Bangkok’s Lebua hotel, which is organizing the dinner, is no stranger to publicity – or to Michelin-starred chefs. Last year, it put on a decadent feast billed as the meal of a lifetime for $25,000 a head. Six three-star Michelin chefs were flown in from Europe to cook the 10-course meal, each plate paired with a rare vintage wine.

On April 5, the Lebua is offering another 10-course spread, this time for free. The hotel has invited 50 of its biggest-spending customers to the dinner prepared – it hopes – by three top-ranked Michelin-starred chefs.

There is one twist. Before dinner, guests will be jetted to a poor village in northern Thailand to spend the afternoon soaking up the sights of poverty. The dinner and full-day excursion will cost the hotel $300,000.

Too bad that they’re not going to Cambodia because at least then I could recommend them a village that would be poor enough to make them lose any vestiges of their appetite. It’s going to be interesting to see which 3-star chefs can be bought for (reportedly) $8000 for a few hours work. From IHT’s Luxury Bangkok hotel combines lavish meal with ‘poverty tour’.

The outing of Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House

When salmonella went feral a few years ago at a favorite Turkish restaurant, hospitalising a wardful of unlucky diners, I felt the urge to eat there out of solidarity with the owners but sadly, the health inspectors had put paid to my plans. The joy of returning to a previous favourite restaurant is built entirely on nostalgia. If a restaurant is beloved enough, you can eat an objectively bad meal there and love it, which tends to happen most of the time at Camy Shanghai Dumpling House.

The food at Shanghai Dumpling is not the drawcard as much as the price of the food. When you ask a fan of Camy for their reasons, they inevitably reply “It’s cheap” without much elaboration on the dumplings themselves. They’re filling, greasy and lack subtlety. The pork dumplings taste like pork when steamed and like lardy starch when fried. Even though there has been much conjecture as to the dodginess of their dumplings, there hasn’t been an outbreak of anything deadly there. If there was, I’d still go back.

So from whence does the fierce, nostalgic pang for Camy arise?

You’re not likely to be surprised by anything on the menu except for the prices. Shanghai Dumpling is one of the few places that you can get a sub-$5 plate of dumplings or even get change from $10 when sharing a multitude of plates amongst other Camy cognoscenti.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House soup
Bland wonton and noodle soup, topped with the least piquant pickle available. But only $5.80!

The furnishings and staff don’t necessarily drive the nostalgia. Since my departure to Cambodia, the decor has morphed from typical cheap Asian to velour banquettes and chairs; glass over the top of wooden tables. I don’t miss it. The tacky art (CopperArt?) remains as does their much-loved policy of hiring Melbourne’s shirtiest front-of-house staff. I assume that the price of the dumplings shows a close correlation to the size of their paychecks. Tea is still self-serve into plastic mugs; the rest of the plateware uniformly melamine. My biggest surprise was that secret menu item: ordering the wonton soups sans-soup, has now slipped into the public domain. And this made me realise why Camy is so loved.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House is the perfect example of an open secret. Everyone already knows about it but revels in the joy of feeling like they own privileged information. Their alleyway position helps: just hidden enough to make it an unmemorable location; as does the nondescript-ness of the decor, menus and ultimately, food. But the pleasure of being let into the fold, of knowing something that you believe that few others do, never wears off.

See also: Melbourne Gastronome’s I ate at David and Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling and survived (but only just) Facebook group

Location: 25 Tattersalls Lane (Between Little Bourke and Lonsdale), Melbourne CBD

Honda Chaly with Lemongrass

Honda Chaly on lemongrass runCambodia’s 50cc workhorse doing about as much work as it can. Spotted in downtown Kampot, Cambodia

Five Links on (Good) Friday

melting icecream truck
Photo Credit: Wooster Collective

Hellish hosting issues followed by rewarding breakfast

Bacon and egg

Sorry about the outages to the site over the last week. My hosts have been having problems with their DNS servers, which for laymen, means that the name of my site hasn’t been pointing to where my site is really located. Some people could get to my site, others could not. I’ve fixed it by quitting my other host for Bluehost.

Any further problems, let me know.

I also ate more bacon.

Making Bacon

Making Bacon

There is a descent into a darker realm when you begin cooking with a product labelled “CAUTION: Do not swallow”. The possibility of inadvertently killing your loved ones rises and your ability to rely on the way that a preparation tastes before cooking declines. The normal sensory cues that stop most sane people eating food that is deadly can no longer be relied upon. Things must be measured rather than guessed.

