Visual storytelling has always been a passion for Brenda Nguyen, and what better medium by which to explore that interest than Instagram? Her account, Wandering Boston Eater, showcases the intersection of food and travel with long-form, story-style captions, and the raw and refreshing nature of her posts takes her profile beyond that of a typical food blogger. Below, she holds forth on the rising place Korean condiments have in restaurants, her favorite spot for outdoor dining, and why food accounts on Instagram can be misleading.
Tell us a little about yourself. How’d you end up in Boston, and what inspired you to create your Instagram account?
I have always wanted to be a writer. Growing up, this was my childhood dream: communicate with as many people as possible and share my stories with the world. I grew up north of Boston and decided to go to school for pharmacy, commuting to college in and out of the city every day. Once I graduated and got my first job at a biotech company in Kendall Square, I wanted to start writing again, but I had serious writer’s block! Focusing on all of that science meant neglecting some of my creative outlets.
Throughout college, since many of my friends and I commuted and did not have a dorm or apartment to spend time in, my friends and I spent our time dining at various restaurants. Soon, my peers would ask me where the best place to go for a date (as if I went on a lot of dates or something…), where to dine with family, and where to catch up with friends. With my passion for communication, I have been documenting my foodventures since having an iPhone 4. I realized that I needed to build an audience of people who would want to read what I had to say, and Instagram seemed like a great platform to find my niche. I began posting my archive of photos from various restaurants, and here I am: building an audience, still with a dream that one day my words will reach the people, and I will be a writer.
Ask me about my low quality, dim-lit photos from Eastern Standard that I have posted on my personal Instagram. They’re a real throwback compared to where my photos are now.
Name the top five dishes on your Boston food bucket list.
This is a hard one! I often prefer savory over sweet, but my goodness, the Butterscotch Bread Pudding at Eastern Standard is certainly a favorite – especially after their Roasted Bone Marrow. The Chicken Liver Mousse at The Salty Pig has never done me wrong when I go for a charcuterie board. When I am looking for some comfort food, I enjoy the Salted Fish Chicken Fried Rice at Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown (especially with the garlic watercress). As another dessert, I also really enjoy the Coconut Klondike at UNI – I will sit at the bar specifically for ordering this particular dessert.
What do you think the next big trend is for restaurants?
I have a feeling that, with the rise in notability of Korean food, sriracha will be replaced by Korean condiments being more notably incorporated in dishes. Korean condiments have that sensation of sweet, spicy and that something salty – all simultaneously! Game over.
Which chefs are your favorite to follow on Instagram and why?
I love following Chef Miquel Antoja (@miquelantoja) and Chef Rafa Antonín (@rafuel55) for their food videos! Chef Miquel adds a bit of humor by somehow smashing the ingredients in a facetious manner, where Chef Rafa typically voices over his videos with the how-tos. It is quite inspiring as I continue to work with chefs in Boston on their media and how I could create, or help them curate, their own media channels.
Beyond chefs, what are your top three favorite food Instagram accounts to follow?
@thegrubfather: Salvatore DiBenedetto travels and eats and travels and documents it so well! Occasionally, I will respond to one of his Instagram stories and he will respond back, and we will chat. He has been so sincere about his experiences and opportunities and makes a point to relay this to his audience. Sincerity in a media presence is something I try very hard to manage, on top of being able to travel and eat and travel. Did I mention travel?
@chubbychinesegirleats: This is another well-curated food + travel page – more focused on the food with travel scenes occasionally incorporated. Sometimes when I look at this page, I find the places I want to eat and think about where I should plan my next foodventure. Yes, I plan my travels around where I am going to eat – don’t you?
@ariellesays: She is a Buzzfeed writer who came into the spotlight when she lost over 100 pounds and became the face of Weight Watchers. Through her journey of health, weight loss, and her relationship with food, I find that her narratives are quite raw with her struggle of maintaining an image on social media to trying to be as “real” as possible to her audience. Her food styling is on point (I mean, she does work at Buzzfeed after all), but I am drawn by the grit of her narratives because what she writes is incredibly relatable, and I seek to continue to be someone who also can be as authentic as possible in the face of media.
Describe Boston’s food scene in three words.
Resiliently old fashioned
Which restaurants haven’t you been to but you’re eager to try?
Admittedly, I have not been to Sarma, Spoke Wine Bar, or Tasting Counter – especially since Tasting Counter turns into a wine bar! I need to go to these places, but working my triple work life between being at the pharma company, managing restaurant media, and maintaining my own food blog means I have only so much time to go to the establishments I want to try. Soon though, these are next on my list.
What’s your food photography philosophy, and can you share your top tips for taking awesome food photos?
My food photography philosophy is to post only what you actually eat and truly believe is delicious! Social media is deceptive, and too often are we misled by the staged photos and product placements. I have been to several media events where I will interact with people who don’t eat the food being photographed, and I think about the people who are looking to my page for recommendations and how I do not want to mislead anyone about what I add onto my page.
I led a food photography workshop where proceeds benefitted Lovin’ Spoonfuls in March, and some of the tips I focused on were to be aware of the angles and perspective of the dish in subject, be mindful of the lighting (shadows, natural light, etc.), and think about the story you want to tell. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
A Few Of Your Favorite Things:
Favorite brunch spot: Allston Diner
Favorite place for outdoor dining: B&G Oysters
Favorite BBQ joint: Sweet Cheeks Q
Favorite late-night: Dumpling Cafe
Favorite neighborhood for food: South End
Favorite new restaurant: Pammy’s