The Dot’s Lockdown Diaries: Stories From The F&B Industry (And Where To Order Your Next Delivery) - Food & Hotel Vietnam

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The Dot’s Lockdown Diaries: Stories From The F&B Industry (And Where To Order Your Next Delivery)

foodnhotelvietnam - June 14, 2021

Everything was going great. Then all of a sudden we’re back in lockdown a little over a year since the first one. Cue lots of melancholy moments at home watching the rainfall outside the window – rainy season this year seemed perfectly synched with the onset of this wave of COVID.

At least we know the drill. Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask and wash your hands…and, if you’re too lazy to cook, explore the wonderful food delivery options Saigon has to offer.

To honor the restaurants offering delivery through difficult times, and to get some reassurance that we’re not alone in this, we asked a cross-section of Saigon residents in the industry to share their lockdown lifestyles with a focus on food.

Mee Huynh, Best Ever Food Review Show’s Lead Producer

Mee Huynh, Lead Producer of the Best Ever Food Review Show

Mee is the dynamic Lead Producer for the YouTube sensation Best Ever Food Review Show, which she thinks you should subscribe to like the almost 7 million other subscribers…if you haven’t already.

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

I’m trying to maintain two habits this lockdown, starting my day with a healthy meal like a tofu salad and working out an hour a day, three to four times a week. I’m reading too, but as Matt Haig describes it in ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ I read a book “without thinking about finishing it. Just read it. Enjoy every word, sentence, and paragraph. Don’t wish for it to end, or for it to never end.”

The most important thing to reduce stress during lockdown is having a grateful attitude towards everything. This pandemic has given us more time to live slowly, to think carefully, and to self-reflect deeply. And by the way, there are more people (good ones) using dating apps right now. Give them a try! Making new friends is also a great way to reduce stress

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss the least?

What do I miss most? I miss going out, looking cute, getting drunk and joining in endless parties, but above all, I miss seeing Saigon busy, people working and simply enjoying their lives. Saigon is a sleepless city with fast pace and proactive people. I always want to dive into it and die in it. Right now, it’s like a lazy cat during wintertime waiting for summer to come back. It’s still cute anyway, I still love it. 

What new discoveries have you made and how have they improved your lockdown life?

Guys, please work out with the Madfit programs. In just one week, my belly is…holy sh*t. I love it, and you will too. As I’m working for a food show, I’m into food and travel shows on Netflix, most recently the Joanna Lumley series. It’s truly eye-opening. I especially enjoyed the Japan episodes. They’re also helpful for me to think of ideas for when the team takes their next Japan trip. And last but not least, ‘My Octopus Teacher’. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary this year. I cried for an octopus, like WTF! Please watch it, and you’ll understand why.

What has been your favorite lockdown meal?

May I introduce to you CTY Kitchen & Bar? I just had the best sukiyaki don, Japanese beef rice, in my life from there last Friday. They have so many other flavorful dishes that can bring you joy. I order my tofu salads from Lala Land Salad, the food is a 7.5 out of 10, but their service is excellent. The other two would be the greatest roast duck in town, from the Dac Hoa II, and Pizza 4P’s. It’s my, and maybe everyone’s, favorite pizzeria.

Where do you order your beverages from?

I get smoothies from Guanabana, my Salted Caramel Latte from B-side Coffee and Hibiscus Tea from Starbucks. Wait, we can order alcoholic drinks for delivery? I need help here, anyone?

What was the best thing that came out of the last lockdown? What do you hope comes from this one?

A stronger mindset with increased gratitude for everything in life. And what do I hope comes from this one? The same thing…plus belly abs.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

I have so many cool plans to train myself and deliver badass content to our audience. But the first thing I’m going to do once this lockdown ends is drink with my friends at a streetfood place till early morning. Like I said, I’ll love seeing my beautiful Saigon waking up after a long winter sleep. And I want to be one of the first people immersed into those noises of traffic, the cheering sounds and the rattle of late-night food carts on the move.

Curtis Demyon, Renkon’s executive chef

Curtis Demyon, Executive Chef at Renkon Restaurant 

Curtis arrived in Vietnam six months ago, navigating the complicated paperwork and processes to join the Renkon team after a flight to Vietnam with just five people aboard and a two-week quarantine. Since then, he’s been throwing down delectable menus and collabs that mix East and West, with more and more Vietnamese flavor as he gets acclimatized.

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown? 

