food writing with Eileen Wen Mooney & Lillian Chou

Eileen Wen-Mooney is one of my inspirations / references in terms of Chinese food in general and her book, Beijing Eats, should be required reading for just about anyone that is visiting China and appreciates a good meal. Lillian Chou happens to be one of my new favorite food reviewers and the dining editor for Time Out Beijing. Today, I was fortunate enough to make it to their “food writing talk” which is part of the ongoing Bookworm Literary Festival.
The talk was also supposed to feature Jen Lin Liu, author of “serve the people” but her name suddenly vanished from all related headlines.

So, what do you talk about at a food writing talk? food, and writing about it…

I’m not gonna go into details about what was said and what transpired during the talk, I encourage you to get the podcast whenever it becomes available. I’ll just drop a couple of quickslants from each participant:

From Eileen:

  • The state of Chinese cuisine in Beijing is alarming: too many gimmicks and not enough quality
  • Most memorable recent meals were NOT in Beijing
  • The quality is going down even at reputable establishment like Li Family Home.
  • Food Hygiene needs to be taken more seriously

There was a lot of melancholy when Eileen was talking about the meals she had 10 years ago and one could easily see how much she cares about the state of Chinese Cuisine in the city.

From Lillian:

  • She hates writing reviews
  • holds people to high standards: “If you’re gonna open a an upscale French restaurant, then f*cking do it”.
  • didn’t worry as much about the hygiene of a place before China. Lack of soap makes her think “The guy just touched his d*ck and now he’s gonna make my sandwhich”
  • we need to use common sense when thinking about organic food and sustainable growth. There’s nothing organic about a lettuce that’s been flown halfway around the world.

I never met Lilian before so I had no idea what to expect… I came out pleasantly impressed! Strong lady with good opinions and she shoots from the hip which is refreshing. it reminded me of the first time i met Kaiser Kuo in person in regards to how knowledgeable and well spoken she is!

Both Lillian and Eileen agreed that there was a lack of focus on existing restaurants and that the new openings were getting much more press at a time when they should be allowed to grow/develop, an opinion I really endorse. That said, IMHO, there is also no excuse for a restaurant to open before the staff has had proper training. Unfortunately, especially in Beijing, soft opening is an indication that one will be charged full prices for half assed service/quality and it will fly because we’re not open yet. Sorry matey, if you’re not open then what is my ass doing on this chair?

Another point that came up and i asked about was the relative difference between western and local eating habits: How can we explain or interpret the fact that some of the highest rated restaurants on dianping are sometimes nowhere to be found on the expat rags which supposedly should guide us. I was really hoping that Eileen might have had an answer or explanation but she didn’t… so it’s still food for thoughts.

I did think that Lillian took the easy way out when talking about why Time Out doesn’t feature more local, out-of-the-way restaurants but then again, considering she’s only been in Beijing for a year, I think this one can pass. 🙂

Overall, I loved the talk and learned quite a bit from it. I look forward to spending some time chatting with both Eileen and Lillian in the near future.

More about/from Aileen:
Her Beijinger Columns | Her Personal BLog |

More about/from Lillian:
Bio at The hutong | Her Blog (currently blocked in cn)

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1 Response

  1. Cool blog post, was wondering if you would permit me to link to it in a post i am currently typing for my own site? Preeya Kalidas