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Picture Prompts and Inspired Travel Writing, Part 3: Associate the Image with Previous Experiences

Food and travel often go together. If you have a photo of a dish or delicacy that you enjoyed, how do you write about what’s in the image? Will “It was nice!” or “Yum!” suffice?

Carrot cupcake at The Yellow Chair Cafe, Saigon
Carrot cupcake at The Yellow Chair Cafe, Saigon

How many words can you come up with to describe a cupcake?

Let’s start with the basic what, where, when, why, who and how.

When Alex and I attended a coffee class in Saigon in early March of 2019, there was a short break between the “smelling” part and the actual coffee making part. We were served snacks — carrot cupcakes to go with brewed coffee. It was the best carrot cake I have ever had in my life. Light and soft, moist, and chockablock with nuts, fruit and spices.

Informative, yes. But riveting? Hardly.

How much depth can you add to a description of a cupcake?

Let’s add to the paragraph above. The bold text are additions.

When Alex and I attended a coffee class in Saigon in early March of 2019, there was a short break between the “smelling” part and the actual coffee making part. We were served snacks — carrot cupcakes to go with brewed coffee.

When the cupcake was first placed in front of me, I was ready to dismiss it as a token snack. It didn’t look particularly good. In fact, it looked plain. Why didn’t it have cream cheese frosting? Wasn’t that de rigueur? But it turned out to be one of those times when I had to remind myself not to be deceived by looks.

It was the best carrot cake I have ever had in my life. Light and soft, moist, and chockablock with nuts, fruit and spices. I took a photo — as a visual souvenir and nothing more because, in the context of the coffee class, the carrot cupcake was merely an aside.

Good enough? It’s passable, I should say.

Creating associations

When you describe something as “best”, you’re making a comparison. You can’t say “best carrot cake” if its your first carrot cake experience. Even if you’ve had carrot cake once before, “better” would be the correct adjective.

But “best”? You call it “the best” because you’ve had carrot cake many times in the past that were either not as good or just downright appalling. So, when writing about the carrot cupcake, and calling it “the best” all previous carrot cake experiences become relevant.

Let me rewrite the paragraphs above and give the carrot cake story a title.

At Yellow Chair Cafe in Saigon, the carrot cake that momentarily made me forget the coffee

When Alex and I attended a coffee class in Saigon in early March of 2019, there was a short break between the “smelling” part and the actual coffee making part. We were served snacks — carrot cupcakes to go with brewed coffee.

When the cupcake was first placed in front of me, I was ready to dismiss it as a token snack. It didn’t look particularly good. In fact, it looked plain. Why didn’t it have cream cheese frosting? Wasn’t that de rigueur? But it turned out to be one of those times when I had to remind myself not to be deceived by looks. It was the best carrot cake I have ever had in my life. Light and soft, moist, and chockablock with nuts, fruit and spices. I took a photo — as a visual souvenir and nothing more because, in the context of the coffee class, the carrot cupcake was merely an aside.

My long love affair with carrot cake is hardly an aside though. It began at a coffee shop within walking distance from our office building. I was a young lawyer and, in the same office, were two other young lawyers I went to school with. And, just some twenty meters from the office building was a steak house owned by the family of another law school friend.

It was the latter who gave me my first taste of carrot cake. She often visited us at work and, during one of those visits, she suggested coffee break at this newly-opened place called Cafe Gianinna just a few steps from the building. We went, we ordered the carrot cake, and I was more dumbfounded that amazed. How could a vegetable possibly go into a cake that actually tastes good?

Years later, I was still frequenting that coffee shop. With my husband and, later, our daughters. In time, we tried almost all the cakes sold there but nothing could beat the carrot cake experience. After we moved to the suburbs and the coffee shop became too far away to satisfy the craving for carrot cake, we found ourselves trying versions from other bakeshops and cafes. Not one made the grade. Not even the carrot cake of the iconic Calea in Bacolod.

And then I had that carrot cupcake in Saigon. All previous carrot cakes, in every shape and form, paled in comparison. Yellow Chair’s carrot cupcake is the best I’ve had. So far.

Yes, picture prompts work.

Written By

I travel to eat, drink and learn new cuisines. Between trips, I write travel stories and share travel-inspired recipes. That is my idea of retirement with purpose.

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