It’s hard to know what to do in the Philippines—but not when you’re Erwan Heussaff, who hails from Manila. A millennial version of Anthony Bourdain, Heussaff seamlessly blends culture, food and travel in his popular travel and food shows.
“I travel to search for discomfort, to be put in situations that don’t make sense, to push my mind to think beyond my daily routine, to learn and become a better version of myself,” Heussaff says. He appears to have the same sense of effusive discovery that the late Bourdain had, exploring the world with a mix of educational and entertaining charm, backed by lavish cinematography.
After going to school in Paris and later working in hospitality in China and Greece, Heussaff found himself based in chilly Siberia. He’s now back home in the much warmer climate of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines and home to Conrad Manila.
“I’m in love with my country,” says Heussaff, who is Filipino and French. “I just feel like the Philippines has so much potential, and I would love to help it, in my own way, reach greater heights.”
He’s become one of the region’s biggest ambassadors through his popular YouTube channel, which boasts nearly 1.5 million subscribers. His social posts promote everything from various types of street food to the beauty of the largest contiguous coral reef in the Philippines.
With more than 7,600 islands, the country has a lot of coastline that has yet to be explored. Heussaff’s wanderlust has taken him to surf and free dive off the islands of Eastern Samar. He’s even hiked Mount Hamiguitan, home to the largest pygmy forest in the world, which you can watch him delve into on YouTube.
But Heussaff’s adventures are not limited to the wilderness. He also focuses on how people eat, and he helps them understand their cuisine’s origins.
He recommends trying Manila’s street fare, which is the best way to savor the local flavor.
What to Eat in the Philippines
“Street food in the Philippines is quite particular because you can’t find a lot of information about it online,” Heussaff says.
And when it involves pig ears and chicken feet, it can be intimidating. The key is to ask locals for their favorite stands or pop-up restaurants, he says, or, like Bourdain, follow the exotic recommendations in his food and travel videos.
Street food is a common subject for Heussaff. He recommends making sure to try it in places where there are a lot of other locals eating it.
“That should put your mind at ease when it comes to questions of hygiene,” he says. “Don’t forget that we all have different tolerances, and the last thing you want is an upset stomach to ruin your vacation. So just be mindful of where you are and the ingredients you are eating. The fresher the better.”
Heussaff’s mission to spotlight all things culinary began with his blog “The Fat Kid Inside,” which chronicled his weight-loss journey through exercise and clean eating habits.
Since then, the food-blogger-turned-restaurateur has gained a faithful fan following. He managed three restaurant and cocktail bar concepts around Manila, with menus incorporating flavors and dishes he collected while traveling throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
In “Origins,” produced for the Tastemade Network, Heussaff explores some of the lesser known islands in the Philippines, meeting its indigenous people and getting a rare glimpse into their unique and cultural traditions. He’s also hosted “Food Fix” on local lifestyle TV channel TLC.
“For me, it all comes down to discipline, really wanting to reach certain goals and having a no BS attitude in sticking with it; keeping excuses at bay and just putting in 100% effort into following a certain lifestyle,” he says of his approach to his healthier lifestyle.
That mentality proved inspiring: Heussaff realized he’d found a way to connect with people in an entirely new way.
Although his popularity originally grew out of talking about food, he also challenged himself with opening restaurants serving dishes he’d discovered while traveling.
He opened his first cocktail bar, Niner Ichi Nana, at 22, and over the past seven years, ambitiously launched seven other restaurants in Manila, including soup bar Sabao, Southeast Asian eatery Pink Panda, bakery Hatch 22 and gastro pub Hungry Hound.
What’s Next for Erwan Heussaff
He’s since parted ways with most of those businesses and focused on growing The Fat Kid Inside into a multimedia brand, with plans to produce shows for broadcast TV and a feature-length documentary.
“We’re happy where we are now,” he says, “and we are just trying to become better in how we shoot things and put stories together.”
Of course, developing new shows for television and documentaries will require more travel. He’s especially keen on exploring more of South America and Central America, especially Colombia and Peru.
Heussaff also recommends a jaunt to Japan. He says, “I think, if it’s your first time in Asia, things like the amount of people, the traffic, the food and the local culture can be overwhelming at times. I always just tell people to come with an open mind and just experience all of it.””
“Travel has taught me that I know nothing about the world,” he says, insisting that the one experience everyone should have at least once in their life is visiting “a city where no one speaks your language.” It makes you “feel small, humble, inconsequential and more connected with the world we live in.
“I travel to be real, to go back to what it means to be human,” Heussaff adds. “To be so completely immersed that you lose track of time and sense of place, to munch on life one morsel at a time.”
Now that’s a trip worth taking.