Chefs are making street food 'Instagrammable' for millennials

Ginny Mata, FOOD Magazine

Posted at Jun 05 2017 04:36 PM

MANILA - During the World Street Food Congress Dialogue, chefs, entrepreneurs and food experts from different countries came together to discuss the role of street food in helping preserve culinary traditions, celebrate local cultures, and modernize the way we think about food. 

It’s our grandmothers’ cooking brought to the fore and made relevant in these economically and politically fraught times.


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Chef Malcolm Lee works with young Enderun students to present his reinvented braised duck soup. Ginny Mata, FOOD Magazine

Peranakan cuisine is over 900 years old, so how does one make it relevant and appealing to the younger generation? 

That was what young chef Malcolm Lee set out to do in his restaurant Candlenut, which is the first ever Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in Singapore. 

“We try to respect and balance tradition and modern ways, but if you think about it, being modern is actually being traditional,” Lee explained. “It’s about looking at what is available locally, and being able to use them creatively.” 

In his food demo onstage, Lee made a more contemporary version of duck soup, which is similar in taste to our sinigang as it uses sour plums and tamarind skin as souring agents. 

Instead of serving the chopped duck in parts, as a whole leg or thigh, he finely chopped the duck meat by hand, mixed it with salted vegetables like Chinese mustard, then formed it into meatballs. These are then dropped into the soup. 

“By serving the duck meat in this way, it makes the dish more Instagrammable,” said Lee.


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The martabak was one of the most popular items in the WSFC Jamboree. Hannah Lopez, FOOD Magazine

In the restaurant chain Markobar, the popular Indonesian pancake martabak has also been reinterpreted for the younger generation, especially with Instagram and other forms of social media changing the way they consume food. 

Markobar is co-owned by Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the first son of Indonesia’s current president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and now has over 26 branches all over the country.

When asked why he decided to go into the restaurant business, Gibran candidly said, “I just want to make Instagrammable food.” 

With over 78,200 followers on Instagram, Markobar has become famous among an entirely new audience – millennials and young people, for whom taking photos of their food for Instagram is as much part of the experience as eating it. 

Currently, Markobar’s favorite pancake is the eight- and 16-flavor martabak, in the shape of a pizza and topped with a variety of sweet toppings like red velvet and Oreos. 

“[Markobar] is an excellent example of the sheer potential of a one-dish entrepreneur!” Makansutra founder K.F. Seetoh said.


What is Mod Sin or modern Singaporean cuisine? It’s the specialization of Chef Shen Tan, who left Forbes Magazine in 2008 to become a hawker at the Maxwell Food Center. 

She gave the traditional Malay-Singaporean dish of nasi lemak a makeover, returning to old school ways, but with updated elements such as steaming the rice for four hours with aromatics. 

Another one of her unique interpretations involves a traditional Singaporean dish made using French techniques: hand-made tagliatelle with five-spice pork confit. 

Tan eventually expanded her operations to put up a brick and mortar restaurant called Wok & Barrel, where she continues to delight with her Mod Sin innovations like Nasi Lemak Sushi, Ba Zhang Pie and Dark Chocolate Gula Melaka Caramel Tart. 

She seeks to make street food relevant, to re-imagine it in order to make it appealing to millennials.