Masarap Ba? is the voice of reason

In a country with no real tradition of criticism, a lone Instagram account holds court over the local food scene

by Philbert Dy, art by Aaron Asis

There is a lot of local food writing on the Internet, but precious few real opinions. An online search for any local eating establishment will likely yield a page from a prominent food blog, which will tell you about the ambiance of the restaurant, the size of its food portions, and the blogger’s personal experience eating its cuisine. To some extent, the information can be useful—entertaining even, if the writer is any good. But it doesn’t answer the only question that matters: does the food taste good?

Enter Masarap Ba?, an Instagram account devoted solely to that question. Typically, a post on the account involves a picture of a food item. Overlaid text on the image identifies what the food is and a simple verdict: Masarap or Hindi Masarap. The accompanying caption on the image offers a little more detail, the person (or people) behind the account explaining, in the vernacular, his/her/their thoughts on eating the said food item.

Such unequivocal and often hilarious opinions have garnered the account its substantial online following. In a country where so few are willing to publicly declare whether they like something or not, @masarapba charms with its unadorned frankness.

The whole attitude of the feed is reflective of how average people actually engage with food. Strange, but society has somehow decided that a separate class of people called “foodies” exists, as if this class is the only one that likes to eat and talk about what it eats. Talking about whether food is good or not is part of everybody’s daily life; any meal shared with at least one other person inevitably leads to some discussion about the quality of the dish. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a McDonald’s, a carinderia, or at a fancy establishment serving an impossibly expensive degustation. At some point, you’re going to say something about the food. And if someone is there with you, you’re going to tell them what you think.

This is the work of Masarap Ba? It offers genuine opinions about every type of food, whether it be a packaged sandwich from the grocery, the latest item introduced by a fast-food chain, the signature dish of a hot new restaurant, or the latest food craze. It treats all food equally, putting aside the need for extensive narratives about how the table was set or how handsome the waiters were. Everything boils down to a binary proposition: the food is either good—or it isn’t.

It is unclear whether Masarap Ba? has had much impact on the restaurants responsible for the food it has reviewed. But that isn’t really the point of criticism. Go through the comments of any one of the account’s posts and you’ll find people arguing for and against the verdict. Yes, the account’s followers have their own opinions on the food as well. Sometimes they’re polite; other times, they’re enough to start a heated exchange. In either case, the account has created a little space for the kind of candor that we have in real life for the food that we eat. It’s leading by example, showing people that we can just talk honestly about what we feel regarding any given dish.

Recently, the account started taking submissions from its followers, setting up an email address for anyone to send in reviews under the account’s very specific format. This further democratizes the local food culture, providing a platform for people who have something to say about a food they just ate. It might not seem that important, but this discourse has people engaging with a part of culture in a pretty meaningful way. If nothing else, it forces them to ask the question: is this good? And from that simple judgment, so much more can be revealed.

This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Rogue.