Sodium nitrite, the key to this particular charcuterie abyss, alone is not for human consumption. At least it says as much on the bag. But with it and a little pork belly, salt and sugar, you can free yourself from the hegemony of industrial bacon.

The Basic Bacon Cure
(from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie):

450gms of salt
225gms of sugar
50gms of pink salt (6.25% sodium nitrite; marketed as TCM, Instacure #1)

Method: Mix together thoroughly.

Buy one to two kilos of good pork belly. Lay about 50 grams of the cure onto a surface large enough for your piece of belly. Press all sides of the belly into the cure until it is covered with cure. Bag it into a zip-lock baggie, tag it with the date then refrigerate it for a week turning over every day.

Making Bacon

The wait is over. The belly firms up a little.

Making Bacon

Wash the cure and pork juice from the belly, pat dry, then roast for two hours at 100 degrees Celcius, by which time your house will smell like what I imagine the Sirens would have smelled like to the Argonauts, if Jason had have been in search of the Golden Ham. If it wasn’t nigh on impossible to buy a real American smoker in Australia, this stage would have been supplanted by a few hours over hickory smoke in the backyard. Damn Australian barbecue parochialism.

Making Bacon

Slice off the rind and eat it.

Apart from the possibility that my arteries would clog shut in mid-bite, I couldn’t think of any reason not to crunch away on it. Plus I have a congenital inability to discard anything that is remotely edible. The fact that it is crunchy and bubbling in the first place suggests that my oven is running much hotter than 100 degrees, so I may as well reap the only rewards of a faulty thermostat.

Making Bacon

Slice and fry to your heart’s continued malcontent. Your own bacon will be richer, juicier and thicker. More fat renders from it when cooked. It is texturally more dense and chewier than your store-bought fare. You’ll wonder how you were ever hoodwinked into buying the facsimile of bacon available in most stores and what other sad cuts of pork have been foisted upon you in the past.

Making money with your food blog

Selling eggs near Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Selling eggs near Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As I mentioned in “How to start a food blog“, food blogging is a terrible way to make money if you enjoy living in the First World. This year, food blogging will pay my rent but not much else. Here is how to do at least that, without devoting your entire life to blogging:

Advertising for your food blog

Which ad network? Or which combination of ad networks?

There is no single ad network that is right for everybody. The most profitable blogs tend to use a mix of networks and play to each of the networks strengths. This list of networks is by no means exhaustive: there are hundreds of ad networks out there.

Google Adsense – Everyone has Google Ads; the number of people getting rich from them apart from Google shareholders is miniscule. Google’s biggest coup is that it has realised that most bloggers are happy to get paid nothing as long as a few dollars trickle through. The advantage of Google is ease of use: they’re dead simple to add to your site, customise in a bare bones fashion and earn a few cents a click. You can use them on every blog network. They’re the ultimate in low maintenance. The disadvantages are the low pay and the complete lack of control over which ads turn up on your site. Because the ads are geographically targeted, the ads that you see won’t be the ones that anyone else sees. This is fine if you don’t care.

Yahoo! – Just like Google but second best!

Text Link Ads – if you want to people to find your website by searching on Google, this network is dead in the water. Google penalises your “page rank” if you use it, but I use it over at Phnomenon because in most of the categories that I write in, I have no competition on the web. It pays very well, doesn’t rely on clicks (so you make money whether people click your ads or not), and if you place them judiciously, people won’t even notice that they’re being advertised at.

A similar network TNX.net has beaten Google for now. They’re still in the early stages of development (as the spelling mistakes on their beta site attests) but worth watching.

Blog Ads – the specialist ad network for bloggers. They’re a handy way to make money when you have low traffic because they pay regardless. The downside of this network is that if you do receive big, unpredictable spikes in the number of people visiting your site, you won’t be getting an equally large spike in earnings. They’re invite-only which is a strategy that I still don’t understand.

Selling other people’s products

When people read your favorite cake recipe, it is unlikely that they’ll click on the ingredients to buy them online. When people read a digital camera review, the opposite is true. Selling other people’s products and making a commission is a popular way to make money for most bloggers but it is difficult for food bloggers to do well because of the nature of the subject. Most of society does not buy the bulk of their food online. The easiest way to sell products is via Amazon affiliates program or the lesser known Chitika (Probloggers swear by it, because unlike Amazon, it relies less on you making sales and more on click-throughs)

If you want to spend your time writing reviews of products then this is a possible way to make money and there are still a few niches where food bloggers could be making huge amounts of cash: major appliances and kitchenware. Most of the top food bloggers already use Amazon to link to cookbooks but most of the time it is just a half-hearted link rather than a ringing endorsement.

