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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pet peeve: the best

Addressing yet another pet peeve of mine: I often get asked a question along the line of

"where is the best ______ in the city?"

The blank can be filled in with an inquiry about pie, or burgers, or bread, or nihari. Or whatever.

The. Best. It's meaningless.

A couple of problems with that inquiry. First is the concept of "the best". In order to objectively answer that question, one would have had to establish a fixed set of criteria, and to have assayed every single iteration of the target foodstuff. Some people may obsess about California maki rolls, with some archetype ideal that they wish others to emulate. I applaud these people, but I don't follow them. The corollary to this is that since the archetype is built and reinforced, this involves the concept of "authenticity" which trumps the basic question of - "did it taste good?"

Secondly, it smacks of culinary hyperbole. The idea that food can only belong in two categories: the best, or utter crap. And by definition, only one winner can emerge.

Truth is, perception is dramatically subjective, and what people seek when they eat out or procure food determines what they'll consider acceptable at that moment. And foods evolve, just as human culture evolves. General Tso's chicken in America wouldn't be recognized in China.

Of course, maybe I'll say that a certain place has the best _____ in town. Because it'll be the only place that sells that item.


  1. Rather than focusing on best, I like having favorites. Favorite acknowledges the inherently subjective nature of the opinion, and leaves open the possibility of having a new one. Today, Barbecue Inn makes my favorite fried chicken. Some day I'll get to Super H Mart, try their chicken and maybe that will become my new favorite.

  2. Ricky, who makes the best adobo? ;)

  3. I prefer the Top 5 format. That way 4 losers are identified as well :)