Thursday, May 16, 2013

Searching the best street food, by KF Seetoh [Guest Post]

Article and Photo by KF Seetoh, Founder of Makansutra
The World Street Food Congress will held in Singapore from May 31st till June 9th this year at the F1 Pit Building and Paddock. It will feature a Dialogue and a Feasting Jamboree with 40 of the top street food masters from 10 cities worldwide.  KF Seetoh jots down his journey in finding and bringing the best of the world's street food to Singapore.

A kaki lima Kue Bandros hawker on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia

So what do you do when you have to come up with the best 40 street food masters and experts worldwide for our World Street Food Congress (WSFC) Jamboree food festival. I start off cocksure and full of myself. But as I traversed the slippery alleys and narrow aisles around the globe, meeting equally passionate street food advocates... my bluff is called. I am not so sure I know so much anymore. The world of street food is a very big place. The more I learn, the more there is to discover and realise.

I shuffle about the alleys of Kota in Jakarta, Indonesia and come across Kue Bandros.  It's a baked coconut milk and rice batter cake made fresh before your eyes. The hawker does this over a cast iron mould sitting atop a charcoal grill mounted on the back of his tricycle food cart--a “kaki lima” as they call it. Then my fiercely dedicated peers and minders there cut me off before I could complete that first bite of the soft roasty, coconutty and moist cake, "If you are thinking about bringing this to the WSFC, then you have to meet and eat Kue Pancong. A bit more wonderfully complex and has a flick of salt to counter the sugar and richness.”

Suddenly I felt like an amateur blogger writing about cupcakes for the first time. I am very honoured to be able to work with fellow street food advocates and gurus there like Pak William Wongo and Bondan Winarno for our event in June.

In Vietnam, one would think about the famous bahn mi sandwiches (anything clamped between roti would automatically be classified as street food in many places worldwide) and pho (beef noodles). But if my pal Mr. Vo Quoc, the defacto food ambassador of Vietnam had not taken me to the mini claypan ban xeo pancake stall, I would not have seen just how dedicated and ardent these humble hawkers are. Also, I was totally clueless when they suggested Tom Tep – chilli and salted baked prawns with grilled mung bean and sticky rice cakes. I was floored by the description alone.

And over in Portland Oregon, if not for their street food cart champion and industry buddy Brett Bermeister, I would not have had the Oprah makan moment when he introduced me that first bite of that hamburger topped, get this, with tempura soft shell crab with spicy mayonnaise from the Eurotrash food truck. One bite in and I blurted, “Would you guys be keen to come for the World Street Food Jamboree in Singapore?” Yes, they said. Yes, was also what Trey Corken said when asked after he served me his New Orleans and very Americana style Smothered Chicken, stewed chucks of chicken dunked in spicy mash. Oooh, so comforting, they call it soul food.

The name Sabina and her daughter Mariana was tossed into our top hawker list hat for consideration. How could we not invite this champ of fresh seafood tostadas hawker from Baja in Mexico. No one there flinched when our researcher Bill Esperza suggested them. Fearless maverick street food sultan Anthony Bourdain even got a mod Mexican mariachi band to sing praises about this mother daughter team in this No Reservation TV show. Both Bourdain and that tostados family team will be at the WSFC.

Each and every street food advocate and hawker mentioned above is just one energetic jigsaw piece that will form one of the most popular and beloved picture on this planet- the wonderful world of comfort street food and it’s culture. We intend to fit this massive world street food jigsaw puzzle at the World Street Food Congress. We see jobs, skills, industry and business opportunities if we just preserve, professionalise and create new possibilities for it. Then, I will be able to say “selecting the best from the world is a piece of pandan cake” (so as long I have my fellow food soldiers alongside me!).

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