The one-hour video call with Vietnamese-Australian Chef Luke Nguyen about his brand new show Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia was candid and insightful. It was easy to get sucked into his enthusiasm about street food and stories about his experience in Jakarta. Luke’s love of street food poured out in every word, and neither the pixelated photo nor the sometimes-dodgy Skype connection dampened the atmosphere, even for a bit.
“There’s no point travelling all the way to a country where you eat only at restaurants or hotels. That’s not real food to me. I want authenticity,” Luke Nguyen said. “It’s not just about the food—it’s about the experience. I sit there on the street, I can see how people work, how the food is being made.”
Street food reflects people and culture, and that’s how Luke Nguyen sees it as well. “The street vendors are very friendly, open, and welcoming. That says a lot about the people of Indonesia.” He then proceeded to tell his experience at Nasi Goreng Kambing Kebon Sirih, “They invited me into their kitchen! At that time there was no camera at all, they had no idea what was happening. They just knew that I was interested about the food. People were very friendly and hospitable, and it was such a great experience for me.”
When asked about his favorite food in Jakarta, Luke Nguyen had a hard time picking just one. He started by mentioning Mie Ayam in front of Citywalk Sudirman mall, “The cooking process was very, very theatrical. He threw the noodle in the air a little bit, shook the water off, then mixed everything with meatballs, soup, and wonton. Only with street food you can see this kind of theatre.” He also mentioned Ketoprak, Gado-Gado, Soto Betawi, Tempe, and everything that involves sambal in his favorite list.
The whole conversation got me thinking. The culinary scene in Jakarta has been swamped with international restaurants, Instagenic cafés, and come-and-go food trends. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is a little bit funny that it takes a foreigner to remind me that at the end of the day, street food is what truly represents our city.
Jakarta is messy, congested, and not easy to be portrayed in a beautiful manner, just like a plate of Ketoprak. But behind that lies a beautiful flavor and texture that can warm people’s heart with its creamy, nutty comfort. Be sure not to miss any episode of Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia, as it might lead you to discover something new from your own city. Amidst this craziness, perhaps street food is the answer, just like what Luke Nguyen concluded, “I understand Jakarta much more by eating street food.”
Win a trip for two to Saigon and a class at Grain, Luke Nguyen’s cooking studio! Follow TLC South Asia’s Instagram, snap a picture of your favorite street food in your hood, then post it on your Instagram. Use the hashtag #TLCMyHood & #LukeNguyenSFA with at least 20 words in caption, the name of the dish, and what you like about it. For more details, please click here.