Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Cabramatta on a diet of rambutans, stir-fried bitter melon and ginger-laced tofu. I started creating zines while at Burwood Girls High School, and despite the paper jams and staple injuries it made me enthusiastic about making media. I’ve spun all-Australian playlists for FBi Radio’s Local Fidelity show since 2007. I started a Sydney food blog called The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry around that time, which inspired a podcast of the same name, and I have memorable stories of interviewing Ben Shewry, Samin Nosrat, Paul Carmichael and other cooking legends for it.
I also host the Crunch Time podcast on Patreon and have just launched the Culinary Archive Podcast, which draws on items from Powerhouse Museum’s collection of 500,000 objects – like an ancient grindstone, soy sauce from the goldrush era and Ken Done Harbour Bridge pasta from the ’90s. These objects tell stories about Australian food, from the scientists using oysters to restore the environment (did you know a single oyster can filter up to a hundred litres of water a day?) to pioneers of the coffee scene, such as Russian migrant Ivan Repin who had the radical notion of serving fresh-ground beans in his Sydney coffee shops during the Great Depression.
What do you love about Sydney?
The diversity of our food landscape is amazing – I can eat koshari, Egypt’s national dish; ochazuke, which originates from a 1000-year-old Japanese method of reviving old rice; or Mexican ceremonial tortillas and mole, at No 92 in Glebe, where executive chef Alejandro Huerta decorates the celebratory tortillas with an Aztec sun pattern, coloured with hibiscus.
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Do you have a favourite restaurant in Sydney?
It changes constantly. Sometimes you want a hot chips roll from El Jannah or the stir-fried potato in hot sauce from Chinese Dumpling Master or the banana caramel lamington from Tokyo Lamington. There’s a glass noodle and stir-fried bitter melon dish at Chat Thai I often dream about. The banoffee pie at Bayswater Kitchenette is always a highlight. Sometimes you save up for a “let’s order all the courses we can!” splurge at Cafe Paci or Aalia, or you’re hovering over the booking button for Sixpenny. My current favourite might be Osteria di Russo & Russo – I don’t even love risotto, but chef Jowoon Oh’s Jerusalem artichoke risotto is outstanding (also, the excellent menu is available to take away).
It’s your birthday – how do you spend it?
My friend is actually taking me to Maydanoz, Somer Sivrioğlu’s Turkish restaurant inspired by the bright vegetable dishes of the Aegean coast. The charred cabbage skewers there are great, as well as the haloumi kebabs sweetened with honey and smoky with rosemary ash. Birthdays are excellent times to get mega-sized cakes, like the incredible frozen tiramisu tart with coffee ganache and tiramisu mousse from Gelato Messina.
Where do you go for brunch or breakfast?
There are so many good options across Sydney, it just depends on the mood and cuisine you’re after – from Turkish tomato-swirled menemen at Malika Bakehouse (which might be one of the most delicious ways to get eggs) to cheesy omurice dolloped with tomato sauce at Omu and the ever-changing Jerusalem bagels at Flour Shop.
Any favourite shops?
P&V sells inspired and unique drinks worth sipping, from yuzu sake that tastes like a Calippo and Wildflower’s white peach ale to an excellent range of non-alcoholic drinks (such as the Pyewackets blood orange and turmeric shrubs). There are ace pantry and fridge-filling condiments, too, from Indigiearth’s wild peach chutney to Fleetwood Macchiato’s furikake and the mushroom seasoning by Sixpenny’s Tony Schifilliti (which is as good as Noma’s smoked mushroom garum). I also love the Japanese wares and specialty foods at Simply Native (where I’ve bought yuzu sesame seeds from Kyoto’s Nishiki food market) and Cafe Monaka sells excellent tea paraphernalia, including the world’s best teapot, which I’ve geeked out about on Crunch Time.
When you want to impress someone, where do you take them?
Saga in Enmore, because people are always amazed when you can point to a menu and there’s a sandwich named after you on it. And the Lee Tran sandwich is (bias aside) legitimately good. I order it almost every time I’m there. My favourite story is about the time they took it off the menu and a bunch of people I do not know – including a crew from Young Henrys, who come in every Friday to order it – campaigned for the return of this charred broccolini, cheese and fermented chilli mayo toastie. It’s stayed on the menu since!
What’s one of the city’s most underrated places?
Comeco Foods in Newtown. Yu Ozone spent six years on creating vegan and gluten-free tempura from scratch, the vegan matcha gelato took a year of experiments and her team grinds the organic rice flour in-house for the sourdough doughnuts to ensure people with allergies don’t have to worry about possible contamination. People have cried over the vegan and gluten-free Japanese doughnuts here.
Who makes Sydney a better place?
I first came across Tyree Barnette from Southern Soul when I featured his story in the first New Voices On Food book I edited. His food business tells such a personal and unique tale: it draws on the culinary heritage of his African-American ancestors, and memories of his grandparents dipping golden cornbread in collard green juices, while also acknowledging his belief that the future of food should be vegan for environmental reasons. The way he translates American soul food is highly comforting and one-of-a-kind.
Is there an essential song?
A.Girl’s *2142*. It name-checks Granville’s postcode and the corner of western Sydney she’s from. My dad ran a corner shop in Granville when I was growing up, so the suburb reminds me of eating too many Tic Tacs and going on deliveries with him (one older customer gave me $2 during a grocery run, and as a kid, that felt like winning a million dollars).
The Powerhouse Museum’s Culinary Archive Podcast, hosted by Lee Tran Lam, is out now.
“My Sydney” is a regular column discovering the places and spaces that captivate and entice Sydney’s well-known residents.