When it comes to New York, one thing is for sure – there is so much to explore: from architectural masterpieces to historic monuments, from Broadway shows to museum exhibitions or iconic movie scene backdrops that are lurking around every corner. And not to forget the world-class shopping experiences. The city that never sleeps is definitely a vibrant, exciting, colorful, energetic and eccentric hot spot. And to top things off New York’s food scene is as exquisite and versatile as one can possibly imagine. It would probably take a whole lifetime to dine through the whole city and its culinary offerings.
One who took on the challenge to explore the endless variety is the self-declared foodie and Instagrammer Davina Tan better known as heydavina. She had us instantly wanting to go on a walk through the city streets of NY in search for the most stylish and most fancy spots to treat your taste buds with the best coffee and food the city has to offer. So follow along as we unfold her story and favorite spots in our interview below.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself, especially where and how you grew up?
I’m a Malaysian, born and raised in Kuala Lumpur. I’m the only child in my family, and right now, it’s just my mom and me. I lived in Malaysia pretty much my whole life – until eight years ago when I moved to India with my husband for work. It was the first time I had ever lived abroad. And after a year in India, we moved to New York.
Let us know more about your background, what did you study and why did you move to New York?
My husband and I both work in advertising, and we’re both art-based creatives. In fact, we met on the job 15 years ago. After years of working in Malaysia, we both got hired for the same agency in India, where we worked and stayed for a year. After a year in India, we traveled to New York for a vacation. And randomly, my husband got offered a job at an advertising agency there. So a month after our New York vacation, we moved here permanently. It was like a dream come true…
What was it like to move to such a big city like New York and how long did it take for you to feel at home?
My husband and I are both city people, so we loved our move to New York. The first year was pretty rough – some days were lonely and stressful because we had no family or friends there, so trying to adapt to this fast-paced city was something we had to learn to do on our own. But after a year, we started to feel very much at home, and now, after living here for seven years, I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the world… (maybe London, maybe).
Was there an unforgettable experience when you first got in touch with the culinary world of NY and why did you start documenting your favorite spots?
There wasn’t any unforgettable experience, just that I started to meet people from Instagram over coffee and lunch and it just became a thing for us to do. Since we weren’t working and a lot of the cafés and restaurants would be pretty empty on weekdays we took advantage of this and started photographing our food and coffee sessions and the beautiful spaces from these empty cafés and restaurants.
What’s so exciting about New York especially about the food scene and how did it change?
The food scene in New York is great because it’s always evolving. People are always looking for something new, fresh and exciting, and I think the food places there know it, so new and old cafés and restaurants try to stay current and on trend by experimenting and creating new menus, new dishes and updating their space. You can go away for a month long vacation, and come back to at least ten new food places that have opened in New York – it’s really that exciting!
Tell us how you would spend your perfect day in the Big Apple, how do you love to start your day and what’s the best way to end it?
Every morning begins with an hour-long phone conversation I have with my mom. It’s my way of being there with her, without physically being there. Then I take my dog out for an hour walk and run in the nearby park. Did I mention I have a dog? She’s a three-year-old Shiba Inu called Miso. Then I get home and get ready to meet my friends for lunch around noon, and after lunch, we’ll find a nice café for coffee and dessert to keep our conversation going on. After coffee, we’ll part ways, and I’ll spend this time roaming the city taking a few street or facade shots. After a couple of hours on my own in the city, my husband is usually ready to leave work, and we’d meet for dinner and drinks. Then the day ends with us going home together, washing up and getting comfortable on the sofa for a movie or something. That’s my perfect day in the Big Apple.
Can you give us a quick sum up of your favorite spots that you recommend and why everyone should visit them when in New York?
- Sel Rrose – I love the cocktails and happy hour oysters here. And everything from the cocktails to the entrance, to the space inside, it’s all insta-worthy!
- La Mercerie – This little French café serves up yummy French pastries in the morning, and is housed in the same space as a flower shop and furniture store, so every part of this café and shop is a photograph!
- Saltwater Coffee – A small café in East Village, serving my favorite coffee right now. Try the Milo Mocha, Charcoal Vanilla Chai and Ube Latte – all delicious!
- Boucherie – Paris in New York! This French restaurant serves great French fare and ambiance in a large, beautiful and airy space in West Village.
- Olio e Piu – One of my favorite places for pasta. Another gorgeous restaurant in West Village filled with lots of plants, and colorful plates, both of which are great for photos!
- Sezane – This French clothing label has a huge cult following and their New York store, it’s the second one, after their original in Paris. The store has a beautiful storefront, and a little café setup inside, perfect for a photo shoot. And when you’re inside, be prepared to spend, spend, spend!
- Tacombi – Favorite place to go for tacos, corn esquites, and micheladas. The West Village café is incredibly cute, and the one in Nolita (also cute!) serves tacos out of a VW van!
- Tictail – This store in Lower East Side sells cool and kitschy fashion, art and home décor brands from independent and emerging brands from around the world. My favorite part of the store is the wall right outside, which they use to promote different artists. So it’s always changing, and that’s pretty awesome!
- Morgenstern’s – This ice-cream shop has the most interesting flavors, and that’s why I love it. In summers, the line goes out of the shop, and almost around the block – it’s really that good!
Can you give us some tips on how to shoot your favorite spots and also food flatlays with a mobile phone?
When it comes to interior spaces or food, I always make sure there’s a lot of natural lighting when I shoot. That’s so important in making sure the photo comes out nice and bright. I’m not a fan of artificial lighting because it gives the photos a dirty yellow tint. And when shooting anything, always make sure there’s a focus in the photo, so people know what they’re looking at. Make sure to minimize on clutter when you’re shooting food and try and get an empty space when shooting interiors.
What did you learn over the years from growing a following on Instagram and do you have any advice?
Do it because you love it. My Instagram account is still my passion project, and it’s still very personal for me. I don’t and won’t simply post anything for money or likes, nor will I join IG pods or do travel giveaways just to grow my following, because it’s not an authentic growth.
Sure mine is a slower growth, but you get real people following you because they genuinely love what you share, and that’s what it’s all about.Davina Tan
You are about to launch your own website, can you tell us what we can expect from it?
I get asked all the time to recommend places to eat, visit or stay in New York and the other cities I’ve traveled to, so my website will help with this. It will be more of a personal, curated, photo travel guide for all the places I’ve visited and it’ll be where I list down my favorite cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and other attractions (and most of which are going to Instagram-worthy!)
Davina Tan’s love for food and coffee has brought us to some of the most delicious places in NY and her passion to share her daily finds serves as a great inspiration – maybe even for your next trip to the Big Apple. So it’s absolutely worth following her on Instagram and also make sure to keep an eye out for her new website launching soon.
*Numbers current at the time of writing
Copyright: All pictures are copyright protected and property of Davina Tan.