Selling your own ads

Selling your own ads is by far the most profitable way to make money for your blog because it is one of the few avenues by which you’ll firstly be in direct contact with the advertisers’ money and secondly, will be able to charge what your blog is worth. The only downside is that you have to do the selling. As much as I love marketing, marketing is not sales. The low effort way to sell your own ads is to put a banner where your ad would be and link to your rates page. How much should you charge? Here’s blog network Gawker Media’s rates for their network of professionally produced and edited blogs. That will at least give you a point for comparison.

Unconventional means


A few food blogs sell their own merchandise: Chubby Hubby was selling notecards for a time; Ideas in Food sell their photo book; I’m considering turning Phnomenon into a book. If you can find a niche this may be worthwhile.

Make money from every link

I was going to call this bit “monetize your food blog”, but I get a sharp stabbing sensation in the part of my brain that stores verbed nouns every time I write “monetize”. Whenever you can throw in a product link, make sure that you make money from it. For most bloggers, this means the occasional link to an Amazon product, but you’ll notice that practically every link on this page has my referrer code on it. If you sign up for anything then I make money from you! It doesn’t affect your income but I benefit.

Get hired by someone else as a food blogger

This isn’t as hard as you think it might be. B5 Media are always on the lookout for good bloggers. Problogger keeps a handy jobs board: at last check there were two paid food blogger positions. The biggest advantage of making money from your food blog in this way is that (generally) you need not worry about the technical side of the blog or selling ads as the blog network/business will do the design and marketing. The down side is that the pay is terrible and you have no control over design and marketing.

Sell your posts and photos

If you think that your posts and photos are magazine quality, try selling them to magazines. For me, selling a single article to an American newspaper earns just a little less than the income from my two sites for a month. Get over to mediabistro and to your local press to get started. Scoopt started a business selling blog posts to mainstream magazines as ScooptWords (e.g. these food bloggers in Olive Magazine) but have since seemed to have discontinued the blog side of their business to concentrate on cellphone snaps of celebrities.

As for photos, the online stock photo business is well on its way to destroying a valuable income earner for the bad professional photographers who take the photo of the guy climbing the mountain with a briefcase. Good pro photographers will always have a business. To sell your food photos online, see the links below.

Sell out entirely

Get paid to write reviews of other websites at somewhere like ReviewMe. If I no longer valued human decency, I’d make $60 every time that somebody wanted me to review whatever shit that they thrust in my direction.

Where should I place ads to make the most money?


blog ad heat map

Google published the above heat map to show which ads are clicked the most with the red areas being the most clicked. They have also produced one targeted at blogs which is a little more rudimentary and when I’ve tested it, doesn’t seem to work well.

Also useful are themes for your site designed with making money in mind. See below for links.

The easiest way to make money from blogging is writing about making money from blogging.

Just because I’m making a Third World income from blogging doesn’t mean that you can’t earn more. Read Shoemoney or Problogger. They’re earning 6 figure amounts but they’re also devoting the entirety of their lives to doing it. Sadly, that is the bare minimum amount of time you’ll need to spend.

Maintaining your audience

How often should I write?

As often as you like.

The standard answer to this is that if you are looking to increase your audience, often is better. If you look at Technorati’s top blogs, most of these sites are updated multiple times a day. You’ll also notice that none of them are food blogs, unless you count icanhascheezburger.com which is substantively about cats perverting the English language.

I’d prefer to be reading blogs that update once a month and write 15,000 word articles rather than one that writes two 250 word posts a day. I’m not most people, but nonetheless, I’d encourage you to write for me. What seems to matter as much as frequency is consistency. If you plan to write once a week, stick to your schedule.

I’m burnt out and sick of blogging. What do I do?

Take a break.

What I tend to do is write articles that aren’t time dependent and change their post date to two weeks in advance (you can do this in WordPress). If I have enough content in two weeks time, I push it forward another two weeks. This maintains the appearance that I’m equally motivated all of the time. I’m quite clearly not. The scary thing is that my blog will continue to run for a few months if I’m dead.

People don’t comment. How do you make them?

Ask a question at the end of your post. People are that easy to manipulate…or aren’t they?

Links of note:

Selling your photos online

WordPress themes optimised for making money

Handy “monetizing” links.