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Edmonton’s culinary scene continues to expand and captivate, with its legion of fans, or ‘foodies’, documenting every morsel.
Blogs, Instagram and TikTok accounts record every restaurant opening, food truck debut and menu addition, often in highly complementary tones. In turn, that’s given birth to a growing number of ‘anti-foodie foodies,’ reviewers unafraid to intensely criticize a local restaurant or those mock looking for a free meal in return for a glowing review.
Ramneek Singh began regularly writing food reviews five years ago after encouraging replies to his posts on Facebook. In time he developed a reviewing style that incorporates off-the-wall comparisons to pro wrestling, hip hop and exploitation films, far from the fluttery, hashtag-heavy prose he was reading from other local food reviewers.
“Bret Hart is is my childhood hero,” Singh says about the Alberta-born wrestling legend. “He will always give you the honest truth. Like, if you ask him about a wrestler and he thinks the wrestler is sh*t him he’s going to tell you that. If I go to a restaurant and I don’t like it, I’m going to talk about it. I feel that I’m entitled to that because they charged me an obscene amount of money.”
Embracing his ‘heel’ persona (a villain in wrestling), Singh penned a venomous review of Jollibee, the Filipino fast-food restaurant chain, when an outlet opened in Edmonton in 2019. Reaction was swift: Jollibee defenders slammed Singh with comments and messages replete with racism and death threats that continue to this day.
“It was a really bizarre situation,” Singh says, looking back at the outrage his review created, which included a writeup and a digitally obscured photo of him plastered on a Filipino news website. “It’s a forever thing. I just hope it’s not in my obituary.”
In another review, Singh and his wife visited an Edmonton restaurant that regularly tops ‘best-of’ lists for a Valentine’s Day dinner, which resulted in a severe case of gastrointestinal distress ruining any chance of romance that night.
“Don’t believe the hype,” Singh wrote, quoting Public Enemy.
A distance of reading local food bloggers’ superficial restaurant reviews spurred Salvador Garcia to begin writing his own blunt takes on local cuisine via his blog, Fat Sal YEG Food Reviews.
“I’m honest about my dining experience. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? I paid for it,” says Garcia, who says he frowns on the practice of accepting payola from restaurants in exchange for positive coverage.
Garcia’s reviews range from the playful (chowing down a chopped cheese sandwich from The Ark Cafe made him “feel like Spider-Man”) to a winding tale of trying to find the location of a ghost kitchen to pick up his meal from Mr. Beast Burger (“Terrible” and an “embarrassment.”) His every-man views on hip eateries such as Bar Brico run alongside taste tests of bacon portobello mushroom cheeseburgers from Wendy’s.
“I’m a man of the people, very simple. I’m content by throwing an egg in my ramen to consider it a work of art. It’s not Van Gogh but comparable to whoever made those metal balls on Whitemud Drive,” says Garcia.
Another food reviewer running antithesis to flattering foodies is Brotherhood of Plates on Instagram. The anonymous writer (“He’s got a Batman thing going on,” surmises a friend) posts almost daily reviews of Edmonton junk food ranging from pizza to sugar-free pop, often satirical, sometimes exceedingly personal. A review of M&M Meats’ pizza rolls turns into a reminiscence of lost love back in Cape Breton or a post about Pizza 73’s chicken sandwiches dovetails into a recollection of goth kids in high school. It’s gut-busting commentary that also induces a rumble in your tummy.
Over on TikTok, an account called Smokin Pattes has garnered more than 100,000 followers for his reviews of Edmonton burgers. Each post follows a similar format in an unedited single take: A bearded man stands outside an eatery and introduces the hamburger; he wordlessly chows down on it, usually finishing it within 10 bits; and then reviews it on a scale of 1-5. It borders on performance art, but his childlike enthusiasm for the food he reviews is infectious.
Singh freely admits his antagonistic restaurant reviews generate the most attention, but he’s reluctant to fully adopt a “hater” persona.
“My wife proofreads them, even though she hates them,” Singh says about his negative reviews.
Recently, a local junior high school teacher reached out to Singh to let him know she used his posts, albeit heavily censored versions, to help her students with their opinion writing.
“I know my stuff is vulgar and everything, but by that age, I had already heard Mobb Deep and Scarface,” jokes Singh. “But it warms my heart to know a teacher looked beyond the vulgarity, and she focused on the writing and shared it with her students, encouraging them to be opinionated and rebellious. I’ve never made a dime, and I’ve received death threats, but I also made some kids laugh and inspired them with their opinion writing. I don’t think it gets better than that.”