An Overseas Recap | Chris' Thoughts
Aug 11, 2023
It’s been a whirlwind few months of May and June, flying around the globe for our part-holiday and part-research of food and flavours that we could bring back home. No doubt you would have seen our adventures through Christine’s “wrap up” reels of each city, snippets of all the food we tried and all the sights and cultures we experienced.
Italy was in its own right beautiful and steeped in culture, but the abundance of tourists and tourist trap restaurants in the main cities has convinced me that I would prefer to focus on smaller towns in the future. The highlight for me was definitely the Emilia-Romagna region. The amount of knowledge we discovered in the production of Aceto Balsamico, Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano was amazing.
My favourite meal in Italy was in Modena - surprisingly, not at Osteria Francescana, but situated in a quiet, dark alleyway, was a tiny trattoria called Il Fantino. As soon as you walked in, the atmosphere created by the tightly packed locals reminded us of family dinners with my in-laws - a “homey” chaos. We bargained for a table - only offering us a seat if we could be out in an hour. We replied: if you can bring the food out, we can get it done! Squished into a corner we ordered and immediately a share plate of cured meats, gnocco fritto, lardo, tigelle, stracchino was brought out along with our pastas. It was simple, honest food at a reasonable price. Remember that name: Trattoria Il Fantino.
As we headed south, another memorable part of our trip was Napoli. It was a day trip from Rome but in hindsight we should have been based there instead. Napoli, being a city harshly stigmatized, surprisingly felt safer than being in Rome. Rome was busy with tourists, but Napoli was busy with locals, a completely different and more authentic feel. The food was also a quarter of the price and even better quality. Gino Sorbillo’s pizza fritto and Pizza were a highlight. Amazing dough which has led me to continue experimenting on improving our own dough recipe.
For all the hyped up restaurants, I think this was the real deal. If you can brave driving the Sicilian roads, Cafe Sicilia in Noto is worth the visit. Here, I tried the most amazing almond granita. It was hard to explain, but it was the first time I had a granita that was so smooth and devoid of any grains of ice. The flavour was also clearly from fresh almonds, there was not a trace of the medicinal almond flavour you might get from using artificial almond essences. Cafe Sicilia again, served food that was not trying to be something else other than what it was - no tricks, just a pure reliance on good produce and the skills of the chef to bring out the best from an ingredient.
A highlight of our trip and especially for Christine was not Italy, but in Scandinavia. It was refreshing after being in Italy, to see countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, that were so advanced in seemingly every sector of livability. What was most striking to us was their attitude towards sustainability. Sustainable energy was already part of everyday life - it was; spot the petrol vehicle amongst all the electric cars. And even though for 9 months these countries are in the dark, all the houses had solar panels and were running off wind energy in the other months. Meat was rare and the focus was to eat a sustainable diet of vegetables and organic produce. It was a lifestyle that made me wonder if we should be doing more back home in Melbourne to combat climate change and the way we eat and live.
The last couple of months have been a well-deserved break, apart from country highlights, we were able to visit family and friends. We celebrated my Ah-Ma’s 90th birthday in Hong Kong which doubled as our first wedding anniversary. We were also able to visit some of Christine’s family in Italy and some long-time friends in Denmark and Finland - a perfect way to start and end our trip; spending it with family and friends.
We are now back in Melbourne, rejuvenated and ready to bring back all the knowledge we have learnt from our trip. My goal from the food side is to bring back and start testing out a few flavours that may not be so common to the Australian palate. There has always been some suspicion amongst us to try the less desired cuts of animals such as offal. But you would be surprised how often this is on the menu in Italy. Coming from Hong Kong which also utilises every part of an animal, it would be wise to start understanding and exploring ways in which we can bring these items onto the table. We need to be more sustainable in our eating habits, but it is our job to bridge that gap for you. Don’t worry though, my tests don’t just focus on offal, but also seasonality and other combinations of vegetables and cured meats that I have yet to encounter in Australia.
We have always been more than just a food truck, so please look out for more of these specials at our events where we are introducing new flavours. I promise we wouldn’t be serving you something that we wouldn’t like ourselves! Who knows - that might be something you would like at your next event - something different that your guests won’t be expecting.
We are also working hard in the background to provide more experiences through Porcupine Eatery. Exclusive events, tastings, products and more are all in the talks to extend our hospitality to you. We will aim to launch something new before we are swamped for the summer events season. Which is also a reminder that we are starting to book up quick from September onwards, so please get in touch with Steph if you are thinking of getting us to cater your next event!
Looking forward to cooking some meals for you very soon.
Head Chef & Co-Owner
Head Chef & Co-Owner