Boston-native Alison Kan knows the city like the back of her hand and loves to hunt for hidden restaurant gems around town and beyond. A few years back she decided to make her discoveries known by launching her Instagram account — Hiddenyum — and posting restaurant reviews and recipes on her blog. She took a break from her gastronomic adventures to tell us about some of her must-try dishes (perfect bites for visiting friends), favorite pandemic takeout (steamed buns all the way!) and what she thinks about all the new take home DIY restaurant meal kits.
Tell us a little about yourself. How’d you end up in Boston, and what inspired you to create your Instagram account?
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, in Sharon. I recently graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham after studying biology and chemistry, and I would say Waltham’s proximity to Boston, and the food scene itself in Waltham, is what inspired me to get started while in college. I’ve always loved food and cooking, watching cooking shows like Great British Bake Off, MasterChef, and Chef’s Table, and trying different cuisines. I’ve been so fortunate to grow up eating delicious homemade Asian food cooked by my parents and I’ve learned so much about cooking and baking from my mom. We love to try and cook different recipes, and I’ve been helping out in the kitchen as long as I can remember. I started my account a little more than 3 years ago, just for fun.
I’ve always been a huge foodie, but I also love art, so food photography was the perfect combo. I used to post all these food photos on my personal Instagram, but I finally took the leap and made a separate account to expand my creative horizons and also reach out to a different audience. I named my page @hiddenyum because while I wanted to showcase hot new restaurants and dishes. I love showing the “hidden gems’” of the food world and also interesting foods and recipes. This is especially true now with trying to support small or local businesses that might really be able to benefit from some social media features. I also love traveling, so while I’m currently based in Boston, the broader username allows me to post food content from around the world and showcase cool dishes from outside of Boston. I’ve learned so much, met so many amazing people, and have had so much fun since making my food account.
Name the top five dishes on your Boston food bucket list.
These are some of my favorite dishes from the Boston area that I always tell friends or family to try if they are visiting Boston.
1. Sticky Bun from Flour Bakery + Cafe: If you haven’t tried Flour at one of their many locations around the Boston/Cambridge area, you are missing out! It was started by Joanne Chang, a Harvard graduate, and it’s a great local chain of bakery cafes. I’ve been going to Flour for years, and while their sandwiches and salads are great, their baked goods are something else. Their sticky buns are really well known and actually beat Bobby Flay’s in a Food Network competition!
2. Ramen from Yume Wo Katare: They do Jiro-style pork ramen and pork ramen only, so you know it has really been perfected. They are known for having you share your dreams with the whole restaurant after you finish your meal, so that’s usually part of the experience, but they currently have a lot of DIY kits so you can still try them out even while at home.
3. Tiramisu from Modern Pastry: lots of people might debate over the cannoli in the North End bakeries, but I dare you to think outside that box and try some other Italian pastries! The tiramisu from Modern Pastry is super creamy and decadent, and the perfect dessert while you’re walking around the North End or if you want to pick it up to go!
4. The 420 Burger from Boston Burger Company: Honestly, I don’t eat burgers very much, but this one comes loaded with everything you could ask for, like mozzarella sticks, fried mac and cheese, onion rings, fries, bacon, cheese, and BBQ sauce. An absolute monster of a meal, but still, you have to pair it with one of their crazy Freak Frappe milkshakes too!
5. Everything Bagel Donut from Blackbird Doughnuts: Blackbird has super fun and interesting donuts and they even do donut cakes and donut ice cream sandwiches! Definitely worth stopping by to try such an interesting flavor!
What do you think is on the horizon for restaurants?
Expanding into more products and take home DIY kits where you assemble or cook items at home. While a lot of this has been born out of necessity during the pandemic with less indoor dining or a need for other forms of revenue and you still are missing that atmosphere of dining in, I think this allowed some restaurants to become more accessible to people, especially if they are normally unable to stop in due to proximity or other reasons. It also allows us to feel closer to the vision of the restaurant and the people that are behind the restaurant, as you really get a feel for the inspiration behind recipes, the carefully sourced ingredients, and the pride you have with a really well-cooked meal.
Which chefs are your favorite to follow on Instagram and why?
