When it comes to food reviews, there’s an internal dilemma between wanting, to be honest, and not wanting a backlash from being too honest. But Aaron Nathanael Ho (affectionately known as Nat) of food review site, Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, has no fear of treading these delicate waters because he truly believes in staying true to one’s dining experience.
With a quirky site name as his (which is a profound Hokkien translation of a phrase meaning “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger), he takes a strong stand on being upfront and unshaken in his gastronomic morals. Nat gives us a real look at the ins and outs of being a food blogger – raw and free of sugar-coated glamour.
What inspired your career choice?
Food blogging is more of a passion than a career; I have a day job, and blogging is just for fun. Long time ago, I used to have a personal blog and I sometimes wrote about my food experiences. My friend suggested that I should start a blog focusing solely on food, and voila, I did!
What was the biggest challenge you have had to overcome professionally?
Blogging is easy – handling people is the difficult task. When I started blogging and began to gain some popularity, many people – such as PR representatives, restaurateurs, and other media – weren’t too welcoming. It was partly because bloggers had, and still have, a notoriety (partly because the small food scene is cliquish and bitchy). So overcoming people’s prejudice was the greatest challenge.
In fact, I’m still having difficulty with people. My reviews are honest from my friends’ and my point of view, and when a restaurant receives a negative review, they are defensive about it. Of course, I totally understand that the restaurant is their baby. It’s a constant struggle to be empathetic to the restaurants and to be true to myself.
What do you personally believe to be the secret ingredient to a restaurant’s success?
I take success to mean popularity and profitability and longevity. You’d think that things like food and service and décor and publicity matter. But they really don’t. Some great restaurants close down within a year, even those with rave reviews from celebrated food writers.
The secret ingredient is connections! When chefs and restaurateurs are well-connected, their restaurants thrive even when the food is mediocre.
What common misconceptions do people hold about your job? What is true, and what is not?
It’s glamorous and you get free food; that’s a major misconception. The food isn’t free. You have to spend hours after the meal, ruminating over the review, processing the photos, etc. These are hours that are robbed away from spending time with family and friends. If you divide the cost of food with the time spent on reviews, it’s just not worth the effort.
What is the funniest thing you have read about yourself in the media?
Nothing so far.
Singaporean influencers have been incremental in adopting early to a variety of social media platforms. Apart from your website, your brand is also shown on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. How important do you think these platforms are in getting your message across?
The different platforms have users of different demographics, so it’s important to reach out to different groups. Twitter isn’t very useful in Singapore. People who follow me on Facebook users are mostly in their late 20s to 40s, and they prefer local food. Instagrammers are younger; they prefer cafes, and pretty but not necessarily delicious desserts. My blog attracts working executives who are serious about food. All the different platforms enforce the brand.
What is your favourite food in Singapore?
Japanese! Singapore has surprisingly high standards of Japanese food because we have many great Japanese chefs here.
Your biggest epicurean sin (whether homemade or when eating out)?
I don’t usually eat processed food, so any processed food, like potato chips or instant noodles or fast food, is a luxury for me.
History typically plays an intrinsic role in the cuisines a nation eats – how has this affected Singaporean food and/or its food scene in general?
This question requires an essay! In short, you can really tell the economic growth and globalisation of Singapore from the invasion of international brands. The restaurants now are more diverse – from Hawaiian to Scottish cuisine – and there are some modern Singaporean restaurants that “gentrify” local street food to fine-dining standards.
A must-try recipe for a lazy weeknight?
I’ve written several recipes on my blog and they are all good for lazy people because I’m lazy. I just want fast cooking to fill my tummy.
Which are your 5 favourite places to enjoy good food globally?
Too many to name! I’m going to name more than 5:
⦁ Yauatcha dim sum (London, UK)
⦁ Sushi Dai (Tokyo, Japan)
⦁ Sushi Saito (Tokyo, Japan)
⦁ L’Effervescence (Tokyo, Japan)
⦁ Margaret River Bakery (Perth, Australia)
⦁ Street food (Ipoh, Malaysia)
⦁ Indego by Vineet (Dubai)
⦁ Mutton briyani at Dindigul Thalappakatti (Chennai, India)
⦁ Le Bernardin (New York, USA)
⦁ Sushi Yasuda (New York, USA)
⦁ Tosokchon Samgyetang (Seoul, Korea)
⦁ Byeokjae Galbi (Seoul, Korea)
⦁ A Greek restaurant at a back alley (Athens, Greece)
⦁ Union Café (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Which latest trend restaurant do we have to try right now?
I don’t really follow trends. I follow what I’ve cravings for. But the best restaurant I’ve eaten at this year in Singapore is Meta Restaurant at Keong Saik Road. It’s French-inspired cuisine with an Asian twist by a Korean chef who had worked at the fine-dining restaurant Waku Ghin.
What is the oddest food you’ve eaten?
I eat everything!
What was the funniest / most surprising / best / most gruesome food delivery experience you have had so far?
I bought $200 worth of sashimi. The delivery was late by 2 hours. When it came, some items were still frozen. About 6 hours after the meal, my family and I got mild diarrhoea. It was my first and only meal of the day and the sashimi came already sliced and I didn’t handle them, so I’m quite positive the food poisoning came from the sashimi.
When the supplier called me, he offered $80 worth of vouchers. I told him it wasn’t necessary. Why would I want to get diarrhoea again? Diarrhoea once, shame on you; diarrhoea twice, shame on me. And he asked sheepishly if I would do a review. I told him I won’t do a review on my blog.
Then I posted a photo on my Instagram and talked about my experience without naming the supplier. Instagram to me is personal and the short lines there cannot constitute a review. The supplier called me up to tell me off. He insinuated that I might be faking my experience, saying, “Nobody has had diarrhoea before. I don’t know if it’s because you’re a blogger…”
I had the goodwill to not blog about his place and not to name the shop, and my family and I suffered because of his food. Yet, he still had the audacity to call me up and shout at me.
Which traits and characteristics of service, based on your own experiences, matter most in premium food delivery?
To be punctual! And the food should be still hot.
Complete the sentence: On Saturdays, I am most likely to…
Sleep at home.
What is your biggest dream for the future, and how are you hoping to achieve it?
Be a booker prize winner! I already have the story in head, but I need time to write it.
Finally, share with our readers one of your most favourite eating places in Singapore, and why.
I don’t return to many restaurants because the blog demands new reviews. But Yeo Keng Nam chicken rice offers a really good experience. It’s situated at the junction of Braddell Road and Serangoon, and it abuts on car workshops. It’s as ramshackle as it sounds with cracked concrete and macadam unmarked parking.
And because of the inconvenient location, there are usually seats. But there is air-conditioning, the service is swift, and the food arrives quickly – steaming and delicious. It serves one of the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore. It’s definitely a comforting place to have a family meal.