In episode 10 of "Luke Nguyen's Vietnam," the chef and traveler sits down to eat trứng vịt lộn, a duck embryo (also known as balut). He doesn't treat it as exotic, or weird, or Extreme. He just describes it to his viewers, savors it, and moves on. It's this spirit of genuine discovery and appreciation that we love about the Australian chef and his program, which we can't recommend enough. If you're squeamish, don't worry, this isn't really a show about "bizarre" foods; it's about culture and heritage, a passion for Vietnam's people and landscape, and fresh, simple ingredients and recipes.
Luke Nguyen is an Australian chef from the restaurant Red Lantern. His family moved from Vietnam when he was young, so the program is a personal journey as well as a guided tour for his viewers. In 10 episodes, Nguyen travels across the country, visiting relatives and other cooks to discover Vietnam's regional dishes. He learns from everyone – aunts, market vendors, fishermen, monks, farmers, old women who have been hand-making noodles for decades.
Throughout the show, our host stops on street corners, in home kitchens, and in colorful outdoor locales to demonstrate cooking. Whether he's making green mango salad, char-grilled pork, or sweet corn pudding, everything looks so amazing, we're tempted to hop on a plane as soon as each episode is over. Or get into the kitchen. The recipes are easy and breezy and we're seriously inspired to get rid of our excess cooking gear in favor of his simple setup of a portable burner, a pan, and a knife!
"Luke Nguyen's Vietnam" aired on SBS in Australia last year and until recently was only available on DVD, which is how we watched it. However, we just learned that it's now being broadcast on the Cooking Channel, and we're so happy American audiences will have a chance to watch it. Many recipes and video clips are also available on the SBS and Cooking Channel websites. Be sure to check out Luke Nguyen's books, The Songs of Sapa: Stories and Recipes from Vietnam and Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart (with his sister Pauline Nguyen), too.
• Luke Nguyen's Vietnam (SBS site)
• Luke Nguyen's Vietnam (Cooking Channel site)
Related: Sophie Dahl's Sweet, Feminine Kitchen