Eating Off the Street - Weekend

Eating Off the Street

Michael Karlo Lim takes a culinary tour at the World Street Food Congress

Text & Images: Michael Karlo Lim


THE World Street Food Congress (WSFC) 2017 is largely known for the WSF Jamboree – the curated collection of pop-up hawker stalls peddling street food delights from all over the world. From last year’s run, a larger group this year from 13 countries pushed about 30 different street food items packed with flavor, wrapped in their vendor’s stories and served with a generous side of the cultural experience.

Even better stories and exchanges of ideas happened at the accompanying Dialogues that opened the first two days of the event. This year’s theme was to “Re-imagine Possibilities” in heritage street food and the opportunities that lie therein keyed in the points to “Meet. Greet. Ideate. Realize.” Featured are street food champions covering a variety of topics — most presentations of which were capped off with a cooking demo followed immediately by the sampling of the items exclusive to Dialogue participants only. The five fun and food-filled days culminated in the announcement of the World Street Food Awards which recognizes talented street food cooks and vendors “all relentlessly pursuing their own version of excellence and their own ideals of deliciousness.” (-KF Seetoh)

Michael Karlo with KF Seetoh

The world today is all about ranking world cuisine, ranking food experiences, arguing status and judging greatness. WSFC Founder KF Seetoh declares that it should be about excellence and how the experience and the stories resonate with the individual consumers. Bringing up the trend of upmarket restaurants with complicated menus and heavily stylized food, he points out that excellence does not need to be expensive, rarified or formal. “Food is not about good or bad. It is about possibilities, innovation and opportunity.”

The event already having elevated the street market to world market, the WSFC looks into furthering social enterprise. One particular consideration was the organization of food safaris to promote the local food aspect of tourism. Another is a plan for a World Street Food Academy to help professionalize and legitimize such operations. Also highlighted is how the internet is an important tool and that a good online presence helps each vendor and the cause at large. “Street food means job opportunities and opportunities for all.”

Xiamen-style Spring Roll

WSFC 2017 Team Captain for the Philippine Contingent Chef Sau Del Rosario took the stage to tackle reinventions of classics while still keeping true to original recipes in what he calls progressive heritage cuisine. Case in point, his food demo featured his Sisig Paella. The fusion was none too strange with the traditionally beer match food, sisig, now being served with rice as meals. Given that and the Filipino penchant for rice, there couldn’t have been a more perfect vehicle for a sisig fusion than paella.

Chef Malcolm Lee from Singapore, echoed Del Rosario in a separate presentation about bridging the now and what was then. His Peranakan heritage cuisine recipes are served with contemporary updates at his restaurant, Candlenut. “What is important is that you tell your story. Stay true to recipe and flavor and elevate the dish in treatment and presentation.”, he says.

Lee’s Itek Tim

To demonstrate, he cooked Itek Tim, a salted vegetable and duck soup. Duck bone and pig trotters are rendered with salted vegetables and garlic then strained to leave a flavorful, clear stock in which he poaches — his modern twist — duck meatballs versus bone-in duck pieces. Lee pleases both the current consumer and the old guards — of the latter, most especially, his own grandmother – and takes on the question of authenticity squarely. “Authenticity is the expression of who you are,” adds Seetoh.

Rockstar chef Andy Yang harped on consistency in preparation and the consistency of identity as major ingredients for success.”I sell what I believe in and what I know.”, he continues on the topic of honesty to customers beginning with honesty to oneself.

As “food is a common denominator that brings people together”, Asian MICE Veteran Janet Tan Collins encourages education through the enjoyment of the ingestion experience. She sees local food culture as an avenue to explore and as a plus to fly-in conventions that it involves the guests and increases participants’ takeaway from the event.

Yum Yai

Chef Peter Lloyd of the Sticky Mango restaurant concurs that “education is important and educating the customer is important” in breaking the wall of Asian exotica to allow understanding and appreciation of local food culture. You’d have to take that from a Caucasian chef running a popular Asian concept in London. Again, on authenticity and reinvention, Lloyd presented his take on the Mango Sticky Rice: Mango puree sphere “yolk” with coconut & almond milk “white” on sticky rice with coconut cream.

Founder of Princeton Cooking School and Chef Ruth Alegria traced the common culinary genealogy of Mexico and the Philippines highlighting similarities in produce, ingredients, cookery methods and, of course, dishes themselves. She also noted that while there is a strong influence of Mexican food and flavors on the world menu, “what we popularly known as Mexican cuisine now is hardly even Mexican at all.” Think nachos.

Sisig Paella

On emerging markets, editor and Indonesian food community be-all, Odilia Winneke discussed the increased international demand for Halal food, digested the Halal concept and the potential of Indonesian cuisine in the Philippine scene. David Yip, Singaporean food consultant and researcher explored the rise of Chinese foodies, food travelers and heritage street food entrepreneurs.

With a lineup of about twenty different speakers and presenters, the two days of the WSF Dialogues were packed with too many ideas to squeeze into these pages. An easy conclusion would be that food is both identity and a message – that in the exchanges of serving and partaking there are connections made, stories told and understanding which has been had. “You are what you eat and eat who you are!,” sums up Seetoh.

As of the most recent pronouncements, the World Street Food Congress will, once again, be held in the Philippines in 2018.

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