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Ho Chi Minh City |  linh@hidden-saigon.com  |  Tel. +84 (0)908 477 079

© 2018 by Hidden Saigon

PEOPLE & PLACES

We are all storytellers weaving our personal stories into the fabric of this city. In our “People and Places” section of the tours we will hear the stories of those everyday people who are living, working and creating in contemporary Saigon. We will meet them in their homes, shops, workplaces and learn about their lives, their inspirations, their struggles and their successes. 

From locals to expats to Viet Kieus (overseas Vietnamese). From street vendors to café owners to modern restaurateurs. From comfort food to fine dining. From homemakers to startup entrepreneurs. From those who have spent their entire lives in Saigon to those who had left and chose to return. There is a wealth of stories hiding in plain sight in this bustling, metropolitan city just waiting to be discovered.

MRS KHANH

Mrs. Khanh is a stay-at-home mom who has been living in her family’s home in Cholon (China Town) since she was born. As close as one can get to time travel, this immaculately preserved apartment building complex is a throwback to the early 1900s.  With a development boom in full swing in Saigon, here in the heart of Cholon with its herbal medicine stores and antique tea rooms time stands still.
    
Many of the residents here, like Mrs. Khanh herself, are of Chinese descent, which is reflected in decorations and religious symbols that we will encounter during the visit.  Take your time exploring Mrs. Khanh’s home that was originally built by the French and changed very little since.

Saigon Street Stories

Photo by: Jalaikon

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HOANG THI CAFE

Hoang Nam Viet is the owner of Hoang Thi Cafe. The first one was opened after he saw a need to open a space for him and his friends to gather. Viet searches for locations in old buildings and homes and his third café is no different. It is tucked away in an early 20th Century apartment building complex.  

Viet is also an artist and his deep love of 60s and 70s Saigon is seen throughout the cafe, through the vintage furniture pieces, decorative objects and music. A comic book artist turned storyboard artist turned painter, the placed is lined with his and his friend's artwork. 

Saigon Street Stories

 
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CHRISTINE LEK

Christine is a Vietnamese- Singaporean who relocated with her family to Singapore when she was 10 years old. Christine moved to Scotland to attend university, with a masters in International Relations.  From her love of wired jewellery making in her teens and a deep admiration for Gabrielle Chanel after watching a film, she developed a passion for fashion and soon changed the direction of her career.

After completing a Masters in Fashion Marketing and Management in the UK, she started working at the various major fashion retailers, such as H&M, Gap and Harvey Nichols in the UK. In returning to Singapore, she started her own social enterprise helping women with mental health illness through jewellery-making workshops, working with several NGOs and their beneficiaries.  

In 2016, she returned to Saigon to help the family hotel business and started researching and networking in the Vietnamese fashion industry. After a chance meeting with fashion designer Phi Pham of high-end label PHI PHAM, they started to work closely together. In 2018, they launched his first ready to wear line called PHI by PHI PHAM.

Saigon Street Stories

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ALBIN DEFORGES

Albin Deforges comes from food.  He’s been working in the Saigon hospitality industry for over 14 years. He’s been partners in numerous successful spaces such as Quan Ut Ut, Biacraft and Bep Me In.  His family had restaurants in the French Alps and at 14 years old he did an internship there. At 19 he left home and moved to London working front-of-the-house at various establishments including Harrods. Wanting to explore and learn more about the hospitality business, he spent time in New York, St. Martens and northern Montreal. Then opportunity came knocking when he was asked to come to Vietnam to do sales and marketing for the wine retailer and supplier, Warehouse.  After 1 year, Albin went on to hone his skills in operations at Megastar Cinema (now CGV) and in 2010, along with his friend, they opened Ala Mezon, a small neighbourhood bar in the heart of District 1.

 

In 2013 opportunity came around again, this time in the form two food lovers from the US and Australia. They wanted to open an American Southern style BBQ joint and in 2014 the first Quan Ut Ut opened. Since then Albin has had his hand in opening a new space every year including French bistro Cocotte and his newly opened seafood focused Fresh Catch.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

 
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BUN BAR

German Viet Kieu Iny Tran initially came to Saigon over 11 years ago on a whim to explore her roots. She landed a job in graphic design and held numerous jobs in various industries in Saigon. From NGO sectors to website and app development before settling in the food industry.  She spent her free time volulnterring at the social enterprise restaurant Bloom, working at the front of house, back of house, training, design, basically anything they needed help with.

