There’s just so many opinions out there. There’s (still) TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook reviews, food groups and Insta-foodies sharing their feelings, endless blogs, even word of mouth testimonials from friends and friends of friends. Who to believe in this food review jungle?
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
SoChaud’s Instagram (@sochaudchannel) is a good place to start. That’s because its author, Chau Dang, has a superhuman energy for seeking out the best spots, or returning to her favourites enjoying them all over again like it’s the first time. It’s tiring just following her feed as the beautiful but diminutive foodie trips from orgiastic dinner to sophisticated cocktail bar to banging club in a single evening…
The most frustrating part is she still looks fresh when you bump into her the next day. Passion is obviously part of the reason. “Food matters,” she reminds us in her typically forthright way. “Of course we need it to survive, but delicious food can turn a bad day into good.” But, her love affair with cuisine goes even deeper than that. “Food is art. Each bite carries with it so much culture, history, creativity, and even love…”
Chau Dang also navigates the thorny issue of giving feedback with aplomb. Sure, we all ask for people’s opinions, but when it’s delivered real (and sometimes as raw as the ceviches that Chau Dang regularly tucks into) it’s not always easy to take. “Look,” she says firmly, “my philosophy is that each restaurant is like a human being. People have bad days; kitchens and services have days that suck too…”
“There is no bad review if it’s shared with good intentions; the desire to help places be better, do better. That’s why I often review places dish by dish, to help followers navigate the best experience that the restaurant can offer. There’s also a huge difference between a constructive review about an unsatisfactory dish or experience and a piece of writing that aims to sabotage a business.”
Nevertheless, she’s mindful of the impact food reviews can have. “It bothers me that a negative review, likely based on one bad experience maybe due to a single bad day in the kitchen or for the service staff, would stay forever and affect businesses in undeserving ways,” she nods.
So how to strike the right balance between honesty and humanity? “Stay constructive and fair. Then it’s a win-win-win – I help my audience navigate the endless dining options out there, I help restaurants themselves, and I sleep at night!” she laughs.
How do you feel about authenticity in food writing in general?
In this day and age, anyone and everyone could be an influencer. But as long as we have an audience, be it one person or a crowd, we have the responsibility to uphold the integrity of information and the honesty of our voices.
Food, however, is very personal. Everyone has their own palate and preference, influenced by their DNA, culinary experiences, and knowledge. It is a tough job writing about food without being subjective, as much as you try to be objective…
You’re from Hanoi but you live in Saigon. How do the food scenes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh differ? And (dare we ask) which do you prefer?
Hanoi does traditional better. You really can’t go wrong hitting up well-known street food addresses in the capital. The culture is a bit more conservative (not in a bad way) and that in turn helps preserve traditional flavours.
Ho Chi Minh City’s food scene is a lot more open-minded, vibrant, diverse, and international. Saigon always comes up with new food creations, be it street-side or upscale. There’s just so much creativity here.
I’ve lived in Ho Chi Minh City for over five years now. I don’t want to betray my home town but I do prefer the food scene in Saigon. I seek new experiences. And Saigon is best for those. A part of me still yearns constantly for the flavours of Hanoi. I’m very open-minded towards innovation but I’m also very conservative when it comes to traditional food…
What’s the most memorable meal in Saigon you’ve ever had? Why?
So far, I’d say the omakase experience by Chef Viet Hong at Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining. He is a huge talent with so much passion. He also plays with flavors incredibly well and has amazing techniques. His creations are highly creative, sophisticated, delicate yet make strong statements…truly unique.
Who are your foodie heroes, locally or internationally?
Easy. My mom!
If you were stranded on a deserted island with one chef who would it be?
I’m still choosing my mom…
Imagine you had your own SoChaud awards. What would have been the best restaurant, bar, and cafe 2019?
For 2019, it’s a tie between The Monkey Gallery Dessert Bar & Dining, Esta Eatery, and Sol Kitchen & Bar for best restaurant. The best bar in my book has to be Drinking & Healing. And I’m not in the position to speak with too much expertise about coffee but I really like The Hummingbird Cafe.
Which is the most exciting new opening right now? And which do you think will be the restaurant of the year in 2020?
We’ve only been half-way through a rocky 2020, so I can’t say for sure. Hypothetically if no new major restaurant opens up in 2020, the restaurant of the year for me would likely be Esta Eatery. It’s the most well-rounded restaurant at the moment. Amazing food with so much creativity, talent, and love; awesome service, and truly a great united team. And the new location they recently moved to in May is very nice as well. Minimal, low-key, with substance…
Where should someone take you for a date? Where should they not take you?
People usually rely on me to pick places! If that’s the case, Tomatito, for their sexy tapas and their classic two-fingers-one-bite salmon, ROS Dining & River Lounge for the quality seafood. Or there’s Kiba Saigon for breezy sharing plates and their sweetly intoxicating home-made vermouth, and The Other Place in the Ton That Dam wet market for a District 1 location that’s completely off the radar.
It would be nice to have a change from having to choose. And it depends on the kind of date and how well we’ve known each other. In general, I love to eat well, dress well, and bonus points if they could impress me somehow…
Which is the best party spot in Saigon right now?
If by party you mean clubbing, I’d say Commas Saigon. It’s the it spot that plays significantly more hip hop than any other nightclub in the city. But you can’t go to Commas without a group of people though. It’s not made for individuals, couples, or small groups, and the bill can be a bit cray.
For a guaranteed good time I’d personally go to Drinking & Healing. I love everything about this place. The ambiance and decor, creative (and sometimes dirty) cocktails, the fact that they almost always play hip hop, and have a super-friendly bartending team. I’ve never, ever left Drinking & Healing in a less than good mood…
Where do you go for a formal business meeting? And how about something casual?
It depends on how formal we’re talking. The Park Hyatt’s Park Lounge for tea, or Square One to eat, is always a safe bet — sophisticated and refined but still welcoming. Towa is another option in the same vein.
You have to choose one street food dish, and one street food spot to eat it at. What is it and where do you eat it?
Damn this is hard. Without any criteria to rely on, I’d choose bánh mì from The Bánh Mì Queen Madame Khanh in Hoi An. Also, beef shank phở (phở lõi) at Phở Huy in Hanoi. I’m really missing those two the most right now among all the street foods I haven’t had for a long time.
What’s the weirdest thing you ever ate and did you finish it all?
If food seems weird to me, I normally wouldn’t eat it. But I did recently have raw beef liver at a Japanese izakaya called Motsunabe in the ‘Japan Town’ on Le Thanh Ton. It was served with sesame oil and salt. It was quite interesting but I didn’t fall in love with it or anything. I had my experience and I’m good to move on…
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure that you never tell anyone you eat?
For me, no pleasure is guilty. If anything pleasures you and makes you happy, it deserves your reciprocation of love and acknowledgment. And I don’t hide my love.
Finally, tell us what’s in your refrigerator at home?
Right now some wine, soju, a lot of fruits, a lot of condiments…
Photos and video by Khooa Nguyen, Tuan Jerry, and Johnny Viet Nguyen.