• Luke is back on track, literally. (Luke Nguyen's Railway Vietnam )Source: Luke Nguyen's Railway Vietnam
In this 10-part series, Luke visits ten locations from the spectacular coastline of Hoi An to the majestic mountains of Sapa, all by train.
13 Nov 2019 - 6:02 PM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2021 - 2:31 PM

After decades of conflict Vietnam’s railway system was badly damaged and rebuilt post the Vietnam War. The Reunification Express railway line symbolises the coming together of the north and south of the country.

In this 10-part series, Luke visits ten locations from the spectacular coastline of Hoi An to the majestic mountains of Sapa. In his own engaging style, Luke cooks dishes incorporating some rather unusual ingredients to challenge the most adventurous palate.

Stream the series on SBS On Demand here.


Episode 1

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 5 December, 2019 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 8 December, 2019 on SBS Food

In this first episode Luke digs deep to find the ‘old’ markets before they all start disappearing as the Ho Chi Minh landscape in District 1 rapidly develops.

Luke visits District 11 where the people specialise in the local dish mi sui cao (similar to the wonton). He learns from the ‘great aunties’ about their secret recipe styles, after all they've been cooking mi sui cao for many years.

Luke then follows his sweet tooth to Marou in search of great tasting cacao and delves into the history of Vietnamese chocolate.

Finally, at Binh Thanh, Luke goes prawn fishing indoors - a unique experience where you can fish, relax, drink beer and cook.

River prawns cooked in annatto sauce (Tôm càng kho tàu)

Luke catches the river prawns indoors in a giant shed at District 7. A unique experience where you can fish, relax, drink beer and cook all for about $6.

Dumplings (Mi sui cao)

Mi sui cao is very similar to a dumpling or wonton. Luke learns from the Great Aunties about the secret recipe and style techniques.

Beef fondue rice paper rolls

Luke uses fresh ingredients bought from the Old Markets to create a dish that gets everyone involved as each person rolls their own rice paper roll.

Vietnamese 'pizza'

Episode 2

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 5 December, 2019 on SBS (double episode)

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 8 December, 2019 on SBS Food (double episode)

Luke’s next stop is at the popular tourist destination of Dalat, where he starts off in the most authentic fashion at the historic art deco Dalat train station built by the French in the 1930’s.

Later, in Thap Cham, Luke hops onto a scooter and rides around the Central Highlands to visit a father and son team of chefs and experience the unique bamboo fire cooking. Together, they create French-inspired dishes using frogs.

Luke tries his hand at creating banh trang nuong (Vietnamese pizza) alongside a bustling restaurant that has been around for generations.

Lastly, Luke stops off at a restaurant called The Wooden House which has pioneered the farm to table movement in Dalat.

Vietnamese pork meatballs (Bánh mì xíu mại)

Most mornings in Dalat, people eat this beautiful, light, clean dish for breakfast.

Lemongrass-stuffed snails (Ốc nhồi thịt)

A farm to table dish, Luke collects the snails in the rice fields and vegie patches to prepare a dish much-loved by the Dalat people. You can source your snails from a local snail farmer.

Frogs chargrilled in bamboo (Ếch ống tre)

A traditional dish, this bamboo cooking technique was created to preserve the ethnic minority of cooking in Dalat. 


Episode 3

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 12 December, 2019 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 15 December, 2019 on SBS Food

In this episode Luke boards the train at Ga Thap Cham where tonnes of fresh fruit are loaded like a produce market: but he has to be quick as the train waits for no one.

Luke soon finds his way to Nha Trang, known for its diverse sea life and beautiful coastline. It is here he hand-catches his favourite seafood, sea urchin.

Back on land, Luke explores the streets and discovers the smell of the potent tropical fruit called durian. He also tries the local dish 'banh can’ which is prepared on tiny burners on the side of the road.

Heading back towards the water Luke visits Luong Son fish market where he nervously awaits approval of his chargrilled calamari dish from the local workers.

Finally, Luke visits a barramundi farm where they also harvest sea grapes which inspires his last dish.

Seared barramundi with winged beans, pomelo and sea grapes

For this dish Luke visited a barramundi farm where the fish are fed soy meal making it sustainable.

Egg noodles with sea urchin butter

One of Luke's favourite dishes! He adores the sea urchin, the flavour is buttery and creamy in texture and sweet to taste.

Chargrilled calamari and pickled vegetable salad

While the local ladies at the Luong Son fish market try Luke's calamari dish, he awaits nervously for their reaction (as they're all fantastic cooks) but they're delighted with the dish.

