Jenny Tran is a lover of all things related to the sight, smell, story, taste and touch of food. She enjoys immersing herself in the learning and spectacle of home cooking (she's a self-confessed novice in the kitchen) as well as scouring the streets for fine eateries.
We talk to Jenny about New York street food, Anthony Bourdain, and her obsession with white coloured tucker.
You write for the blog Musings and Morsels. How did this blog combining food and film come to fruition?
It was simply a matter of two friends who talk too much and obsess too heavily about our passions. We ultimately came to the conclusion that we should patch together our thoughts into words, creating a semblance of ideas and opinions, and, at times, recipes. I suppose that's where the ”musings“ come in. I’m aware that some people sneer at food bloggers and classify the writing as drivel. Personally, I think that if you have a respect for food diversity, you should embrace it. Food is an extension of ourselves and the pleasures of the table are essential to each of our lives. I see every person as a possible window to a different food culture, tradition or history. Other greedy people likely share this viewpoint. I don't consider my writing as any more relevant, but I think our blog, like any other, should be looked upon as an enthusiastic voice open to be heard. And if not, no matter, blogging is still a fantastic way for me quench my thirst of food ramblings.
We were fascinated to learn of your strange obsession with white-coloured food. Tell us about it.
I’m not certain that I can make much sense of it, but I have an inkling it stems from milk. The fact that milk nourishes you from birth and that it represents a person's introduction to food, has likely instilled in me a perception that any white food represents purity, cleanliness and health. A curious ideology, sure, but there it is. Nowadays, however, it seems that “white food“ is often frowned upon. While I can't disagree, there remains a time and place for white bread, white rice and so on. How can you possibly have fairy bread without the freshest, fluffiest white bread? You simply can't. Eat less, definitely (and I do advocate that), but don't deprive.
In 2010, you travelled to the Big Apple to discover what food makes New Yorkers tick. Tell us what you learnt about the experience.
I was astonished, entirely flabbergasted, with the cheap eats peppered throughout. When you envisage New York City, you think of extravagant restaurants with audacious interiors and the grandest fine dining. But what truly made an impression on me was an experience where I timidly shuffled into a Mexican grocery store and I was pointing and stuttering like a blithering idiot because I realised that they barely spoke English. And then finding immense satisfaction in incredibly authentic, crimson-spiced tacos – family-owned and uncontrived, yet brilliant and rare. It was ridiculously good.
There was also an unexpected street food culture; one that is seemingly growing. Again, tacos (not the Tex-Mex hard shells, mind you), but also Peking duck on-the-go, Middle Eastern mixed plates, German soul food, Korean-Mexican fusion and much more. Back in Sydney, we have plenty to be proud of, but I only wish we could start tackling street food.
You don’t have much of a sweet tooth but you recently created an Asian-inspired Mille-feuille. What twist did you add to this classic dessert?
I can't take much credit for the dish because I was, in essence, recreating a dessert I had while in Chinatown. I suppose my “creation” came in through the use of fried wonton skins (in place of puff pastry layers) and by providing the overall dish a lighter touch. I added fresh, zingy, homemade strawberry sauce and cloudy dots of mascarpone in between.
You’ve recently taken an interest in unusual flavour and textural combinations. What have been the best and worst combinations?
To be honest, I've been doing much more reading and researching than experimenting with unlikely flavour combinations. I'd say that I'm more of a traditional home cook; I tend to make classic dishes, even if they’re sometimes recreations. I'm ecstatic, though, to start utilising flowers and heirloom vegetables in cooking. There's been somewhat of a revival in wild food lately, so maybe that's a sign that these ingredients will become more accessible.
You’re an admirer of Anthony Bourdain, whose show No Reservations recently aired on SBS Food. What do you admire most about him?
His brutal honesty, for one – he doesn't try to romanticise anything, he says it because it is. I also admire his wit and ability to shed light on the historical and cultural significance of the folks behind the food. He really opens our eyes to understanding the tales of migrating ingredients and peoples and how they have influenced or created certain dishes as we know them today. I find that truly fascinating. The show also has an uncanny way of humbling us, as people living in the West. It shows the often fleeting truth that we have the luxury to eat for pure pleasure, which is not the case for many others around the world. This is particularly evident in the Tahiti episode. Barring the philosophical undertones, though, Bourdain has a real snarky attitude and terribly sarcastic streak. I enjoy a little crazy now and then.
One half of your blog is dedicated to film. What is your favourite food moment in film?
The film portion is written by my friend, Lynn. For me, I would have to say my favourite is [1985 film] Tampopo in its entirety. It's difficult to disagree. The whole film is one enormous, glorified dedication to food fetish. The childish glee we receive from witnessing food, catching a whiff of it, to the much desired devouring of it. All of these elements are captured to detailed perfection in this film.
What was your greatest dining experience so far?
Sad to say, but I haven't dined out as often this year. I've dedicated much of it to home cooking (possibly more sampling than cooking on my part) and I’ve recently discovered the pleasures of the lime leaf.
I did, however, stumble upon a place serving absolutely brilliant char kway teow. Charred perfectly, a medley of fish cake, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), crunchy bean sprouts, seafood, slippery rice noodles, among other delicious bits, but the crowning glory were the knobs of fried pork lard – crispy and bronzed on the exterior and melting within. Like pieces of a salty sweet. This was at Singapore Shiok, one of the stalls at Eating World in Chinatown.
What are you looking forward to, food-wise?
I would like to eat more whole foods, support locally sourced produce and increase my intake of vegetables. I know I sound awfully boring and cliché at the moment, especially since it's the current ”hip/let's be green and skip together” thing to do but, for once, it's also the enlightened way.
If there’s one thing you can tell your fellow foodies, what would it be?
Cook more, experiment more.
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