By RICA AREVALO
The team behind Chef ’s Table has come up with Street Food, which started streaming via Netflix last week. It focuses on South East Asia’s “ordinary” street food vendors who despite life’s challenges and adversities rose to prominence with their family recipes.
This is not a cooking show but a look on the lives of local food heroes who try to preserve their cooking tradition because they need to survive and provide for their family. People do not come for the ambiance of the place but the delicious specialty they offer.
In Bangkok, Thailand, the pilot episode, we meet the inspirational Jay Fai, a street food legend. Living in the slums, she concocted her own version of crab omelet that landed her a Michelin. We see her cook non-stop, a real workaholic in her stall. For her, every dish should be flawless.
Funny Toyo is the “con artist of Kyobashi, Osaka” in Japan. Behind his funny mask is a boy who lost his mother at six years old and lived with his drunkard father. He dreamed of having his own izakaya when he started as a dishwasher at his aunt’s bar. His perseverance paid off. Using his bare hands to blow torch his popular tuna specialty and every time he cooks, he whispers, “May it be delicious.” Indeed, it is.
Truoc, the main subject in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is not on the same level as Jay Fai, but she overcame poverty, pressures from loan sharks, the loss of her newborn son, and depression to resume her snail food business. She reminisces on her dad’s cooking, her memory of helping stir-fry the snails—a treasure she inherited from her late father.
One of the most touching episodes is from Yogyakarta, Indonesia featuring the master of jajanpasar—a grandmother whose nickname is Mbah Satinem who has been making the well-loved market munchies for more than 50 years. She uses the string to cut off the stuff using her hand like a ninja. Her joyful laugh is pleasing to one’s ears. One of her loyal customers is none other than former Indonesian President Suharto.
Aisha Hashim studied in the US to be a pastry chef. Her dreams were shattered when she had to go back to Singapore to help the putu piring (steamed rice and coconut dessert) business of her parents. Hers is a fairy-tale ending. She found a supportive husband who helped her expand her booming stores across the country.
The Philippines is represented by Cebu street food, tuslob buwa (brain gravy with rice), linarang na bakasi (fish stew with reef eels), lumpiang prito (fried spring rolls), and the famous lechon. We meet Mang Entoy Escabas who introduced his “aphrodisiac” meal. He was a former fisherman
who made use of the abundant reef eels in Cordova because no one wanted to buy them. With ingenuity and the support of his wife and family, he opened up a restaurant that serves reef eels.
Also featured are Rubilyn Manayon for her lumpia, Leslie Enjambre for Talisay lechon, and Ian Lim Sekong for tuslob buwa—with interviews from Chef Myke Sarthou and Jude Bacalso.
There were netizens who questioned the Street Food’s choices because there were more popular street food items we Filipinos love. They may have a point because some street food featured by our Asian neighbors—
tom yum soup, pad thai, takoyaki, yakitori, banh mi, pho, chilli crab, one way or the other have touched our palate.
How do we want to “market” our food to the world? Do we let foreign productions “dictate” what our local street food is? Or do we just agree with the “food porn” offered to us?
Catch Street Food Season One also featuring Delhi, India; Chiayi, Taiwan; and Seoul, South Korea on Netflix.