Hailed as the Street Food King, Luke Nguyen is looking forward to visiting the Philippines for its “vibrant” street food.
His show, Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia, is premiering on Philippine TV via TLC on August 25. The TV host has already taken viewers across Asia on cool adventures in the streets of Jakarta, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
But, in a recent phone interview, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) find out Luke had already visited the Philippines back in 2000.
That time, he was here for an event for Asia Society where he recalls, "I was cooking a lovely dinner for many, many guests, VIP guests, so I only had one day available where I kind of hit the streets of Manila and tried some of the street food, very little of it because I didn't have a lot of time unfortunately, but I've tried snippets of it."
Luke is a believer of longer is better, "I think street food in the Philippines, you need a longer, longer time to really explore the diversity of it so, you know, I really endeavor to go back there and to spend more time discovering the street food."
We uncover a surprising fun fact from that trip, "the main ones I had was the suckling pig, the skewers and of course, the Balut. I was very surprised when I had it because it's very big compared to what we have here in Vietnam."
Apparently, he's used to a smaller version of the fertilized duck egg, "I'm very excited to try the Balut because in Vietnam we eat Balut as well, but a smaller version of Balut."
What he's most interested in is something Pinoys, who are away from the Philippines any length of time, can very well relate to, "all of the charcoal and the grilling, you know, the – how you do all the wonderful big, long skewers, all the chicken on the skewers there and barbecued and also the suckling pig. I know you're very famous for that."
Luke will be back, he promises, because that one day was too short, "your street food is actually very, very vibrant and exciting and actually the street food there is big on my list to come and visit for sure."
From what he remembers and from watching a lot of TLC shows and his various travels, "I think when it comes to, if I go to a food festival, an outdoor festival that really pinpoints Filipino street food, they are the main ones that I see and I try it, of course and I really, really love it."
He is adamant on making the Philippines a stop on Street Food Asia, "your street food is very, very interesting and I'd love to go there and explore the street food further. Absolutely."
This writer tells him that the Filipino street food scene now includes container box park complexes as well as regular manong on the street options. Luke reacts, "Wow. Well, I'll definitely have to go there."
Here are Luke's tips for making the most of any street food experience anywhere in the world:
- Research. A lot of it.
"With my shows, I never just arrive for one day and then film, you know? I go there prior to the whole crew, I do my research all myself and make sure that what I'm trying is authentic so there's a lot of, you know, groundwork that I do prior to filming the series. And that's the part I love, you know, just exploring the country and going where all the local people go and eat."
- Learn basic words of where you're going.
Luke considers it a necessity that before going to any country, "I like to learn the basic words, even just basic words through the language of food and their own language as well so you can talk a little bit."
- Follow the locals.
"The locals are always key. Follow the locals, ask the locals and see where they eat and where they recommend, that's what I always do. I might know that there is an area or location for lots of great street food and when I actually arrive there, I ask the people around me and I look at where people are eating and discover the best places.”
Luke doesn't want to go to places that you can search and see online, through someone else's view, "I love to find authenticity. I'd rather hear it from the place I'll go to."
- Street food is also about trial and error.
Luke says that he has eaten a lot in his quest for the best-kept secrets. He advises to check out places that are busy from morning till night, because no one stays all day, but a constant flow of customers is a good sign.
- If it's near a market, it must be good.
"I always look at the produce as well. I look at how fresh, how vibrant the ingredients are. I love to eat street food where it's close to a market, a wet market because then you know every morning they just go to the market, buy their produce and set up right there so you know it's really fresh so if they run out of something, they can go back to the market and buy again."
Luke's equation: market + streetfood vendor + your plate = always super fresh.
- If you can see it cooked in front of you, so much the better.
"A lot of people are a bit concerned about eating street food because of hygiene and of course that's a big concern but to me if you see the people are eating there, go there, or if it's right next to a market, you can see the produce and it's cooked in front of you, it's gonna be fantastic."
Luke, who hails from a family that migrated to Australia after the Vietnamese War, considers himself very Vietnamese despite growing up in Sydney.
"My family are boat people that came to Australia, we migrated to Cabramatta where a lot of Vietnamese live and living there, you could be living in Saigon, it's such a big Vietnamese community."
He grew up with strong Vietnamese culture influences, the language, a practical knowledge of their fish market, their grocery store, a bakery, and Luke says being Vietnamese is already ingrained in him from a very young age so when he travels across Asia, "I really feel like I'm at home."
In doing a show like Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia, I'm sure Luke has had funny experiences, or an adventure as he was trying out something new, or a strange incident as he explored street food in Asia.
He immediately shares one story that stands out, "I think one of the funniest experiences was when I was in Vietnam." In Vietnam as in other Asian cities, a lot of street food is on wheels, either on a cart or on a bicycle. Luke relates, "this reason is because they can move the street food, if they can, quickly, if they need to. And in Saigon, a lot of the street food vendors don't really have a permit to be there on the street, right, like some other countries."
Through the phone lines, you can hear the laughter in his voice as he recounts, "so I was dining in very early morning and having one of my, wow, great street food dishes, my noodles with chargrilled pork and vermicelli and Vietnamese herbs and I was sitting there enjoying it with my soy bean, hot soy bean milk and suddenly everyone just, all the other guests, all the other customers just jumped and took their chair and their dish and ran, just ran away. And I thought 'Wow, what's happening? I'm just sitting here alone.' And even the stall owner just pushed her cart and left."
As he was sitting there by himself, with his noodles in his hand, Luke reveals, "I didn't know what to do, so I just picked my chair, picked my dish and ran as well and I just followed everyone. And the camera was like, 'What's happening?' so the cameraman ran with us and we just ran and I looked behind us and of course, the authorities of that area were coming through and moving all the street food vendors away. So we all ran and we ran around the corner and we...everyone just put their chair back down and started eating, right? And I thought 'Wow, this is such a funny experience, but quite an exciting street food experience.’
He picked that as his best and funniest anecdote to show what he really loves about street food, "it's the community, you know, no one asks any questions. Communities just know, okay pick up everything, run around the corner so the street food vendor doesn't get in trouble, you know. And, after you saw the authorities disappear, then we all just picked our chairs, came back to the location and continued our breakfast. I think that was very, very enjoyable and a great experience."
Pinoys can follow more of Luke's antics and adventures on Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia as it airs on TLC starting August 25.