Joanne Chang – I love that she’s a Harvard grad pursuing her culinary dream! And Flour makes amazing food and baked goods, so her Instagram is amazing. She’s an inspiration and she also makes me want to bake more!
Christina Tosi – Another strong female chef doing her thing in the food world! Milk Bar has become a dessert empire and it’s an amazing thing to watch.
Douglass Williams – I love the passion and creativity behind his food! I had been meaning to stop into his restaurant MIDA for ages, and while I still haven’t been able to make it in these times, I tried one of his recipes and it was incredible!
Beyond chefs, what are your top three favorite food Instagram accounts to follow?
Lizzie Lin Johnson (@lizzies_bakery): She bakes the most amazing custom cakes, and her son is adorable in her Instagram stories.
Nina and Josh (@tastes2totango): They’re also Brandeis grads and they post the most amazing, yummy baked goods, many of them are even homemade.
Claudiane Philippe (@nailthecocktail): We actually met in person when we visited a tapas restaurant in Waltham, and she’s super passionate and so creative! She runs a super cool account covering the Boston drinks scene.
Describe Boston’s food scene in three words.
Expanding, fun, trendy.
Which restaurants haven’t you been to but you’re eager to try?
Yume Ga Arukara, Barcelona Wine Bar, and Rochambeau.
What’s your food photography philosophy, and can you share your top tips for taking awesome food photos?
My philosophy is that lighting and angle are everything! I love shooting in natural light, but when it’s nighttime or you’re in a dim restaurant, definitely bring a light or have a friend shine their phone flashlight over the subject. This is something I’m also still working on, since sometimes, like if you’re out with friends or family, it can be easier to live in the moment and just snap a quick photo even if the lighting is not ideal and sometimes it feels super extra to bring your own light…but good lighting and the perfect angle definitely make editing the photo much easier later on!
Recently, I’ve also been taking many more photos of food I cook at home or takeout that I bring home. So I’ve been learning a lot more about food styling since this relies on my own setup and any plates/props/etc. that I have at home. One of the most useful tips (and this also depends on your photography style) is to showcase ingredients that tell you the flavors of the food you’re photographing, E.g. If I take a picture of a lemon blueberry cake, I might want to have some lemons, sliced or unsliced, and some raw blueberries in frame to allude to the fact that those are the flavors of the cake, and these ingredients will also make sense in terms of the color scheme.
A Few Of Your Favorite Things:
Favorite brunch spot: Frenchie Wine Bistro is the perfect spot for a sophisticated but fun brunch with a lovely menu and a beautiful interior. I love their Creamy Onion Soup and Croque Monsieur.
Favorite place for outdoor dining: Hojoko, which does Japanese fusion food in the Fenway area, has both indoor and patio seating. They have a pretty cool vibe and I think it’s a good place for interesting drinks and sharing small plates, like the Okonomiyaki or Karaage Fried Chicken.
Favorite BBQ joint: Blue Ribbon Barbecue. They’ve got a few locations outside of the city, like in Newton and Dedham, and I love their Greensboro Brown Bag, where you can try a variety of their items. I love the pulled pork, brisket, and their sides, such as mashed potatoes and dirty rice with gravy!
Favorite neighborhood for food: Davis Square. I feel like I’m always discovering cool new restaurants in this area, and one of my faves for Thai food, Dakzen, is here too.
Favorite new restaurant: Futago Udon opened last year so they’re not that new, but I love their fried chicken curry udon. It’s super comforting and perfect for the colder weather!
Favorite pandemic takeout: Dim sum from Ming’s Seafood Restaurant in Quincy. I miss the atmosphere of eating dim sum in person, but my family has really enjoyed getting some of our typical dim sum foods, like steamed buns, shrimp dumplings, chicken feet, sticky rice, as well as other dishes on their menu like beef chow fun.
Favorite new restaurant innovation: I really like the use of virtual menus being accessed by scanning a QR code on your phone. This definitely helps with the cleanliness of menus but also is environmentally friendly, as it cuts down on any need to print new menus when there are any changes.
Meet The Tastemakers is a monthly column that shares the stories of those contributing to the conversation on Boston’s food scene.