Luke he visits a family who have been making chilli sauce for five generations.

Episode 4

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 19 December, 2019 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 22 December, 2019 on SBS Food

Luke’s next stop is Hoi An taking the train from Danang on a ten-hour journey in one of the train's sleeper carriages. While en-route Luke cooks wok-tossed beef in the train’s kitchen carriage – a difficult feat.

First up in Hoi An he visits a family who have been making chilli sauce for five generations. He watches closely as each chilli is handpicked and sorted.

Next stop onto the iconic tourist attraction the Japanese covered bridge’ built in 1719 where Luke prepares the dish chicken rice with the help of keen locals. He then visits Tho Village and meets fourth generation blacksmith Mr Thi who creates knives from old bomb shells dropped during the Vietnam War.

The end of Luke’s time in Hoi An coincides with his mother in law’s birthday so he cooks her favourite noodle dish, cao lau, unique to the area.

Wok-tossed beef with edible flowers

The beautiful edible flowers in this dish are the specialty of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Vietnamese chicken rice (Com ga)

In almost every corner of Hoi An you can see vendors selling chicken rice. The most common style of chicken rice is torn with your fingers, as Luke does with his dish.


Cau lao noodles

Cau lao noodles are unique and special to Hoi An and are heavily influenced by the Japanese who came to the city trading the noodle in the 1700's. It looks like an udon noodle, but is very chewy. 

Episode 5

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 26 December, 2019 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 29 December, 2019 on SBS Food

Luke approaches the halfway mark of his trip and arrives at Da Nang, a growing and bustling city located on the coast, west of the Hàn River.

First up he visits the spectacular dragon bridge, then heads to My Khe beach where he cooks a shrimp dish on the sand with locals looking on.

Moving inland, Luke discovers a community vegetable garden that is nestled alongside the railway line - it’s here he creates an authentic turmeric noodle dish using the local fresh herbs from the veggie garden.

Luke stumbles across a tiny fishing village near the Hàn river where restaurants are dotted along the foreshore. Luke is invited in by one of the owners to cook up a seafood-inspired dish.

Lastly, he visits the fresh produce Cam Le market where he cooks with a husband and wife team who run their own eatery.

Turmeric noodles with braised chicken (Mì quảng)

A dish authentic to Da Nang, the noodles are tinted with turmeric and combined with chicken and all the goodness of fresh herbs.

Mantis shrimp with garlic and chilli

Luke cooks up freshly caught succulent shrimp, on the beach while locals look on.

Chargrilled pork and betel leaves

Luke cooks with a husband and wife team to help cook their famous dish at the couples' eatery located at the Cam Le Market.

Luke visits Con Hen Village where they specialise in the technique of swirling and de-shelling baby clams.

Episode 6

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 2 January, 2020 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 5 January, 2020 on SBS Food

In this episode Luke visits Hue; famous for its royal heritage, ancient imperial architecture and rich royal cuisine that inspires him.

Luke visits Con Hen village where they specialise in the technique of swirling and de-shelling baby clams, a skill that goes back hundreds of years.

Next morning Luke is up early searching for the best bowl of bun bo Hue, a spicy beef noodle soup, he ends up at the ‘Bun Bo Me Keo’ restaurant where the family who own the restaurant have been making their own local version of this dish for the past 70 years. Next, he tours a family business that produces and sells turmeric vermicelli noodle salad.

Luke then visits his favourite street food stall in Hue to taste the delicious snack banh ep, a savoury pancake made from tapioca starch, pork, egg, and spring onion cooked in a flat press.

Lastly, after Luke’s Japanese bathing experience in a peaceful streamside location, he cooks a healthy steamed snakehead fish dish.

Snakehead fish steamed in ginger

Luke cooks a healthy snakehead fish dish. Substitute with any firm white freshwater fish such as tilapia or perch.

Hue beef noodle soup (Bún bò Huế)

Hue is famous for its spicy beef noodle soup, known to the locals as 'bun bo Hue'. This recipe will make more broth than you need but any excess can be stored for 3 days in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 3 months.

Baby clams with glass noodles

Luke visits Con Hen Village where they specialise in the technique of swirling and de-shelling baby clams, a skill that goes back hundreds of years.

Episode 7

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 9 January, 2020 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 12 January, 2020 on SBS Food

Luke’s next stop is Ninh Binh, the longest leg of his train journey; 12 hours by train from Hue. Ninh Binh is a scenic wonderland with its majestic rolling mountains and intricate waterways and provides inspiration for some rather unique and unusual local recipes.