 

At the end of 2015., Iny opened her own restaurant, Royal Saigon Restaurant, in the heart of the backpacker area. It was based on the principles she grew up with; simple, healthy Vietnamese home-style cooking.

 

Wanting to expand her principles of sustainable practices and upcycling, when a space opened up in late 2018 in the up and coming Yersin market area, Iny scooped the space up immediately. Bun Bar’s concept is simple, modern Vietnamese food based around rice and rice noodle bowls – ala poke style. Homemade rice noodle infused with carrots, beetroot and other vegetables helps bring vibrancy and modern flavours to the bowls. Food waste is composted to create rich fertilizer which the restaurant uses for their herb garden.

 

Iny’s goal isn’t to just make this a restaurant. She wants this to become a community space where like minded people can run workshops and events. As she says, “when you come to eat here, it’s like coming to eat with a family.”

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

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THE GIN HOUSE

Turn off the main road and into the alleyways and you’ll enter into a world full of Gin. From award winning labels to bespoke gin brands, this bar holds it all. They create their own in house infused gin and carefully crafted gin cocktails.

 

Owner, Vuu Thanh Tan, is a mixologist who worked his way up through the ranks at various bars throughout the city, including OMG, Racha Room and finally Snuffbox. It was at this speakeasy bar where Tan was finally able to have the freedom to experiment to create new, interesting cocktails. But Tan wanted more, and in 2017, with their love of gin as the inspiration, Tan and his friend opened up The Gin House.

 

Only two years old this Gin House has made its mark in the trendy Saigon cocktail culture. With plans to launch his own gin in the works and another speakeasy bar to launch in a late 2018, there’s no stopping Tan.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

 
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LA VIET COFFEE

Husband and wife team, Nguyen Thi Nhu Ngoc and Tran Nhat Quang are the brains behind specialty coffee brand, La Viet Coffee. With no background in coffee making, the couple wanted a change in their lives and decided to try their hand at coffee production; not with the typical Vietnamese Robusta beans that Vietnamese coffee is known for, but for the lesser known Arabica beans. During their first trade show in Da Lat, vendors, buyers, and customers alike shot down their coffee, saying it was too weak and they didn’t like the flavor of the beans. This isn’t Vietnamese coffee. But the couple knew that their coffee was great and was the new generation of Vietnamese coffee.

 

Fast forward a few years later and La Viet Coffee has come to be one of the leaders in specialty coffee in Vietnam. It was a tough struggle to introduce this lighter tasting bean to the Vietnamese market, but with determination and strategic partnerships with other artisanal Vietnamese food products, La Viet has succeeded. 

 

At their café, they’ve started to create different spins on the coffee drinks, including their bestseller, Margarita Coffee, which takes the flavor of this tropical drink complete with salt rim. La Viet spends hours researching and developing new drinks, pushing the specialty coffee scene forward, all the while respecting and developing the Vietnamese coffee culture. 

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

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PASTEUR STREET

BREWING COMPANY

Pasteur Street Brewing Company was established in 2014 and was one of the first craft brewing companies in Vietnam.  Founders, John Reid and Alex Violette started with a simple concept: combine American craft brewing techniques with fresh, unique Vietnamese ingredients to create amazing craft beer. 

 

The name came from the street name of the first tap room’s location – Pasteur Street. In 2016 they won the Gold Medal in the World Beer Cup for their chocolate beer, Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout. Since then they have opened up 4 more tap rooms, created over 200 distinct beers, and served brews in over 200 outlets throughout Vietnam.

 

PSBC values quality above all else.  They start with roasted malt from Belgium and Germany, add in American, Australian or New Zealand hops to round out the flavour, and lastly, incorporate unique Vietnamese ingredients to finish off these fresh, creative brews. This has made PSBC one of the leading breweries in Vietnam.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

 
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BOSGAURUS

Ca phe sua da has taken the world over by storm and Bosgaurus is looking to change the way we drink it. It was established in 2016 by Nguyen Canh Hung. Hung loves ca phe sua da but found the traditional version too sweet and bitter. He asked himself, can we use 100% Arabica beans to make Arabica sua da using local beans. And the answer is yes.  This specialty coffee shop carries Arabica beans from around the world. Their focus is on elevating the traditional Vietnamese coffee through innovation, modern technology and top quality baristas.

 

When you enter Bosgarus you immediately notice the difference from other coffee shops. The open floor plan with the walkway behind the coffee bar allows the customers to observe the baristas at work and encourages the baristas to connect and interact with the audience. As Arabica beans is still a relatively new product in Vietnam, this open concept is vital, as it allows the baristas to introduce customers about their products easily.

