Interview with Iskandarian Newspaper, 2013
Tell us who Tony is?!
When I look at my collection of books - without knowing how it happened, I amassed about a thousand books over the years. I realised that I have about 300 books on food and cooking, 300 books on photography and travel, and the rest on random other topics like history, management and technology. Looking at what I read for leisure, I can say that food, travel and photography are in my DNA. I don't know what creature that is but one who travels to good eats, shoots food pictures and writes about them passionately on the internet is a food blogger! Sounds weird but I think maybe I am born to be a food blogger.
What made you start Johor Kaki food blog?
I have been eating and enjoying food in Johor for a long time, over 30 years. Everyone knows Johor has a lot of good food and good hawkers. But, many people including myself, really didn't know where the best eats are. When I searched online, information on good food in Johor is scanty and scattered here and there in bits and pieces. This prompted me to start blogging and start looking for the best food in Johor, and put all this information in one place so that every body can find it easily. That's how the idea of Johor Kaki blog came about.
That was the practical reason that got me started but slowly a more important reason (to me) emerged that kept me energised and kept me going. As I go about blogging, I soon realised that many good hawkers in Johor are going into retirement after 20 to 50 years of hard work, without their stories being told. I decided that I would record as many of their stories as possible before they fade away. Hence Johor Kaki's mission is to "Put Every Good Johor Hawker on the World Wide Web". With this mission, Johor kaki took on a sense of purpose and urgency, a race against time.
What types of food do you review and blog about?
I blog about any good food in Johor - from traditional street hawkers to the newest, swankiest restaurants, as long as they are in Johor. Recently, I even blogged about an instant noodle made in Johor.
I noticed two trends in Johor food. On one hand, the older traditional hawkers are retiring. On the other hand, young entrepreneurs are starting new restaurants. I like to blog about both, the fading and the emerging.
I also observed that the Johor food scene is also becoming more internationalised. Restaurants offering authentic international cuisine like Arabian, Iranian, French, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Lao food are thriving. This is another exciting trend that I like to blog about.
You had recently won the Best Malaysia International Fabulous Food 1Malaysia Bloggers Award 2013. Tell us how you felt upon winning.
Of course, I am very happy. I am happy because this award can help raise the profile of Johor food. In my humble opinion, Johor food deserves to be recognised the same way as Malacca food, Penang food, Ipoh food and KL food. This award is one important step forward in that direction.
Actually, this award is not only about me or Johor Kaki. First and foremost, I have to thank the Johor hawkers, because without them, there would be no content, no Johor Kaki blog. During the voting, I am touched by the overwhelming support from literary thousands of friends and well wishers - that includes the Iskandarian, thank you. I appreciate Malaysia Tourism for all the hard work in putting up the very successful international conference and contest. I am also grateful to the panel of international judges for their decision.
Do you try out the different cuisines in Johor on a daily basis?
I have to eat everyday, just like everyone (laugh). So I plan and do my best to try something different everyday. When I come across something that I enjoy and which I believe others will also appreciate, I will share the good food find by blogging about it. So, yes, I try out the different cuisines of Johor nearly everyday.
With many food bloggers around, what sets you apart from the rest?
We all have our own styles, perspectives and different likes. This is natural and something that I believe is good. This is why I welcome and often invite other bloggers to be my guest blogger on Johor Kaki blog. I believe readers will also appreciate the diversity of perspectives, styles and preferences. And, while we may be different in some ways, we are all bonded by a common love for food. Many of my best friends are food bloggers from Malaysia and Singapore.
Besides being a food blogger, I also see myself as a community builder using social media to bring together lovers of Johor food, no matter where they are or from. For example, our Johor Sedap Facebook group has over 6000 active members. This is the largest Halal food group that I am aware of and our members are constantly engaged in lively discussions about their favourite Halal food in Johor.
How do you manage to stay fit despite all the eating?!
(Laugh) Actually, it might surprise you to hear that food blogging is a very physical activity. It involves a lot of walking, often under the blazing sun and darting from cover to cover when it rains. My favourite method of food hunting is to park my car and walk the five foot ways in search of undiscovered good food finds. So, that helps to burn a lot of calories.
Besides, I brisk walk for about 45 minutes almost every day. When I am at home, I try my best to eat simple meals and sometimes I just have oats or cereal for lunch or dinner. Got to conserve the calories and cholesterol for food tasting (laugh).
(Note: The Iskandarian is Johor Bahru’s (JB) largest all-English monthly and community newspaper. 30,000 copies are printed per issue and distributed in Malaysia and Singapore.)
Date: 8 May 2013