An early start at the local market Luke meets a rice farmer who also catches and sells tiny rice paddy crabs, she offers to take Luke out on her canoe for a spot of crab hunting.

Next Luke drives to Hoa Binh where he is taken deep into the jungle to search for the local delicacy: red ant eggs. He then creates a unique dish using the ant eggs incorporating lemongrass and betel leaf.

There is a whole street in Ninh Binh dedicated to selling goat meat and Luke finishes his time in this spectacular small city by cooking a delicious goat curry.

Vietnamese goat curry

The aromatic, homemade paste beautifully flavours the goat meat which is preferred for its tenderness.

Chilli salted rice paddy crab with lemongrass

The tiny rice paddy crabs that are used in this dish can be found near the rice paddy fields and waterways surrounding Ninh Binh. This is a great dish to snack on with a cold beer. 

Ant eggs with fresh betel leaves

Red ant eggs are a rare delicacy found deep in the Vietnamese jungle, served in bitter betel leaves. 

Chilli salted rice paddy crab with lemongrass

Episode 8

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 16 January, 2020 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 19 January, 2020 on SBS Food

In this episode Luke visits Hai Phong a major industrial city and the second largest in the northern part of Vietnam.

Hai Phong is renowned for its famous fresh seafood and the banh da noodle. The banh da noodle is very unique and special, red in colour with a chewy texture, locals make this noodle at the back of their homes.

Next stop for Luke is to visit a master baker who he watches make mini baguettes. Luke then delivers the warm bread sticks to a café where they add their famous homemade pâté. The baguette is filled with the pâté to create the dish banh mi – traditional to Hai Phong.

Luke's last stop in Hai Phong is to find the perfect fried shallots - a condiment he uses extensively in his cooking.

Hai Phong red noodles with steamed crab (Banh da cua tron)

The red noodles made from flour and coloured with a dark caramel made from granulated brown sugar are known as ‘Banh Da’ and are a speciality of Hai Phong. 

Crispy pork and quail egg dumplings (Banh goi)

Luke Nguyen makes an impression on the locals when cooking this street food ‘Banh Goi’ - he’s even offered money from a curious local to try the crispy pork pillow cakes!

Episode 9

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 23 January, 2020 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 26 January, 2020 on SBS Food

Luke’s penultimate stop of his train journey is Hanoi, the second largest city of Vietnam located on the Red River.

There is one dish Luke always has when he visits Hanoi and that’s bun cha - the dish was made famous by two men, Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain who ate it together in Hanoi.

Space in parts of Hanoi are at a premium so Luke cooks a spectacular pho dish literally on the Reunification Express railway tracks.

Next, Luke searches for the famous bun dau mam in Hanoi – this dish has evolved over many years normally renowned as a peasant dish, it now includes ‘rich’ food ingredients such as pork belly as well as the famous crispy fried tofu.

Finally, Luke visits the Hoan Kiem lake - arguably the heart and soul of Hanoi, and it’s at this location Luke creates a delicious dish of magenta sticky rice.

Magenta sticky rice with sweet coconut and mango

The vibrant colour of this sticky rice is the uniqueness of this dish!

Crispy noodle pillows with stir-fried beef

Luke cooks this delicious dish literally on the train tracks! There is little space either side of the tracks as it’s kept clear for the locals to use as pathways.

Bun cha (char-grilled pork with noodles and nuoc cham)

At its heart, bun cha is grilled pork, rice noodles, herbs and fish sauce all in one bowl. What a combination!

Magenta sticky rice

Episode 10

Airs 7:30pm Thursday 30 January, 2020 on SBS

Encore 9:00pm Sunday 2 February, 2020 on SBS Food

Luke travels on the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa high in the hills and meets and learns all about the lifestyles of the ethnic minorities.

Luke visited Sapa high in the hills in northern Vietnam 15 years ago. He’s pleased to find out that not much has changed and visits a little girl he befriended during that time.

She welcomes him into her house and learns how the local dish of dried buffalo is made. He also goes foraging for botanicals with a scientist who is making Vietnam's very first gin. 

Sturgeon with song cai botanicals

Fresh fish grilled over a fire pit gives a beautiful smoky flavour that adds to the spice rub.

Green papaya salad with buffalo jerky

A fresh Vietnamese salad of papaya, herbs and coconut served with a homemade dipping sauce.

Confit salmon with ginger oyster sauce

Double the salmon with this delicate confit topped with salmon roe and a ginger oyster sauce.