From the introduction to "The Chowhound's Guide" series
published by Penguin in 2005.
About ChowhoundsChowhounds existed long before the web site which gathered them into an international network. Chowhounding predates even prostitution. Among Neanderthals were those who roamed a valley or two out of their way to where the mastodons ran particularly tasty - and who always insisted on the tender cheek meat.
Chowhounds don't eat as they're told, preferring to scout for hidden gems. This culinary treasure hunting is fueld by the conviction that the landscape is rife with unheralded greatness awaiting joyful discovery. And so chowhounds plumb outlying neighborhoods; they screech their cars to a halt upon spotting promising-looking Peruvian chicken parlors; they horde takeout menus with a covetousness that would alarm even fervent butterfly collectors. All this to avoid the unthinkable horror of ingesting a bite lacking the potential to change their lives. A chowhound cannot bear the thought that something shatteringly wonderful might be discovered if they'd only trek an extra two blocks to try it.
Chowhounds eat on the cutting (and spooning and forking) edge; they're aware of a new immigrant group's influx before city agencies catch on, they navigate the roads of obscure corners of the city with more aplomb than cabbies, and, most of all, they know all the best places to eat. Not just the vaunted places with buzz; they won't settle for anything less than cooking that makes them shut their eyes and moan with pleasure. Chowhounds are always on the lookout for the greatness, and their discoveries will be tomorrow's vaunted places. They are the buzzers rather than the buzzies.
Chowhounds know that no media - not newspapers, not city magazines, not guidebooks, and certainly not their Taco Bell scarfing friends and coworkers - will lead their way passively to the hidden treasure. So they've learned to fend for themselves, gathering knowledge, refining their treasure hunting strategies, and basking in the adventure and rewards of high-level chow spotting. Their collective chow-how - cataloged in this guide - is an awesome thing.
A lot of what chowhounds do involves grabbing quick bites here and there. This doesn't reflect reluctance to sit down for a full-blown meal; it's just that most of one's eating life doesn't involve formal eating. Everything one eats must be eaten deliciously. You may grab a quick sandwich at work. A chowhound goes eight blocks out of the way for a better one. You may pick up a bag of cookies from a convenience store. A chowhound orders cookies in from Wisconsin. If one knows one's options, one can always score; one has the ability to sate every craving not just adequately but extraordinarily. And since even billionaires find themselves in formal dining settings for less than 10% of their ingestion, chowhounds must build portfolios of superior breakfast muffins, falafal sandwiches, and ice cream sundaes as well as options for business lunches and Saturday night dates.
One joy of this peculiar hobby is that the objects of a chowhound's affections are more viscerally satisfying than those of, say, antiques collectors. After all, you can't literally consume your new Hepplewhite mahogany pembroke table. You can only look at it, point at it, show it off - all locked in the cold dualism of finder and found. Compare and contrast, if you will, with a slice of fresh, eggy, golden brown coconut custard pie. Food is not just acquired, it's encompassed at the cellular level. Also, Mr. Hepplewhite's long gone, as is the society which produced the table. But the cultural aspects of cuisine are all alive and exciting. There is much to be learned and experienced on the chowhounding trail; friends to be made and otherness to embrace and internalize.
In the end, it's more than just about food. In an age when humongous engines of marketing ensnare multitudes to familiar brands, chowhounds are the conscientious objectors. Having resisted the hypnotic trance of directed consumption, they use their free will to make smart choices, making all their occasions special. By refusing to settle for easy mediocrity, they support the artisans, holdouts and geniuses who aim for far more than extracting maximal profit from minimal effort. And that's even more important, when all's said and done, than finding good off-season tomatoes.