Eat and Drink
How I travel: Luke Nguyen
Intrepid Vietnamese-Australian chef and restaurateur Luke Nguyen walks us through his ideal travel itineraries, from Tokyo to Bolivia, including his foodie favourite. Read on for inspiration...
What is your first memory of travelling?
My very first overseas trip was to Tokyo. From Narita airport, I caught a train into town and I remember struggling up the stairs from the subway with my 25-kilogram backpack. I came up to ground level and my heavy load became light as a feather; I felt like I was floating in an awesome dream. Bright flashing lights, massive LCD screens, enormous billboards, thousands of ultra-cool people zipping past me as I stood still in amazement.
What do you love about travel?
For me, travel is what keeps me inspired, motivated and alive. Travel is when I learn the most. Discovering new cultures, traditions, history and, of course, food. I find travel keeps me young.
Where are you going next?
If it’s not for work, I always love to travel to new places. The next country on my wish list is India. Now I’m sure I’ll be blown away and love it, so it will most probably turn into my next TV series.
Cities or beaches?
Why not both? In Sydney, I live in Bondi, so I have the best of both worlds. When I’m travelling, I like to hit the cities for the diversity of the food offerings and absorb the energy and buzz of the place. When I’m on holidays, I like to be near a beach, which is where I can really wind down.
What’s your dream location?
My dream location has to be Salar de Uyuni. It’s the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometres. It is located in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in south-west Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes. I travelled there over 20 years ago and it’s still the most magical and surreal place I’ve ever been to.
Luke Nguyen's favourite food destination?
It’s a tie between Hong Kong and Tokyo. Both cities are rich in culture and the food offerings are very diverse. From street food delights to Michelin madness.
What’s always in your carry-on?
A small MacBook thingy, Bose noise-cancelling earphones, notepad, mints, sunglasses, international SIM cards, passport wallet, business cards and an unnecessary amount of pens.
Do you have a secret for beating jetlag?
As soon as I get on the plane I switch my watch to the local time at the destination so I adapt to that time zone straightaway, even if it means not sleeping for a while.
Your favourite hotel and why?
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, built in 1901. I never got to experience the Indochine period in Vietnam, but every time I stay at the Metropole hotel, which is usually twice a year, I get transported back to the French colonial days of Vietnam.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
My favourite restaurant has to be my cousin Laurent’s Bistro Indochine in Paris. He cooks Vietnamese French cuisine extremely well and his hospitality is so warm and sincere. It is always my first port of call when I land in Paris; a home away from home.
Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia is published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $60, and is available in stores nationally.
Want to find out how other movers and shakers travel? Check out...
Writer Kathy Lette
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3 Singaporean culinary delights worth trying
1. What is 'Mod Sing'?
The culinary vogue for creating modern interpretations of traditional Singaporean dishes has given rise to the much-used term ‘mod sing’, the melding of new ingredients and techniques with traditional methods and recipes to create dishes such as coconut laksa barramundi with turmeric potato cake and baby bok choy (Open Farm Community), and wagyu beef char siew with pickled papaya and cherry tomato (Ding Dong).
At National Kitchen by Violet Oon, a gorgeous dining hall in the stunning new National Gallery of Singapore, Violet Oon, the grand dame of Peranakan cooking, serves up modern takes on nonya (a spicy cuisine that combines Malay and Chinese ingredients and techniques), classics such as rojak (guava, sour mangoes, rose apple, pineapple, cucumber, julienne of pink ginger flowers, jellyfish and crispy crullers tossed in a sweet, sour and mildly spicy sauce) and a hae bee hiam sandwich (spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwiches).
And if you want to take the whole hybrid thing one step further, Whitegrass (situated in a former Catholic convent diagonally opposite Raffles), the passion project of chef-owner Sam Aisbett (ex-Quay), does a fine dining Oz-Sing-Japanese thing that is creating a lot of buzz.
2.Their Coveted Coffee
Coffee culture has well and truly arrived in Singapore, offering up an alternative to its traditional milky, super sweet brew.
Check out PS.Cafe, a small-scale local chain serving insanely indulgent cakes and decent-brewed coffee; the bright, casual cafe in the National Gallery of Singapore’s Gallery & Co. retail and dining space; and the painstakingly brewed coffee in the ultra-hip CSHH Coffee Bar in the Chye Seng Huat Hardware, a repurposed Art Deco shophouse compound.
