27 March 2017

On being a Canberra foodie

Join the conversation
Serina Huang

Someone asked me the other day why I write about food and why, despite the fact I am not the world’s best photographer, I insist on taking food photos. In fact, I had done so for years, long before it was fashionably acceptable in Australia. (To deviate slightly, six years ago when I was living in Taiwan I did a poll on my blog about food photography in response to an article in the Australian media criticizing the practice. My Taiwanese friends thought I was crazy for even asking the question – of course, all of my friends loved taking food photos, combined with selfies where possible, posted in real time to Facebook and Instagram).

I have always loved cooking and always been interested in food. One of my earliest food memories was nearly burning our apartment down when a tea towel caught alight from the grill. I was only eight, and home alone with my younger sister. Oops. Lucky we survived.

My grandmother, the original Skipping Vinegar Girl, was a brilliant cook famous for her lavish morning teas. “All good wholesome butter and eggs,” she would say while filling us up with her signature fairy cakes, continental cakes, Hello Dolly slice, and my favourite, lemon lattice biscuits. My mother, a fashion designer, was always experimental in what she presented to the family table. She travelled overseas often and fused many of her experiences in creative and beautiful meals. On weeknights, my Mum, sister and I would cook together and chat. It was our special family bonding time.

As a teenager I was obsessed with cooking while others were off at the beach (we lived in Noosa Heads until I was mid-way through high school). Cooking is the way I translate love (even through super cheap meals of $5 or less), what makes my soul hum, they way I infuse my home with peace and joy, and how I nourish my sons. I knew my marriage was doomed when my ex-husband turned up his nose at a bubbling cheesy frittata I made and refused to eat a bite. I consoled myself by sharing pictures on Facebook and fakebooking about our wonderful family meal – that got many likes and comments.

My favourite film, which has inspired me greatly, is twice Academy Award-winning Taiwanese Director Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. The film chronicles the story of a famous, ageing chef and his three beautiful daughters. The food is AMAZING. But more than that is the underlying message about the role that food plays in life. The title comes from a Confucius saying, which roughly translates as “the important things that men and women desire are drink, food, and sex”. I am going to keep it clean and focus on the food and drink in this article. But just think – we all have to eat and drink, or else we die. Why not heighten your pleasure by enjoying the finest and the best? I mean this not necessarily in the sense of spending a lot of money, or of being a glutton, but rather the mindfulness of enjoying each mouthful of the eating and dining experience, moments shared in meals with family and friends, and the abundant bounty that the beautiful Canberra region has to offer.

I started food blogging during my second stint living in Taiwan. Taiwan is a secret food lovers paradise – Japanese tourists go there to eat and eat and eat some more, and they know exactly where to find the best high mountain tea, the freshest sashimi, the juiciest xiaolongbao steamed dumplings, and the sweetest mango shaved ice. Oh my, I put on 15kg the first time I lived in Taiwan. The second time I curbed my weight loss (just), but it took a lot of restraint. My blog was designed not so much as a Fear of Missing Out adventure journal, but (in part because people were so ignorant about Taiwan they thought it was Thailand) to paint a picture of a thriving democracy with an amazing culture, to be a bridge between cultures. And that’s it – food and restaurants tell you a lot about the people that live in a society, their commitment to creating good food, and their values. A restaurant provides a kind of ritualistic offering to its customers, a spiritual passion that rarely reaps big financial rewards.

Back in Canberra, I expected my food blogging to be at an end. But when I returned in 2014, I discovered that a surprising renaissance had taken place: Canberra had moved beyond the occasional suburban restaurant gem to embrace good food and wine. Canberra, I now believe, is not just bloody good at what it offers on the food and wine front nationally, but internationally as well. We are picky with our cafes and enjoy great food. We have now launched not one but TWO new food tours. We have award winning wineries and breweries. We have some of the best farmers markets ever. We have fantastic food precincts like Kingston Foreshore and the Realm Precinct and New Acton providing excellent options for dining, plus new areas in Gungahlin and a rejuvenation in many suburbs.

At heart, I am a frugalista, and I am focused on achieving my big financial dreams. I eat out, or at least pay to eat out, much less than it might seem from my posts. I mostly cook at home and I prefer good cheap eats any day over a fancy pansy silver service meal – although I do enjoy the latter when I think it is good value. But I so very much love discovering what Canberra has to offer and being able to show it off a bit. When I go out it is a treat that I consider an investment in a good life. My name is Serina. I am a Canberra foodie and proud of it.

Photo by Erna Glassford at @simplycheecky

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Serina Bird Huang (aka Ms Frugal Ears)9:52 am 29 Mar 17

Taiwanese cooking is fantastic. Sadly not so many Taiwanese restaurants here in Canberra, but there is an active group of Taiwanese families who gets together and bulk buys ingredients sometimes. And their pot luck functions are amazing!

Wow Serina, you’ve lived a thousand lives already! You’ve inspired me to do a little Taiwanese cooking with the family this week 🙂

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.