Sunday, April 19, 2009

Making Food Reviews a Science

In the 80s, thousands of Coca-Cola drinking Filipinos were surprised - offended even - to discover in a blind taste test, administered in Church plazas, street corners and schools nationwide, they did in fact prefer the taste of another cola. Millions of advertising pesos and years of brainwashing were stripped away when the consumer was made to choose his preference based on nothing else but how one's tongue responded to two unmarked cups of brown swill.

We all have our favorite foods that we rave about in parties or force suitors to find in the middle of the night. If this discovery is unknown to the general populace, the joy is multiplied tenfold at having this succulent secret to oneself, to be shared only with one's nearest and dearest foodies. The conviction among foodies that their favorites are truly the best to be found in Manila is so strong people are willing to stake their names on it (for whatever random value that is worth). To give some structure to the debate of who in fact has found the universal favorite, the idea of the horizontal tasting for food was born.

Horizontal tastings are traditionally done with wines, where wines from different vineyards but of the same vintage are compared in unmarked glasses. Just fyi, a vertical tasting is applying the same blind comparison between wines of different vintages from the same vineyard. Our version of horizontal tasting involves bringing in different brands of one dish.

It began with a blind tasting of four sans rival cakes, brought in from near and far (as in the winner was from Dumaguete!). The second horizontal tasting, held only after the testers' taste buds and cholesterol counts had recovered from the first, was a competition among plain cheesecakes. The third tasting, sponsored by Food magazine, was a battle of the pork barbecues. And most recently, there was a heart-clogging competition among too many cheese ensaymadas.

Anyone is welcome to join these horizontal tests, for as long as they bring enough samples of their "manoks" or prized contenders to the table to be taste-tested by others as well (the cost of the combined orders is divided among the testers). Each dish is stripped of packaging by the kitchen staff and is laid bare on numbered plates. Testers are given a scorecard wherein they rate each contender based on certain relevant criteria, such as taste, appearance, texture etc. Only after the results are tabulated can the brand name of each item be revealed.

Having joined two horizontal tests myself, I can attest it's not as simple as it sounds. As the endorser of one contestant, you will be dismayed to discover that other testers see things differently from you (apparently, some people like their ensaymadas dry!). In the barbecue test, I protested when some barbecues (such as Reyes and Aling Nene) where not allowed to have their signature sauces served alongside them. The meat was supposed to stand on its own merit, unadorned. The sauces were laid on the table for the diners to mix and match with other brands as well. Lastly, the "umay" factor when you are tasting more than 10 similar things in succession is considerable. In lieu of palate cleansing sorbets, we have resorted to taking steak breaks in between bites of sans rival-- or just throwing some table salt onto our tongues if we want to save space in our tummies.

This blog is the first public record of the results of these grueling, but oh so delicious horizontal tests. If you would like to propose a new horizontal test, (next one up is a Chicken Inasal fight), or you would like to join any of these events, let us know because a bigger sample pool is in everyone's interest. It is also better for us to have more testers to bring in different perspectives.

We look forward to doing battle with your "manoks" in the horizontal wars ahead of us! Bon Appetit.


No comments:

Post a Comment