Although somewhat a struggling cook, Melanie is an avid eater and loves nothing more than grabbing a bite with family and friends. Cheap and cheerful is her favourite way to dine, but she doesn’t mind something fancy every now and then. Melanie writes the Sydney based food blog, The Adventures of Miss Piggy, which she began in 2010 to chronicle her eating and travel adventures.
We talk to Melanie about Singaporean kaya toast, ethical eating, and tasting brave new foods – at least once.
When reviewing restaurants, which influences your opinion more: the food or the atmosphere?
For me, a great meal is definitely a combination of both amazing food and atmosphere. The "feel" of a place often heightens my experience and memories of the meal. I remember leaving Porteño last year on such a high – the vibe of that place, with its rock’n’roll music and staff dressed like rockabilly hipsters from the 1950s, is infectious and just enhances the whole experience. I often think people limit atmosphere solely to the way a restaurant looks, but, for me, it's so much more than that. The music, staff, location, quirky décor, general vibe, as well as the food, all come together to form my ultimate dining experience.
While there's something exciting about the opulence and decadence a fancy restaurant, truly exceptional meals can be found in the most unlikely of places. Some of my best eating experiences have been thanks to street food vendors overseas – who can say no to a banana and condensed milk pancake on the side of the road in Thailand, I ask you? As long as the food is good and the service is friendly, I’m happy.
We see you have a long wish list of restaurants to review. Do you ever revisit restaurants, or are you all about the new?
It’s a bit of a struggle, really, [as] there are so many great places I want to revisit and this, coupled with my ever-growing wish list, equals a constant inner-battle of where to eat. While more fancy and expensive restaurants are often a once-off for me, I love returning to more casual and affordable places without the camera. This gives me a chance to really focus on the people I’m with, rather than talking to them via my camera lens. I also actually eat a hot meal – something that doesn’t happen very often when you’re photographing the food and trying to get that perfect shot.
What resources help you generate a wish list for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart?
Before I go on a trip, I spend time looking at urbanspoon.com, which is a great resource for finding restaurants in other cities. Urbanspoon also has loads of blogger reviews, so I spend quite a bit of time reading people’s thoughts on restaurants. And, of course, no self-respecting blogger would venture anywhere without asking for recommendations from fellow bloggers – we love nothing more than recommending our favourite eats to people. Twitter is a great source of information. I read the food sections of print media, which occasionally have a blurb about food in other cities.
Tell us about your recent visit to Luke Nguyen’s Red Lantern restaurant. What was your favourite dish?
The most appealing thing to me about Red Lantern was the ethos behind the restaurant. I wholeheartedly agree with their stance on ethical produce and sustainable food – I want to know the food I’m eating has led its most natural life possible. I honestly believe eating something that has been raised free-range tastes a whole lot better than factory farmed meat, and it makes me feel happier, too. Everything we ate was beyond delicious, but if I had to pick a favourite, I’d say the free-range pork ribs braised with soy, chilli and garlic (oh, and the chilli salted squid. Oh, and the pasture-fed Wagyu beef wrapped in betal leaf).
Have you attended many Twitter meet-ups with fellow food bloggers? How does it work?
Many of the gatherings are quite informal. Often, if someone is keen to try a new restaurant, or just has a craving to go somewhere in particular, they float the idea on the blogosphere or Twitter to see if anyone is interested in coming along. There are also a few events throughout the year organised by Sydney food bloggers Chocolate Suze and Grab Your Fork, where the food bloggers in town are invited. I think there are about 200 of us – can you imagine how much food arrives at a blogger picnic? Food and photos – it’s heaven on earth!
With all that dining out, when do you get time to write your blog?
At work. Kidding (honestly, Boss: I’m kidding). When I get home from work, the evenings are mine to do with as I please, so I spend them blogging and deciding which photos will make it onto the blog. If I have free time on the weekends, I might knock out a post or two if I’m in the mood. I don’t really spend more than an hour or so writing each post – I have a short attention span.
When travelling abroad, what do you most miss about Australian fare?
I know everyone says this, but I do miss Australian coffee – no-one quite makes it as good as we do. In reality, though, I have more trouble leaving behind the great food I’ve discovered overseas, rather than the food I know I’ll be coming home to. On a recent trip to Singapore, I discovered kaya toast (a type of coconut egg jam flavoured with pandan), served with a soft-boiled egged that's seasoned with white pepper and soy sauce. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to live without kaya toast in my life daily. I’m also still think about the most amazing cheeseburger of my life from Shake Shack in New York last year, and, to this day, I still dream about a fantastic feta cheese baguette I had in a little café off the Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1998. I’m spending my life pining for the food of holidays past (while enjoying a perfect Aussie-made latte).
Which cuisine would you like to get to know more? Which cuisine are you tired of?
I’ve never had Filipino food and it’s something I’d really love to try. There are quite a few Filo bloggers in Sydney and reading posts about their food is mouthwatering, to say the least. I’d be keen to explore more Asian desserts – until last year, this was a whole new world to me. I’m also really interested in trying more African and "real" Mexican food – something that is not that easy to find in Sydney, but it’s out there if you look. And, just for the record, Miss Piggy tires of no food – aside from durian, offal and brussels sprouts, I’m pretty happy to eat anything.
You call yourself a "failed cook". What’s one dish you have managed to pull-off successfully?
I know I give the impression on my blog that I can barely boil water, but I can assure we’re not exactly starving in my house – I just won’t be entering MasterChef anytime soon. I’m getting very good at following recipes (simple ones, of course, with no more than 10 ingredients), and these days I (mostly) have success in the kitchen. Recently, I recreated a salmon soba noodle salad that I tried at a cafe in Surry Hills – no recipe involved at all. I even managed (with the help of Google) to come up with a simple sesame and miso dressing. I’m pretty proud of that, I have to say.
How has your blog evolved since it began? What motivates you, aside from eating of course, to continue blogging about food?
When I first began blogging, I would just write about places where I happened to be eating – I didn’t go anywhere out of the ordinary, or try anything different. Now, I’m really interested in seeking out new places and going to restaurants and suburbs that I wouldn’t have ventured to before. I’ve tried a lot of foods that I would’ve turned my nose up at previously, like jellyfish, duck tongue, jellied pigs blood, sweetbreads and durian. I’m still hesitant about trying some foods, but I’m becoming more willing to try anything… once.
Before my blog, I never went to expensive restaurants, but now I budget for one every few months as a treat. Although I don’t think great food is solely the domain of fine dining, far from it, it’s exciting to go somewhere fancy every now and then, and see how the other half lives.
As for what motivates me, I’m really enjoying getting to know my camera and I’m striving all the time to take better photographs. Blogging is a great repository for all of those digital photographs that don’t seem to make it anywhere these days. I feel really proud when I fellow blogger comments on a photo I’ve taken – especially as so many of them are exceptional photographers. I also really enjoy the social aspect of blogging – I’d miss that if I gave up the blog.
Do you go through food phases? If so, what are you obsessed with right now?
It would be an understatement to say I go through food phases. Last year, I was so obsessed with the udon noodles served at Menya Mappen in the city, I would find myself there at least three times a week. This went on for months. I’m currently in-between obsessions – although I’m really focusing on trying to be a more ethical eater. This means knowing where my food (especially meat, eggs, seafood and milk) has come from, and supporting ethical butchers and farmers markets where I can buy free-range meat. It’s become quite a passion for me.
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