Chasing A Plate: The Kiwi Couple Roadtesting The World's Most Exotic Local Dishes

By Sarah Downs
Thomas and Sheena Southam of YouTube channel Chasing a Plate. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

They've slurped blood-eel noodles in Taiwan, braved Mexico's cow-head tacos, and tracked down Japan's ugliest dish. As for the bull penis in Malaysia? Apparently a little on the chewy side.

Thomas and Sheena Southam have been travelling the world together without a homebase for two years now and make a living out of their YouTube channel Chasing a Plate.

The couple, who are originally from Auckland, have ditched the tourist trail to find the best local street food, and they aren’t afraid to try anything. “It’s those tiny streetside stalls doing only one dish and doing it well,” explains Sheena. “It’s not about finding the most impressive or Instagrammed food. It just has to taste bloody good.”

Their adventures, captured on video and shared to more than 65,000 followers, go right into the heart of each bustling destination and plenty of cultural intel along the way. India, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and more; the destinations appear as intriguing and delicious as the next. Even all that offal doesn’t look half bad. “It’s about embracing what the locals eat and not shying away because it might be different to what’s back at home,” says Thomas.

Sheena says eating locally is one of the best ways to get to know a new culture. “We may not be able to speak the language but if you can smile and laugh over something that tastes really good it can lead to much more.”

The full-time gig began as a food blog following a move from Auckland to Melbourne seven years ago. It was a way to explore the city and meet new people.

Sheena was working as a lawyer at the time, Thomas at an organic food store, and at the end of 2016 they decided to pool their savings, pack up and follow their dream.

From left: Malaysian fried noodles; roadside chargrilled meat. Photos / Supplied
From left: Malaysian fried noodles; roadside chargrilled meat. Photos / Supplied

The blog quickly became a YouTube channel to bring the content to life and finance their travels through advertising. And now they are also contributors to the New Zealand Herald's new Monday magazine, BeWell. Although it was a slow start at first (the first video was "horrendous", admits Thomas, and viewed only by family members) the channel soon exploded from 1000 to 60,000 subscribers in one year.

“We get so excited sharing these places with our followers. It’s like showing your friends. They leave comments about their own incredible travels and it makes us so happy someone’s gotten out there and eaten locally,” says Sheena. “I hate to think that people are eating badly when on holiday. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

From left: Tempura eel dog in Tokyo; Malaysian nasi kandar. Photos / Supplied
From left: Tempura eel dog in Tokyo; Malaysian nasi kandar. Photos / Supplied

The hidden discoveries of local spots often with no name, opening hours, or English spoken don’t happen by luck. Sheena spends hours talking to locals, channel subscribers and scouring online forums and blogs. It’s Thomas’ job to film, edit and upload all the content. He’s a slave to the Wi-Fi. “I email the Airbnb before we book to do a speed test. Without it we’re in big trouble.”

The on-the-trot couple returned to Auckland for the first time in seven years over the summer and have been taking stock of their whirlwind run. The self-sustained venture is still a “passionate struggle,” says Thomas, but they’re excited about what the future holds. “We want to use our channel to do other things like a book or being able to travel with people. One million subscribers is the first goal.”

The next big trip will add to the 40 countries already visited together and Sheena says they are still narrowing down the possibilities. “Maybe more of Japan, Korea, or Istanbul we just fell in love with the city last time we were there. We’re also desperate to get back to Mexico and India . . . there’s just so much more to see and eat.”

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