Singaporeans also have a current fascination with Scandinavian cafes, where locals indulge in Swedish baked goods in bleached wood surrounds: look out for Konditori on Bussorah Street and Fika on Beach Road.
3. What is a Milo dinosaur?
Milo is a staple for Singaporeans; sit down at any hawkers’ market or kopitiam (traditional coffee shop) and the Milo dinosaur will be on the menu.
And what is it? Quite simply it’s a long glass of Milo filled to the brim with ice and topped off with mounds of crunchy Milo that you can eat with a spoon or stir into the already Milo-heavy liquid below.
In true Singaporean style, the Milo dinosaur has recently got bigger and better with the invention of the Milo Godzilla: Milo, milk, ice and a scoop of ice-cream, which is then also weighed down with more Milo.
A word of warning though: Singaporean Milo apparently comes from Malaysia and it is a lot sweeter than the stuff we are used to here in Australia.
MORE... We know you just can't get enough of Singapore?
Our list of top Singapore restaurants to dine at
Singapore has forged its place in the food lexicon as the home of award-winning cheap eats.
Ask any local the best places to eat and they will eschew fine dining and instead send you down narrow streets lined with repurposed shophouses and to outlying neighbourhoods to sample outlets that have earned a mention in Bib Gourmand (Michelin’s directory of 'good meals at moderate prices’ and a must-have app on Singaporeans’ phones) or even a coveted star.
And the best thing is that most dishes come in under the SD$10 mark.
Our top 3 list of restaurants to eat at in Singapore
328 Katong Laksa
A tiny storefront on a corner in the Katong neighbourhood, with outdoor seating on plastic chairs, the traditional Peranakan laksa served here costs around $5-7 a bowl and is so good it has earned the unassuming establishment an actual Michelin star.
On the wall there are pictures of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay who challenged it to the equivalent of a soup-showdown and came off second best.
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
Equally unassuming, the bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) served at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane (use Lavender MRT station) are also a Michelin star recipient. Originally founded in the 1930s, and still family run, the line at lunchtime here snakes out the door and around the corner and can take quite a while to clear.
Locals are adamant it’s worth the wait.
HJh Maimunah Restaurant
Located in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, Bib Gourmand inclusion Hjh Maimunah Restaurant is bustling at lunchtime with family and friends making their way through plates piled high with spicy and aromatic dishes, from crumbly, dark beef rending to sweet coconut chicken curry and all manner of vegetable dishes drenched in spicy sambal.
There are also a selection of snacks like samosa and tiny sweet doughnuts for a few dollars each.
One of our plates with a selection of five or so vegetable dishes came to just over $3.
New eats to treat yourself to
Ding Dong is a neon bright space serving up mod sing creations; start with a cocktail at the bar before working your way through the menu of small plates designed to be shared.
Potato Head Folk
In a corner shophouse in Chinatown, Australian artist David Bromley was given artistic free range, daubing one entire floor of the building with his distinctive works and filling many of the spaces in between with installations of his distinctive sculptures.
It is all delightfully whimsical, and perfectly complements the menu of burgers, organic dishes and homemade sodas, Potato Head Singapore is definitely a place to visit.
Open Farm Community
Sitting high on a hill above the Botanic Gardens, Open Farm Community is an earthy, honest proposition, with dishes constructed from locally grown and sourced ingredients, many of which come from the market gardens (complete with chickens) that surround the main dining room, providing a lovely green outlook.
The menu, created by big deal UK chef Ryan Clift, is huge on taste and goodness, and represents value for money considering the hearty portions served up. This place became an instant favourite as soon as I stepped in the door.
Open Door Policy
Another little local getting big kudos for its sustainable and now totally gluten- and dairy-free cuisine, which also happens to be filled with taste. Open Door Policy grow their own herbs and vegetables inside the narrow space they occupy in Tiong Bahru that is constantly filled with bright young things.
Located on Robertson Quay, the chosen neighbourhood for ex-pat Australians, Sprmrkt comprises two floors and two concepts: downstairs in Sprmrkt Daily it’s casual outdoor dining overlooking the Singapore River, and upstairs Sprmrkt Kitchen & Bar is a little fancier.
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