A blog ate my homework
Ask any foodie in Hong Kong for a restaurant address and they'll direct you to openrice.com for its search engine and reviews.
K.C. Koo stumbled on the site almost 10 years ago and began posting reviews. He's since topped OpenRice's charts for reviewing the most restaurants, started his own blog, gourmetkc.blogspot.com, written for Hong Kong magazines and penned two books.
He is now seen as a spokesman for online food writing, speaking at events such as last week's Social Media Week Hong Kong. The derivatives trader-turned-civil servant-turned-food writer and father writes at least one food review online every day, and has put his name to more than 8,400.
Why did you start writing food reviews online?
Around 10 years ago, there was only openrice.com [on the Hong Kong internet food scene]. I'd just come back from a year in Japan, where I learned about Japanese cuisine. Clients would take me out for Japanese food and order salmon sashimi, but in all the time I'd lived in Japan, I'd never had salmon sashimi. Ask 10 Hongkongers and they will tell you they like Japanese food, especially sashimi, and specifically salmon sashimi. That was what was being reflected on openrice.com. So I thought I should share what I knew about food.
How has the internet influenced the food industry in Hong Kong?
There hasn't actually been very much influence. Everyone knows that news spreads faster on the internet and it's more flexible compared with the print medium. All eyes are on social media right now, but in terms of readership, print media still wins, which is why I write for both.
Can you make a living out of blogging?
I actually prefer blogging, but the reality is, if you don't write for print publications, no one will read your blog. By confining yourself to the digital world, you'll be noticed by only a very small group of people, so you won't be able to make a living out of writing. It's sad, but true.
The print media is still where the money is. There aren't enough bloggers who pull enough readership to compete with print. A blogger might pull in as few as 300 visits a day. A public relations professional will know that's not enough. If they invite you to try a menu, they want it read about by as many people as possible. There aren't enough bloggers out there who can do that.
Is a food blogger's role to promote restaurants or simply to critique them independently?
I started writing because I like food. But I realised that we have a function of distributing information. I will continue to blog about places I like, regardless of promotional messages, because that's what I like to do, but I also think that, as part of the media, I have a role to play in communicating information.
There have been discussions in the food blogging community about whether people blog for money. I think they've missed the point. In my opinion, there are only two things you need to know: would the writer lie, and do they really know how to analyse food? If you know your food and you don't lie, your writing has value.
Do you think you'll keep blogging about food?
I like writing. I never thought I'd end up writing professionally, but I like to share what I know and learn. And I like to eat. Perhaps in the future people won't read any more and will only want to look at photos. Then I'll learn to take better photos.
From a food perspective, what is the most underappreciated thing in Hong Kong?
I think we should pay more attention to small independent businesses. Hong Kong hardly has street food any more; we've been dominated by big chains. Food is culture. Take [hawker stall] Sing Heung Yuen, for example. They make great toast and soup noodles, but if we don't talk about them, people will stop visiting, and they won't survive.