Learning about Food

I am not a cook, and this post is not about cooking, but it is about food and its appreciation.

This may sound a bit daft; but growing up, I didn’t particularly pay much attention to the food I was eating. Nor did anyone in my family; being on the eating-to-live side of the spectrum rather than the living-to-eat. As I have grown up, however, I have begun to enjoy food, eating, and the entire culture surrounding it; but my knowledge is superficial, and I really want to explore and learn more. There is a lot of scope for me to do so - so much is new to me at this stage.

I had these questions:

  1. How to identify and appreciate a well cooked dish? To know the various parameters to judge - flavour, texture, etc. To know when they are done correctly/done well. Including the understanding of the subtleties in the dish.
  2. In traditional cuisines, to know how a dish “should” taste; what its flavour or texture should be like.
  3. To know the things the chef did to make it that way: the ideas behind the dish, perhaps even the relevant technical aspects of cooking behind it.
  4. The above three points in particular relation to traditional cuisines; but: In addition to traditional cuisines, appreciating the work of a chef who comes up with new things, pushes the boundaries or breaks the rules.

As aforesaid, I am not a cook, and I am not actually interested in cooking myself; I wanted to ask this question from the point of view of someone who eats (and admires) food.

In a sense, my question is about how to understand and appreciate good art, rather than how to be an artist yourself.

Does this knowledge come only with eating out and trying a lot of things? Or cooking a lot? Are there any books which can help with this? Does reading books on cuisines, and recipe books, help? Any good websites or other resources on the Internet?

Any answers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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Cooking and eating is the only way to go with developing your food knowledge and enjoyment.

On one level all cuisines are “traditional”. The answer to how to judge things probably comes from your own national cuisine and heritage. There is no single right way - your granny probably cooked a dish differently from how her neighbour cooked it.

As to how to judge a professionally cooked dish - well, you’ve paid good money to eat it so the judgement is pretty much how did you enjoy it. You may appreciate the skill in creating something without enjoying it. Sometimes that happens in restaurants.

Does that help for a start?

And welcome to the forum.

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Welcome to HO. Where does the food come from on which you survive?

If you buy food fully ready-to-eat, compare various sources. Read reviews (accepting that a lot of reviews are mindless pablum). Ask questions here and in other fora.

If you buy food to reheat in the microwave you can expect it to be too salty and have too much fat which makes it hard to taste anything. YMMV.

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You can of course appreciate any dish (all you have to do is like it), but I think the best way to know whether something is prepared “correctly” might be to learn from someone with more experience than you. Ask someone knowledgeable about a certain dish where to get an excellent version of it.

There’s never perfect. Just well done . Jump in.

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In my viewpoint, aromas, tastes, flavours, visuals, textures, products & food combining likes and dislikes are all quite subjective.

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… or medium rare.

I had to Google that one. :rofl:

100 percent agree with what @harters says here. This is the foundation.

Based on my own experience, I would also add that focusing on cuisines you especially enjoy is a rewarding place to start.

Find food writers who cook those foods and specialize in the cuisine(s) you’re curious about. Some iconic examples for me would be the late, great Marcella Hazan for foods of Italy and Claudia Roden for the Middle East—of course there are many more. (You Tubers and cooking shows can be useful, but I hesitate to suggest that approach because I find video content to be such a mixed bag. Not time-efficient for me.)

If your foods of interest are available near you, taste different examples over time so you can compare and contrast.

If travel (when possible again) is in your budget, plan trips with food on the itinerary. And you might be lucky to live near independent businesses that prepare and sell the foods you want to learn about.

All the above make my life happier and richer.

ETA: After I posted, I ran across this appreciation of Marcella Hazan by Fergus Henderson, himself a chef and wonderful food writer. I love his recommendation about “adopting a hero who can cook.”

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Certainly agree with those two - both are on my shelves. I also have Roden’s Italy book. By the by, the version I have of Hazan’s Classic book is the one reedited and adapted by the wonderful Anna del Conte - it uses metric measurements and British terminolgy for ingredients and method. Perhaps oddly, as she has much greater status in the UK than Hazan, I don’t have any of her books.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold