I’m the sort of person who reads food blogs when she is hungry. Obviously, I also cook when I’m hungry or order delivery, which is a cheap and easy option when you live in Beijing. But I need something to do in between the chopping and the frying and the waiting for the delivery boy who has my order of Korean fried chicken strapped to the back of his motorcycle.
Browsing food blogs is my distraction of choice. I pore over the recipes and photos, greedily absorbing instructions like “bake until crust is golden brown” and “serve with fresh cream and strawberries.” I scroll through the posts about outings to farmers markets and cheese tastings. I salivate over directions on how to make blueberry galette and French silk pie.
Which is all well and good, but it does sometimes lead me to question why I read food blogs at all. Most of the ingredients cannot be found in Beijing or are prohibitively expensive, which means that I can seldom try out the recipes. So why do we read these accounts of recipes we will never try, artisanal ingredients we cannot afford to buy and gastronomical adventures that serve no purpose other than to make our stomachs rumble in envy? A generation ago, our mothers would have been baffled by food blogs – you mean these people actually had time to shop for ingredients, assemble the meal, write up a recipe and take step-by-step studio quality photos all while providing witty commentary?
In fact, two generations ago, this sharing of recipes would have been anathema to my grandmother and her peers, who lived in a culture where if you had a particularly good recipe, you would guard it with your life because it was what made you an expert at making something. To this day, no one is quite sure exactly how my grandmother used to make the Chinese pork and vegetable stew that we ate annually at Spring Festival. We can only presume that she would sneak down to the kitchen in the dead of night, while the rest of the family slumbered in post-prandial stupor, to add her secret ingredients.
On the subject of grandparents, I blame my own inherent food lust on my maternal grandfather. The man had such an abiding interest in food that he did all the grocery shopping and procured all the recipes and planned all the menus for the family meals. All that was left to his wife and two daughters were the actual execution which, considering the elaborateness of certain South East Asian dishes, is a feat not to be sneezed at. Family lore has it that my grandfather, who was a customs officer, would occasionally be invited to dine on board cargo ships docking in Malaysia and if he had a dish he particularly liked, he would pay for the ship’s cook to come to the house and teach my grandmother how to make it. Which is why my mother grew up hand grinding spices to make Madras curry and why ours was the only Chinese family I knew that made cowboy-style baked bean stew. Which incidentally, I suspect my mother also has a secret ingredient for, since mine never tastes quite like hers.
I think that beyond the obvious reasons why we all enjoy reading food blogs – curiosity, boredom, a propensity towards voyeurism – is a sort of primordial hunger and food lust. As a species, we first of all need to eat. And then, hunger pangs satisfied and suitably nourished, we then want to eat well. We are fascinated by how we feed ourselves because food is the most basic of needs, a visceral pleasure and comfort. Food can be a lot of things and there are many ways to have a relationship with food. It can be basic, it can be crazy complicated. It can stand alone as a thing unto itself, it can represent a whole culture or sub-culture. Le GruyÃ¨re Premier Cru, a type of cheese made in Switzerland that is aged for 14 months in temperature and humidity controlled cellars, is food. An egg cracked into a hot frying pan is also food. For some reason, this blows my mind.
In the end, maybe the reason we read food blogs is very simple: we are hungry. And now if you will excuse me, I need to order some Korean fried chicken.