You might recognize Thuyen Vo from The Best Ever Food Review Show’s ‘$6 Goat VS $350 Goat!!’ and ‘Three RARE Vietnamese Crabs!!!’ That’s because Thuyen Vo is Sonny Side’s regular co-host. Beyond the sensational titles, the show skillfully balances information with provocation for its millions of subscribers. And Thuyen Vo helps to inject some local foodie smarts.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
“But, I’m not even sure I am a food blogger,” Thuyen Vo frowns. She has been connected to the F&B industry for a long time though, partly through launching the app Red Book. “Oh, and I loveeee food,” she laughs.
“Then one day I got asked to be on YouTube and ‘eat some food and share what I think about it.’” After the shoot “with six or seven other people” the Best Ever Food Review Show asked her to return, only as co-host this time. “And I got hooked and kept doing it,” she explains.
If she has any advice, she says that: “The love of food comes first. Then, I guess you just have to dive in and go for it. You get better with time. I think you also have to come across as natural on camera, be truthful about the experience, and be consistent. OK, I’m still working on that last one…”
Things haven’t always gone well. “I got poisoned after having fugu, spiders, and different bugs all on the same day!” she remembers. “Apart from common food poisoning symptoms, I kept seeing wavy circles every time I closed my eyes. And that lasted for a week.”
Thankfully, Sonny Side has been on-hand to offer some sage-like input gleaned from building a YouTube channel that he first started posting to in 2015, and the seven years until now spent battling burnout while amassing almost ten million subscribers. “He’s always reminding me to be myself, and not to let things get in or go to your head. And on low-energy days, he tells me to watch a video where I think I did well and use it to pump myself up.”
After Red Book, Thuyen Vo worked on several other projects “which mostly failed to launch,” she laughs. And right now, when she’s not shooting the Best Ever Food Review Show, she’ll be running her English center, Easy English Vietnam, or featuring on other shows like VTV3’s ‘Whose Chance.’ “You appear in front of six CEOs and you have to convince them to hire you,” she adds, “and I was fortunate to achieve the ‘all kill’ accolade by convincing them all to hire me!”
With such an eclectic series of on-screen appearances and the passion of a genuine foodie, we asked Thuyen Vo for her guide to Saigon.
Can you describe Saigon in one sentence?
A dynamic, active melting pot!
What’s the best way to discover Saigon?
I suggest focusing on one district per day. District 1 is a must. It has all the historical sights, like the Independence Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, the City Hall, and even Japan Town. Don’t miss District 5 too. It’s Saigon’s China Town. There’s so much history there, and some amazing family food restaurants. Then there’s District 3 with its streets and alleys. There, you can see how Vietnamese really live their day-to-day lives.
And can you give us a one-day itinerary to discover the best Saigon has to offer?
First a disclaimer: this itinerary is not for morning people! With that in mind, I recommend starting off with brunch. My go-tos are Au Parc and Propaganda. Take a seat outside. Enjoy the views of the park and the Independence Palace, and people passing by. Then, afterwards take a little tour of District 1.
In the afternoon, go for a coffee in a local coffee shop. Cheo Leo has been around since 1938! And they still make their coffee the old way. The afternoon in Saigon is also a good time for snacking. Try some gỏi khô bò, a papaya salad you can get at Le Van Tam Park. It’s a place that’s been popular since 1980!
By the evening you should be ready to eat again! You can try dining in one of the floating restaurants on the river. Or go for Vietnamese BBQ and dine like a local. Then head up to a rooftop bar for drinks. Cafe des Stagiaires is casual and fun.
Where’s the best coffee in Saigon?
This is going to disappoint coffee lovers, but I can’t handle caffeine. So, I prefer coffee shops with an atmosphere. I like Cú Trên Cây. It’s actually a plant business with a coffee shop inside. You will be surrounded by plants and they also have a resident cat there! Bosgaurus Coffee Roasters in the Saigon Pearl’s villa area is also one of my favorites.
Where should we go for a date in Saigon?
The Deck in District 2 is classic, for dinner by the river. Or there’s Kitchen By The River at Mia Saigon not far away. I like sitting outdoors. But I always remember to bring mosquito repellent with me.
Tinto with its Nikkei cuisine is another good option. Remember to book the table at the open window that looks out onto the street. Lubu is good too. Actually, that reminds me. On one date, we had a twenty-course meal which caused me to almost fall asleep. I don’t recommend doing that.
Where should we go to get the best cocktails in Saigon?
That’s another thing. I don’t drink, either! I might be reaching the age when I’ll need a real drink very soon! I do like the Ministry Of Men in Sofitel Plaza. I had some great mocktails there. And the place is private and nice.
Where should we go clothes shopping?
Vo Van Tan Street in D3! And also the old apartment buildings at 14 Ton That Dam and 26 Ly Tu Trong in Saigon’s District 1. Small fashion businesses choose these locations because of cheaper rent, while having a central location. I love to support local businesses like that.
Do you have any recommendations for vegetarian food in Saigon?
L’Herbanyste! I’ve been in love with this place for a long time. It’s a villa with a pool surrounded by greenery. It’s the perfect getaway for me on the weekend. I’m not a vegetarian myself, but I have never had a bad experience here. In fact, I know the menu by heart!
What street food has made a huge impression on you? Where should we eat it?
I’m from Quang Ngai, in the center of Vietnam. I moved to Saigon when I was 15 years old, to go to high school. And my classmates introduced me to phá lấu. It’s a kind of offal stew.
I immediately fell in love with the rich coconut milk broth, and the organs! They have just the right texture and zero smell, and the sauce is on point. I used to love the stall in front of Marie Curie High School, but they recently moved to District 11.
If you could name some other traditional Vietnamese must-try dishes for anyone coming to visit this city, what would they be? Do you recommend any special places to try them?
In Saigon, everyone talks about cơm tấm, bánh khọt or bánh mì. But, I’d like to introduce my hometown’s food: Mì Quảng. It’s not the same Mì Quảng that you get in Danang that’s usually made with chicken. In my hometown, it’s usually prepared with just shrimp and pork. And they make it with just enough sauce to pull everything together. It’s definitely not a soupy or broth style dish. You can try it at Mi Quang Trang – Lữ Gia in District 11.
Finally, can you tell us three things that you like most about Saigon?
Number one, the people! I’ve been here for 12 years and the people in Saigon are the most open-minded, kind and selfless people anywhere.
Second, there’s the entrepreneurial startup scene in Saigon. I love to meet the many young, motivated people here. They are all eager to start their own businesses and achieve success. It’s an exciting thing to see.
And finally, food! That’s probably no surprise at this point of the article! You can find literally anything here, from local street food costing less than $1 to fine dining, which obviously costs a lot more! So, most importantly of all, you’ll never go hungry in Saigon…
Photos by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine.