Can we believe what we read online?
That’s not an idle question. According to a study conducted this year in 26 countries by the University of Oxford Reuters Institute, over 80% of the respondents said they get news from online sources. Social media in particular, which is just a subset of online media, was a source of news for a whopping 51%. For every group under the age of 45, online news is now more important than television news. And here’s the biggie: more 18 to 24-year-olds rely on social media as their main source of news than on television, radio or print.
There’s a lot of good content online, to be sure, but more and more of us are getting the information upon which we base our decisions from so-called “news feeds” that are shaped by shadowy algorithms. Of the hundred and one things happening in the world, we see stories selected and shared not by veteran editors but by “Friends” including the childhood playmate we haven’t seen for decades and the crazy guy whose opinions we never really valued but who we keep forgetting to unfriend. The articles we read are written not necessarily by journalists or experts but by biased singers or anyone with a laptop or smartphone for that matter. How much of this stuff is true?
This became a gut issue for me when a story appeared on my feed complete with mouth-watering photos claiming to have identified the top ten crispy pata in Manila. As I surfed an ocean of political crap, here finally was news I needed, news I could use. I eagerly read the article, thinking I would just test my vast knowledge of crispy pata and maybe discover one or two new places to try out; but to my utter dismay, it appeared that I knew so very little. I had been to only four of the ten establishments in the list! If the list was accurate, what had I been doing with my life? Why had I been wasting my precious time not eating the best crispy pata in town?
Then, things got interesting. After I shared the list—online, of course—I received more reactions than usual both online and in person; and mixed in with the likes, oohs and aahs were comments questioning the veracity of the list. How can a list of the top ten crispy pata not include the original mother-of-all-crispy-pata, many asked. Why is that sweet, un-crispy abomination in the list? This one should be in the list. That one should not. Certainly, this should rank higher than that, right? I should investigate further and farther, I was told, to determine if a crispy pata found in a Maginhawa street eatery qualifies for the top ten and to compare the crispy pata in Lipa, Batangas, in Candelaria, Quezon and in Legaspi, Albay with those in imperial Manila. The original list had become like a matrix of drug lords—something to be taken as gospel truth and then, not.
What was I to do? Who should I believe? A dear friend shook me up with a private message: “Yung mga kaibigan mo akala mo totoong kaibigan mo???. . . Nagpapauto ka sa mga friends mo.”
As a lawyer, I knew that the only way to get to the truth was through personal knowledge. The only way to win the Internet back for the truth was through a personal crusade. I had to eat the crispy pata myself.
My crispy pata journey has been ongoing for over a month. It has taken me to places I have not been to before and places I would not have eaten at in the past. At the same time, I have returned to a number of favorite restaurants because it wouldn’t be fair to base their rankings on memories, fond or otherwise. The quest has forced me to cross the Pasig River and go deep into the nether lands of the north. I have had crispy pata with plain rice, with garlic rice and with no rice; with soy sauce and vinegar, with lechon sauce, and with apple dip; with light beer, with craft beer and with no beer at all. It has been difficult, but someone has to do it.
Fortunately, I do not have to do this alone. Countless true friends who share my passion have volunteered to join me. Like Michelin Guide inspectors, we don’t announce ourselves in advance and we never reveal the purpose of our visit when we get there. We also always pay for our food. We leave no leftovers behind.
I thought about interviewing the owners and chefs about their recipes, techniques and sources of meat, but I decided I wanted to support the best restaurants, not steal their business. Besides, if everyone found out how to make the best crispy pata and it became available everywhere, would it still be the best or just ordinary?
Enough of this pancit palabok, you say. Where are the rankings?
There are still so many crispy pata places I have to try. I had to take a short break to get blood tests. I am happy to report that my cholesterol levels are all within the desirable range. I am optimistic that my doctor will give me the go-signal to continue my journey. After all, diabetes is my main problem these days and crispy pata is sugar-free. Depending on the medical verdict, I hope to publish the rankings soon—or maybe later—in my blog at www.dandepadua.com because ultimately I want to help answer the question: Can we believe what we read online?
If the guy who wrote it ate the crispy pata himself, then the answer is Yes.