From ‘Aiyo, Ah Yoke’, 3 March 2012, Life! Mailbag
(Lee Kun Yu): I refer to the restaurant review by Wong Ah Yoke (Chinese Revolution, LifeStyle, Feb 26).
I was completely appalled when I read about how he enjoyed, as part of the $250 menu, ‘the thickest strands of fins I had eaten in a long time’. He then returned for lunch, where he picked the cheapest $80 menu, and declared that ‘the shark’s fin in the dumpling soup was much thinner’. What sort of message is this meant to send out to Singapore?
Ah Yoke is a well-respected and long-standing food columnist, and his reviews are widely read – what he says, people will follow. I really think he’s done a huge disfavour to every person and organisation that advocates a ban on shark’s fin.
Food critic Wong Ah Yoke’s opinion of Tong Le’s shark’s fin took up the entirely of three lines in his ‘Chinese revolution’ review, as follows:
…That was followed by a braised superior shark’s fin in ‘tanfu’ sauce, boasting the thickest strands of fins I had eaten in a long time and a delicious creamy soup…Also, the shark’s fin in the dumpling soup was much thinner. (Chinese revolution, 26 Feb 2012, Sunday Times)
That was it. The rest of his piece was relentless, orgasmic gushing about other dishes like ‘lobster and goose liver paste topped with caviar of Heilongjiang sturgeon served on a thin slice of crispy mantou that crackled in the mouth’, which made the shark’s fin description as unsexy and subdued as a punctuation mark. He didn’t say stuff like ‘The shark’s fin’s rich, luscious texture blended in symphony with the earthy, lip-smacking, meaty broth, a perfect nerve-tingling, stomach-pleasing food for the gods and a must-have for anyone dining here.’.Contrast this with a 2011 New Paper piece on a panel of food critics voting Empress Jade’s shark’s fin soup and crab roe the ‘best of the set’, with its ‘generous amount of fins’. Be warned, the following image may induce nausea, distress and overall disappointment in mankind.
Anyone who read ‘Chinese revolution’ would have glossed over the shark’s fin details, which the complainant singled out with wrath here. Just because a celebrated food critic gorges on live baby squid or braised koala bear doesn’t mean ‘followers’ would do the same. Since Sumiko Tan drew blood for eating shark’s fin, ST journalists, including food critics, are held ransom by a moral conscience forced-fed upon them. Having an ‘ethical eater’ for a food critic makes food reviews as bland as shark’s fin itself. You never hear of vegetarian food critics; reviews should be soaked in fatty juices, blood, guts, novel flavours and combinations, mysterious body parts, Michelin stars, exotic creatures big and small to vicariously feed our primal sense of adventure, curiosity and gluttony. Most readers are unlikely to have the time or money to eat at wherever and whatever Wong eats. It’s the gustatory equivalent of a travel brochure, the next best thing to travelling itself.
But just how much shark’s fin has Wong Ah Yoke eaten really? Here’s a list of shark’s fin reviews:
- Shark’s fin with tikuanyin tea (Fancy shark’s fin cooked with Chinese tea? 1 June 1997, ST)
- Shark’s fin soup in papaya (11 April 1999, ST)
- Double-boiled chicken essence soup with shark’s fin and Morilles morels (Pavillion)
- Abalone and shark’s fin rice (Metropole Herbal Restaurant)
- Doubleboiled superior shark’s fin in supreme broth accompanied with crispy spring roll served in Japanese stone pot (Taste Paradise)
- Shark’s skin, shark’s fin and diced cucumber and yam in a sour dressing (Tokkuri)
- ‘Sinfully rich’ braised shark’s fin with hairy crab meat and roe (Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant)
The list and images above may very well disappear from our menus and cookbooks before we know it. Dining on shark’s fin has given ‘sinful’ eating a whole new literal meaning. To muzzle a food critic for commenting on a single offensive dish when he has opened the eyes, mouths and stomachs of readers to a world of both local and far-flung epicurean delights is like punishing an artist for using endangered monkey hair for one of his paintbrushes. Thanks to the anti-shark’s fin lobby, until the day when this classic dish is universally banned, Wong Ah Yoke will have to either eat it in secret, or forever restrain his euphoria, like a man trying to curb an ejaculation, even if he chances upon the best or the last shark’s fin the world has left to offer.