Born and raised in the state of Sarawak in Malaysia, Lynn Wong is the owner/operator of The Hungry Monkey food truck. Lynn’s deep Malaysian roots are at the core of her food, but having lived in New Zealand for over 30 years, The Hungry Monkey offers authentic Malaysian food with a modern twist.
After finishing university in the 80s, Lynn migrated to New Zealand and found a job as a teacher. Though working various teaching roles over the years, with the greatest impression from her time at Newlands College’s special needs and deaf unit, Lynn’s passion has always been cooking and baking.
Like many peers with small food businesses, Lynn never had any formal chef training.
“I just started off with decades of experience in the home kitchen and an eagerness to share some of the joy of good food with the world.”
Worried about time commitments, and the energy and money needed to start a business, it wasn’t until 2015 that Lynn took the leap and started her food trailer business. The food truck scene in Wellington was in its infancy at the time. Most existing food truck businesses sold similar fried or highly processed items. Seeing a gap in the market, Lynn took the opportunity to turn her hobby into a full-time job, purchasing a second hand food trailer.
The business started as a family affair. Lynn’s husband, an accountant, did the groundwork to set up the finance and business side of things. Her daughter has experience as general manager at several top-tier Wellington restaurants, helping Lynn learn the rules of a tight ship in hospitality, and her son developed the iconic monkey logo and purple truck design.
Building the business’ reputation, gaining loyal customers and testing out different menus meant a slow-going first few years, but eventually The Hungry Monkey was blessed with enough success to upgrade from the original food trailer to their own food truck.
Food is a central part of Malaysian culture and Lynn grew up surrounded by immense variety.
“I think what a lot of people do not realise about Malaysia is that it’s not just one culture. Malaysian food brings together inspirations from India, China, South-East Asia, the Middle East, the Western world and of course elements that are entirely unique to Malaysia.”
Many iconic Malaysian dishes have become well-known in New Zealand - char kuey teow, roti canai, laksa, char mee and rendang - and Lynn weaves the cultures together with her food.
At The Hungry Monkey, Lynn creates Bao Burgers, using a Malaysian dough recipe shaped to be more Western-burger in form instead of a traditional bun. Where Chinese/Malaysian bao buns are filled with barbeque pork (char siu), Lynn uses roasted pork belly - something she learned to love from Kiwi cuisine.
“I know that bao burgers have taken off in popularity recently, but I would like to think that I was one of the pioneers experimenting with the dish in 2014!”
Everything on Lynn’s Hungry Monkey menu is hand-crafted and she makes an effort to include vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
“I do not buy frozen bao burger buns, pre-marinated tofu, out-of-the-box processed food or anything like that. I wanted it all to be prepared with love and gratitude, and from the feedback we get from customers, we are happy that it shows!”
Lynn has parked The Hungry Monkey food truck in many different spots around Wellington, but has settled on parking up regularly at Taranaki Street Wharf and almost every week at Harbourside Market.
“As you can imagine, lots of food trucks want a spot at the Harbourside Market so it took quite a long time to get a place, but we feel right at home there now!”
The food truck also attends events big and small, catering for customers at Wellington staples like Cuba Dupa, Homegrown, Martinborough Fairs and Beer at the basin, as well as countless weddings, birthdays and office parties.
Though the venture from a job with steady income to one that might not succeed in an extremely competitive industry was not easy, Lynn has something different to other food trucks. In 2018, The Hungry Monkey was voted second-best food truck in the Wellington region. In November 2021, Lynn had the privilege of serving her food to Her Excellency the Governor General of New Zealand at Government House. What brings the most pride though, is “the big smiles of customers”.
“The visible excitement that some customers have when they recognize the truck, and the positive messages that people send us on social media after they’ve tried our food - I am so proud of how my little truck has gone from a family kitchen to making some waves in the Wellington food scene.”
Lynn’s goal for the future is to get back up and exceed the level of success she found before the Covid-19 pandemic put a pause on the hospitality industry.
“With our country opening up to tourism in August 2022, [I hope to] continue to provide the Wellington public with the most authentic Malaysian street food with a modern twist!”