So your friends and relatives are visiting Melbourne for the first time, and you need to take them out for a meal.
Where do you go?
If your answer is THE best place in Melbourne, then ERRRRK, you made a big mistake. Even if it’s a nice place, YOUR nice place, still, you can’t pass go, can’t collect your $200.
See, I’ve witnessed that path, in 2010, when Seven Seeds was hip and still serving toast soldiers with half-boiled eggs. The place was the anti-establishment back then. Seven Seeds serving breakfast, or real food, was a big deal. Before then they were only a cafe serving sandwiches with fancy names like ‘grandmother ham’ with gruyere cheese and pickle. Breakfast was a big deal because non-uni students can come in during weekends for a purpose. It was so cool to dine in the same warehouse where they roast their famous coffee beans from El Salvador.
See, I knew that.
The international female student knew that.
Her parents from Malaysia, didn’t.
I remember the disgust on their faces, imagining the $9 they were going to pay for eggs and bread crusts in a warehouse that’s not even furnished. The girl was trying hard to explain what good coffee they are having, but I know the mum is calculating the actual cost of their food, versus the exchange rate, versus the same ingredient in Malaysia.
From that exact moment, Melbourne became a 'crazy expensive wanky impossible’ place to the parents and they probably ended up cooking most of their meal at their daughter’s home, using non-acclimatization as an excuse for the rest of the trip.
The problem was the lack of context.
What the girl should’ve done, is to bring them to Union House in Melbourne University. She should’ve brought them to the shopping mall food courts, Victoria Market food stands. Yes, I’m talking about those really nasty, dirty, no hat restaurants. Heck, bring them to Don Don.
I’m talking about setting the scene. The expectation. You don’t start a movie with a climax. And that’s the mistake I see most people (by people I mean Asians, white people don’t consider bringing people to restaurants as 'hospitality’) make. They try too hard to impress their guests with constant climaxes.
What they end up getting, is a food experience equivalent of the recent Superman movie: PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH - Wait, what’s the story? WHO CARES! PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH!
They will leave Melbourne feeling desensitised.
Start from the shitty restaurants, then work your way up.
Besides, what is terrible for you, may turn out to be a gold mine for your guests. I remember some friends of mine who loved Mekong even though I’ve warned them about the MSG, the lukewarm soup, the sticky floor. They would visit the place everyday because where they came from, I quote: “Vietnamese is not so authentic."
It took me a few years to recover from that and realise, after all, it was their trip. They didn’t see or know the city like I did.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in connecting with restaurants, no matter how good or shit they are.
We shouldn’t be the parents dictating what their children should or shouldn’t eat.
We need the shitty restaurants to provide the full picture.
And let them decide what they want to experience.