 

This strong emphasis on barista interaction and training has paid off. Bosgaurus Coffee has taken 3 National Barista Champion titles since 2016. Manager and trainer, Tran Que Han is a 2-time Vietnam National Barista Champion (national round) and qualified for the World Barista Championship (international round).  In 2019 she retired from competition, opting to concentrates on training the next generation of baristas instead.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

Will you be able to differentiate beef o

NOIR: DINING IN THE DARK & BLANC

 

Social enterprise, Noir. Dining in the Dark was established by Hanoian Tu Vu and Dutchman Germ Doornbos in October 2014. With a nationwide unemployment rate of 94% for the blind and visually impaired community in Vietnam, their aim was to provide a sustainable way to help support the Vietnamese visually impaired with employment opportunities besides the standard masseuse work.

 

They took inspiration from the highly successful worldwide format of “Dining in the Dark” and decided to implement it in Vietnam.  It’s a sensory journey into a different world to savour the exquisite tastes and texture completely in darkness. They work closely with the Ho Chi Minh City Blind Association, Nhat Hong Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired and Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for Blind Children for consultation and recruitment and the staff go through an intensive training process in hospitality as well as life skills.

 

When guests first arrive at the restaurant, they are blindfolded and play a game that helps them to have a sense of what it’s like to be visually impaired. This is the first step in the guests’ introduction on what’s to come. Guests are then led into a pitch-black room for a culinary journey where their senses are challenged. You thought you knew what tuna tastes like? You thought you knew what carrots taste like? Even the top chefs travelling through get it wrong!

 

After the huge success of Noir: Dining in the Dark, Tu and Germ decided to open Blanc in July 2017, another restaurant situated in the beautiful vintage building complex next to Noir. This time their focus was on the hearing impaired community. Sitting in brightly lit rooms, guests are shown basic sign language and with the help of a reference book, they are asked to sign their order and communicate with their server in sign language.

 

Tu and Germ aren’t done yet. With Noir. and Blanc. in Saigon running strong, they wanted to provide other options besides hospitality. So what’s next for the couple?  Là Hoa . Flowers Speak is a flower shop, employing deaf and hearing impaired where patrons can ask for a personalised greeting card message in sign language which can be scanned by QR code.

 

Furthermore, a spa and blind massage will be opened later this year, where touch, smell and sound combine in a sensory massage experience provided by blind and visually impaired therapists.

 

Tu and Germ have not only provided opportunities for people to make a career but also to provide the support and space for them to have confidence in themselves and their capabilities.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour

 
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TÊ TÊ BREWING

Tê Tê Brewing came to form out of the unusual. Ruben Martinez, Tobias Briffa and Michael Rowland met while working in marketing agencies in SF and Saigon and soon branched with their own agency called AstroPig. After a few years of creating client content, Ruben was ready to call it quits. He missed the creative side of the creative industry and so the guys decided to make their own project. What product can we create, design and market on our own terms. Luck should have it that Ruben’s brother who was currently working as a biochemist at a perfumery decided to move back to Spain to study craft beer making with the intention to move to the UK afterwards. Ruben convinced his brother to ditch his UK plans and move back to Saigon and make their own craft beer in Saigon.

When Tê Tê entered the craft beer scene in 2015, their unique bottles and lighter tasting beer set them apart from the crowd.  When asked why they created this lighter ale as opposed the IPAs that were the rage of the Vietnam Craft beer scene at the time, Ruben notes it comes down to Tobias, his and his brother, Luis’s (brew master)’s Maltese and Spanish background. The "clara" (lager combined with sparkling lemonade) is a national drink and cold, light beers is what they were used to drinking. With the Spanish summer climate similar to Vietnam’s weather, combined with the fact that Vietnamese people were lager drinkers, the move to make a lighter, refreshing beer just made sense. That decision proved fruitful as Tê Tê White Ale started to take off.

With Tê Tê being sold in hotspot bars such as Broma, word started to get around and soon enough you could find Tê Tê throughout the city. A couple of years later they added Electric IPA and Mellow Red. Even though these were IPAs and heavier beers, the concept was the same, make it refreshing and easy to drink.

In late 2019, they opened their first tap house Da Kao ward, District 1. They wanted something central but to also have the feel of a neighbourhood bar. They brought in their Spanish roots again, offering tapas and cana size glasses of beer. With this new tap house, Tê Tê Brewing has marked itself as a major player in the Vietnamese craft beer scene.

Saigon Street Stories, Modern Saigon Food Scene Tour