their cozy new positions, preferring not to write anything if they didn’t like the food.
It takes thick skin to tell the truth and most reviews have been ultimately forgiving about the food and service. On some days, the glorification and praise know no bounds and we are left to wonder how many of those favorable reviews are concealing a simple monthly fee.
There are ways to fix this doomed scenario we’re living in. It just takes some effort in between eating and kowtowing to the popular.
If you’re planning on becoming a published restaurant critic, begin to draw on your experiences as both an eater and a cook. If you have never cooked, get yourself into the kitchen and begin following tested recipes from reputable sources, both traditional and others with international flavors that may be fresh and unusual when paired. Learn what the world considers good.
Work on your writing skills; poorly constructed reviews will often be taken less seriously. Prove yourself through detailed pieces over a lengthy period of time. Visit the restaurant at least three times before liberally handing out your review, cover as many menu items as possible and check for consistency. If you’re going to be reviewing, no free meals should be accepted.
Do not hide behind your reviews claiming that you are only an amateur. If you’re regularly providing the market with reviews, you’ll need to get better. Recognize how hard the process can be: eating, having a critical opinion, maintaining anonymity at the restaurant, taking notes, revisiting and writing as honestly and intricately as possible to convey the atmosphere of said place.
Finally and for the love of our country, find a better word for “delicious.”
Three Bean Salad
70 grams edamame, shelled and cooked
90 grams black eyed peas, cooked
70 grams chickpeas, cooked
2 tablespoons of scallions, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1½ tablespoon of vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a pot, boil some salted water and add the edamame in small handfuls. Cook for 4-5 minutes and drain in a colander. Set aside to cool. Once cool, remove from their shells and place in your salad bowl.
Prepare another pot of salted water. Place the black eyed peas in the water then bring it to the boil. Allow to boil for 3 minutes then lower the heat. Simmer for another 30 minutes then drain. When the black eyed peas have cooled, place them with the shelled edamame in the salad bowl.
If you’re using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse before using. If you’re using fresh, allow to soak overnight before cooking the next day. To cook, place them in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat immediately and simmer until tender and plump. Drain and cool. When they’ve lost some heat, add them to your salad bowl. Toss the beans together.
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, onions, scallions and garlic and pour over your salad. Mix and chill before serving.