Looking at a day in the life of food and travel journalist Sofia Levin, we can't help but get hungry eyes. The colour and variety of food she's tried makes that spag bol in front of you look, well, ordinary. For Sofia, food and the stories of the people behind it are the best way to experience and connect with new cultures. Her passion and enthusiasm for food is contagious - the only thing you need is an open mind, and tastebuds!
She dives head first into the unfamiliar - eating through East Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia while writing a Lonely Planet Guide, or devouring green ant pavlova to the backdrop of Uluru. In her homebase of Melbourne, she's a big advocate for celebrating smaller, local businesses who sometimes get overshadowed by the larger names in such a diverse culinary city.
With words penned for Lonely Planet, National Geographic Food, in-flight magazines and local publications like Good Food and SBS Food, Sofia shines a light on hospitality and the locals behind it. Her goal is to encourage others to #EatCuriously. Now she's launched the Seasoned Traveller newsletter, a precursor to her upcoming culinary travel website where subscribers receive a fortnightly dispatch. Each one is a deep-dive into different cuisines, from Iranian and Peranakan to Indigenous Australian and Sicilian.
We chat to Sofia about just how much travel and food are intrinsically linked.
Tell us your story Sofia. How has travel shaped your life and work?
With family overseas, I’m lucky to have been exposed to other countries and cultures with enthusiasm since before I could walk. That’s where my curiosity comes from. I’m inquisitive by nature – some say annoyingly so – and if I’m not learning about or eating something new, I’m bored.
As a food and travel journalist, sharing those experiences and the stories of others is my everything. The more we learn about and celebrate difference, the better the world becomes.
What place has been the most memorable for you?
As I go to say one answer, another comes up. Kyoto? Cuba? Vietnam? Azerbaijan? The Langhe region in northern Italy? If I really had to choose just one, I’d have to say East Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia, where I spent a couple of months travelling solo while writing the Lonely Planet guide – and as a result was deeply immersed. It’s a world away from Bali. I got my open water licence diving in Komodo with giant manta rays, stayed with the family of my overland driver in Sumba, got high on betel nut with the king of Boti village, fell in love with Padang food and made life-long friends. I won’t ever forget it, and can’t wait to go back.
What does ‘being real’ mean to you? In your own travel content, and in the travel content that you look for?
Being real when travelling means admitting you know very little. The danger of the traveller is that travel is a privilege, and unfortunately that can come with a certain attitude. We’re better off acknowledging our ignorance, because that’s when we’re more likely to leave with more knowledge. Pretending to know everything isn’t good for everyone.
I don’t actively seek out content for content’s sake. I’m not pandering to followers, I’m delving into what I find fascinating, and if that opens someone else’s mind or makes them try something they might not have otherwise, then I’m on the right path.
What role do you think travel plays in bringing together different cultures — both offline and online?
The great thing about travel, especially from a food perspective, is that it’s one of the few mediums that celebrates difference. People are looking for experiences that differ from what they can find at home – that’s the whole point of travel – so we enter a city or situation with a certain vulnerability and open-mindedness that might usually be more closed off. If we never go, how can we ever know?
Who do you love following for their real travel stories?
This is part of Not Just A Pretty Feed, our Q&A series with creators across the world, uncovering their unique and diverse travel stories. We learn how travel has shaped their lives, influenced their work, and what being real in the world of travel content means to them. Continue the journey with Taiwan-born now Tokyo-based photographer, stylist and vintage curator, Ariel Tzu-Chi.