Travel to India with TV Presenter and Chef Luke Nguyen

Vietnamese-Australian chef and SBS TV presenter Luke Nguyen spent two months in India to make his latest namesake series. The restauranteur, who is best known for his Vietnamese cooking and fabulous cookbooks, opted for a country he had never visited before – ever curious to learn more about its cuisine and culture.

Nguyen heads to the south of India in a bid to unearth local dishes, discover new spices and talks to The Write Drop on the best ways to prepare for a trip to this flavoursome destination.

“I chose the south of India because this hasn’t really been explored. We tend to associate Indian cuisine with dishes from the North, and I wanted to get familiar with the south,” says Luke Nguyen.

The new series is all about embracing a new culture, discovering regional dishes while also being a lesson in history, art and architecture and seeing how the locals live.

“I didn’t know a lot about India to be honest, and wanted to explore things beyond what we are familiar with when it comes to their food. We think of korma, vindaloo and naan bread. I wanted to visit places and discover dishes I didn’t know about and share that with the viewers,” he says.

Nguyen’s first stop is Bangalore – a city that wasn’t as hectic as he had imagined.

“Bangalore is busy, yes there’s traffic and its nuts,” he says.

“But it’s organised chaos and it’s what made this city so vibrant. I loved being there with all the people, the tuk-tuks and motorbikes and cars. Everyone is lovely. The beauty about travelling is immersing in the local way of doing things, and eating as they do,” he says.

Nguyen also visits the cities of Madurai, Keralam and Puducherry – a former French colony which has influenced the city’s food, music and architecture.

“What I loved about these destinations is the diversity as the food changes from region to region and it literally blew my mind,” he says.

Nguyen chose to fast seven days prior to his arrival in India. It was a chance to start with a clean palette.

“Before I travelled to India I fasted for seven days – that means I spent a lot of time drinking water and liquids. I wanted my gut health to be the best and to feel good. I know when I fast my senses are heightened to the highest level,” he says.

“It’s not a bad way to start as when you arrive the flavours are in abundance and you want to be able to experience every element of it,” he says.

Nguyen says when travelling to the south of India, try the street food on offer and dine at local restaurants run by husband-and-wife teams.

He says come prepared, have an idea of what dishes are most popular in the cities you visit, head to fish and wet markets to see produce, and don’t be afraid to try spices you haven’t heard of.

“Indians eat food for medicine,” he says.  “As a chef I have always been curious and always known food is medicine, but we tend to forget about this. The Indian cuisine really reminds you of this purpose. For me it’s always been about flavour, texture and colour. In India I smelt every hint of aroma the whole time I was there and my senses were blown away. It made the experience 100 times better and it’s definitely worth visiting.”


Kerala – it’s all about the seafood here. “It was similar to being in south east Asia. We made a beautiful masala paste mixed with red chili powder, ground garlic, ginger and cashew nuts. We combined it with tomatoes and cooked it down. We then put the paste on the entire fish and wrapped it in banana leaf and chargrilled it. Absolutely delicious.”


Kokum – a new discovery for Nguyen. “They soak it in water and then throw in their curry to enhance the tartness.  The more I used it the more amazed I was with it. It’s an unripened mangosteen, and a wonderful ingredient. I haven’t found it in Australia yet!”


“It’s a little town where you’ll find 10,000 abandoned mansions each with 60 rooms. There’s so many amazing estates that were big in the gold trade eras. This region almost has its own cuisine. I discovered black stone flower – a native to this area. I used it to make a pepper chicken dish in my small wok.  I put in some coconut oil, and when it simmered, I put four stone flowers. The aroma really hits the heat and it’s instant. It blew my mind.”

Born in refugee camp in Thailand after his family fled from Vietnam after the war, Luke moved with his family to Cabramatta in Sydney, Australia. At the age of 23, he opened his first restaurant the Red Lantern in Surry Hills, Sydney with his sister Pauline and has now grown with restaurants in Brisbane, Ho Chi Minh and Hong Kong. Luke is the author of a number of bestselling and award-winning cookbooks, Secrets of The Red Lantern, The Songs of Sapa, Indochina, Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong and Luke Nguyen’s Street Food. He also hosted Top Chef VietnamMasterchef Vietnam and has been a special guest mentor on Masterchef Australia.









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