From the creators of the hit Chef’s Table, comes this new series that features casual restaurants, hawker stalls, and the best of Asian street food
WRITTEN BY VIDA GABE
PHOTOS COURTESY OF NETFLIX, MAGIC LIWANAG, AND TRISH ZAMORA
After the success of the Emmy-nominated culinary series Chef’s Table, the show’s filmmakers are setting their sights on culinary heroes of a different kind—the locals who make a living by selling food on the street. Simply titled, Street Food, Netflix’s upcoming documentary series focuses on the rich culture of street food in Asia’s most colorful cities. Helmed by Chef’s Table creator David Gelb and frequent collaborators Brian McGinn, Andrew Fried, and Dane Lillegard, the series will take viewers to nine Asian countries throughout its first season—Thailand, Japan, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines.
In the season’s ninth episode, which features the Philippines, the show brings viewers into the streets of Cebu City—one of the country’s finest culinary cities—to meet four hard-working locals who bring joy to their communities through their passion and love for food: Florencio “Entoy” Escabas, Leslie Enjambre, Ian Secong, and Rubilyn Diko Manayon.
But how did the show’s producers come to feature these four standout heroes among Cebu’s vastly colorful street food scene? The answer lies with Filipino travel and food writer Jude Bacalso. Jude, a Cebuano local who also appears in the series, graciously sat down with Travel Now for an exclusive interview about her experience on the show:
TN: How did you become involved in Street Food?
Jude: While doing research for the show, director Suzy Beck came across an old article of mine, “Chele and the 12-inch Eel”. The piece centered on the reef eel soup that Entoy Escabas served in his eatery in Cordova town on Mactan island. Suzie and I corresponded, and I sent her a list of other food that they may be interested in. That list included lechon (whole roasted pig), tuslob-buwa (Cebuano fondue), and nilarang bakasi (sour stew with reef eels), which are the featured dishes in the episode. The vegetable lumpia (spring roll) was a fortuitous accident, Rubi’s stall was on the road to Entoy’s Bakasihan, the restaurant I wrote about, and the team stopped to have lunch. They decided Rubi and her lumpia was a perfect addition to this list. The personalities attached to the food were chosen for their luminosity onscreen, as the entire series is anchored on their stories in the tradition of Chef’s Table.
TN: What was it about these four chefs that made you recommend them for the show?
Jude: Suzy was already interested in Entoy, who was the subject of my article. Rubi came as a wonderful accident of sorts, the team found her fun personality engaging and her vegetable lumpia delicious, so her inclusion was due to a potent combination of fate and perfect timing. In fact, she almost said no! Leslie’s husband’s family started the whole lechon business in Talisay City, adjacent to Cebu City, 40 years ago, so she deserved a spot. [And as part of] the third generation handling the family business, Leslie is completely hands-on in ensuring the quality of her lechon, which is often an issue in the business. As for her claim that she is the best, she cleverly retorts: “How can you sell something if you don’t claim it to be good? You have to say you’re the best!” As for Ian, who I know as Yannix from his days as the drummer of Cebuano band Powerspoonz, his version of the tuslob-buwa is the only one readily available, as the original ones in Pasil are dying out. I love how he phrases why he started the business. “It’s a dish that’s almost an urban legend [because it is not readily available anymore], so I decided to offer it on a regular basis.”
TN: How do you think the show will help promote Asian street food worldwide?
Street food in the Philippines has not attained the level of sophistication its Southeast Asian counterparts have. In a way, it is the only one that retains the real essence of street food…that of survival. Not only for the ones who buy it for daily sustenance, but as Chef Tatung points out, also for the ones who sell them. Our Street Food will remind the world of this.
Meet Street Food‘s four Cebuano Chefs:
For Entoy, Bakasihan [Eatery] was a way to reverse the cycle of poverty not only for his family, but also for the fishermen in his community. His Nilarang Bakasi (a soured stew made with reef eel) is believed by many to be an aphrodisiac.
Leslie’s salty and juicy Lechon Cebu is a specialty that began with her grandmother in the 1940s and was passed down through the generations. In the Philippines today, there’s not a party or feast that doesn’t have a lechon as its centerpiece.
Tuslob-buwa, a thick, bubbling gravy made with sautéed onions, garlic, and pig brains has been around in Cebu for centuries and was historically eaten by those who couldn’t afford meat or fish. Through his restaurant, Azul, Ian has brought a new kind of tuslob-buwa into the mainstream culture.
To support her family, Rubi opened a roadside carinderia in Cordova where she sells 18 different dishes. The most popular dish by far is her lumpia, a spring roll originating from the Chinese, who made a big impact on the street food of Cebu when they introduced the wok, which allowed Cebuanos to sauté their aromatics, fry foods and make these glorious spring rolls.
The first season of Street Food streams on Netflix beginning April 26. Since 2018, April has been declared as Filipino Food Month in honor and recognition of the Philippines’ rich culinary tradition.