From the screens to The Star, celebrity chef Luke Nguyen will be giving Sydney a tour of South East Asia over the next two months
Timed perfectly with the release of his new SBS series Street Food Asia, Luke Nguyen has come to The Star's Café Court for a three month pop-up restaurant residency. The self-professed street food obsessive is taking his favourite street eats from around South East Asia and "bringing these authentic street food dishes... up to another level."
For an inside scoop on Luke's adventures and his self-titled pop-up, we asked the man to tell us more.
Luke on his favourite cities (and what to order when you're there):
"[It's] crazy-hectic and developing at an astounding pace. It’s got an energy and dynamism you can almost smell. I totally love it. Maybe I’m biased though, as the city is now my second home. It’s also where my family came from before they moved to Australia all those years ago, so the place is virtually in my DNA. This town is one heaving smorgasbord of outdoor dining options, wherever you venture or look."
Order the... Pan Fried Rice Cakes
"[This dish] is made with a rice flour – and wheat starch-based batter, which is steamed then cut into pieces and pan fried. You eat the little fried ‘cakes’ with a lightly sweetened soy-based chilli sauce and the whole effect is a delicious snack for any time of the day."
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"Malay food could well be the original fusion cuisine. Just look at the influences on it: indigenous Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, English, Dutch and Portuguese, all combining to make one amazing hodgepodge. As I walk the tree-lined streets and explore hawker centres, I feel like I’m in Mumbai one minute and Beijing the next. I meet Chinese women queuing for pakoras, curry puffs and vadai in Brickfields, a staunchly Indian quarter... So many different languages, aromas and cultures all mashed up together make Kuala Lumpur intriguing to me."
Order the... Assam Laksa
"You’ve got to head to Madras Lane, just off Petaling Street in the city’s Chinatown. Not only will you have amazing food here but you’ll also be transported back to 1960s Kuala Lumpur... I have a thing for the intense and unique taste of assam laksa. It’s from Penang and has a sour/salty/fishy tamarind broth that contains no coconut milk at all, making it far less rich than curry laksa. The flavours are fresh and complex and some of the ingredients unusual; for example torch ginger flower."
"This place to me is just one giant excuse to eat outdoors. The street food repertoire here is complex. With myriad ingredients, influences, cooking techniques, flavours and textures at work, the food, like the city itself, [is a] sensory overload... There’s food from every Thai region available, from the fiery, pungent, sour dishes of north-eastern Isaan province, where sticky rice is king, to the rich, complex, coconut-milk infused dishes, and curries, of the central plains and the south.
Order the... Tom Yum with Lobster
"There’s a great restaurant called P’aor, in an old shop-house. As you walk in, you notice hefty pots simmering away, filled with a deep orange-red broth that looks for all the world like a French seafood bisque. Except you know it’s not when the whiffs of lemongrass, galangal, chillies and makrut leaves start to take hold. It’s actually tom yum and while I’ve had a lot of tom yum in my time, it’s never been anything like this."
On how that's translated to his restaurant...
"Because these dishes are all my favorites from my travels, I have featured them on the menu and tricked them up a little bit. The food I discover on my travels is authentic street food. Recipes [get] passed down from generation to generation. I take these dishes and recreate them using the great premium produce we have available in Australia, then add a little twist when taking [them] to a restaurant environment... I always like to stay true to the core flavors and unique ingredients of the cuisine that I am cooking. Flavour profiles will be the same if not better."
If we only order one thing...
"Word on the streets says the Pad Thai. I think its because its so far removed from all the other Pad Thais we are used to eating in Sydney. This dish has such deep balanced flavors, great texture, wrapped with egg net and topped with crisp soft shell crab. To make the Pad Thai sauce we crush prawn heads to extract the tomalley, or juices, within. This gives wonderful flavour to the noodles. We then wrap the pad thai hor kai with an egg net and top it with a crispy soft shell crab making this dish quite decadent."
And if we go back for seconds...
"The other one to order is the most definitely the Lobster Tom Yum. It's just a wow dish, full of surprises, like flavour from lemongrass, chili, kaffir lime, coriander and prawn heads with the light creaminess of evaporated milk. This elegant broth is then served with rice noodles, half a lobster and mussels."
Luke Nguyen's pop-up restaurant is open until the end of November. For further information and to see the full menu, visit www.star.com.au/popup.