This is my first lockdown in Vietnam. I’m trying to find some balance by not over-working and allowing myself some time for self-reflection. To help to stay healthy, I just went and bought some weights. I’m going to start a training schedule for myself. Last year in Canada, I would do three workouts each day  – morning gym session (45 minutes), followed by a 30-60km cycle around Vancouver and the suburbs, followed by another short gym session of stretching and light weights (25-30 minutes). Other than that, I usually brainstorm food ideas that I keep in a notebook for later use.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

I miss my team and cooking for guests. The interaction I get with people who visit our restaurant is very insightful. It especially helps me learn a lot about food culture here.  Being here for only a short time, I also want to physically explore as much as possible…but that’s on hold for now.

How do you order food during lockdown? What has been your favorite meal so far?

Now I actually have time to cook for myself. I took the pasta machine home from work the other day and made smoked salmon and mushroom pappardelle. This is my happy place, so I have been cooking at home every day. I see lots of amazing menus popping up from places offering delivery, but I have just been keeping busy cooking my own food.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

I think everyone will say they’d like to take a vacation somewhere cool, but the reality is back to work. I’m focused on making new, fun food that everyone can come and experience.

Food marketer, writer and speaker, Jovel Chan

Jovel Eugenia Chan, Food Marketer, Writer & Speaker

Jovel, from “sunny Singapore”, has positively impacted Saigon’s food scene in the one year since she arrived with timely, supportive content about the industry, especially through difficult times like this lockdown which you should check out at www.jovelchan.com. She originally planned to open a fitness centre here, but the fluctuating fortunes of small businesses meant she has focused on creating more content (our gain).

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

I try to walk every morning for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. I’ll have my AirPods plugged in. And I’ll be listening to a Mindfulness in Minutes podcast. That podcast has really helped me to keep grounded during this time. Around three times a week, I also combine my walks with visits to the local market to pick up some vegetables and fruits since I tend to cook a lot during lockdowns. By the nature of my job, I am exposed to and am very interested in the growing plant-based meat category in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Through cooking, I’ve had a lot more opportunities to discover and experiment with plant-based meats from Beyond Meat, Heura Foods and even Omnipork (all distributed by GoodFood Vietnam).  There are a couple of local ones such as Is It Meat? that I haven’t had the opportunity to check out, but I’m looking forward to trying them out during this lockdown.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

I don’t miss the pollution and the potential for motorbike accidents! But I do miss eating out, the opportunities to travel and meet new friends…and working out in the gym.

How do you order food during lockdown and what’s been your favorite lockdown meal?

I order food directly from restaurants. My favourite lockdown meal has to be Anan Saigon’s truffle pho. Other than that, I learnt how to make vegan bibimbap, so that’s kind of been my go-to and possibly my most favorite lockdown meal of all.

I’ve also enjoyed Cevapi and Ajvar sauces from Chevap Saigon, smoked salmon spring rolls and Australian beef ragu with homemade pappardelle from Urban Fresh, and palak paneer and garlic naan from Benaras Indian Restaurant.

How about drinks?

I get my smoothies from Bloomchew, my kombucha from Chill Kombucha, and my red wine from Rubyred Italian Wine Store.

What was the best thing that came out of the last lockdown? And what do you hope comes from this one?

When this lockdown was announced, I created a food delivery and alcohol delivery guide featuring restaurants in Saigon which was shared by more than 30 restaurants, brands, and founders. Plus people like Chef Peter Cuong Franklin from Anan Saigon, Jay Moir from Summer Experiment, Uyen Dang from Bubu Food Show, as well as Winking Seal Brewing and L’Usine. For me, this organic sharing symbolised a sense of unity within the industry. I really felt that people want to take care of each other so as many restaurants could emerge from this pandemic together as possible.

Another thing that happened within the F&B industry was initiatives by tech players like POS system providers, loyalty apps and even B2B apps. I felt they not only extended help to their merchants through offers and deals on their pages, but they also added new features and functions to support them. A couple of F&B tech companies even reached out to ask for advice on how to support their merchants. That was something good. I hope this continues post lockdown.

Another thing that I hope happens after this lockdown is for restaurants to recognize the need to digitize and that delivery is not temporary, it is a rising trend in an increasingly fast-paced and growing economy.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

I’ll take either a trip to Ha Long Bay…or return to Singapore to get vaccinated!

Scott Bahng from Lacàph

Scott Sehoon Bahng, Lacàph Product & Service Director 

Lacàph make “coffees for the curious”. And Scott handles production, from finding the right green beans, to roasting and tasting them for quality control. He also works with the Lacàph team to deepen their understanding of coffee and the company’s products as well as organizing events where they have guests over to their cool Lacàph Space on Nguyen Cong Tru, like their Saturday Sessions.

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

The most obvious is I wear a mask constantly. And I drink a lot of coffee. Everyday, I’ll drink a minimum of three cups. They say drinking coffee lowers the risk of heart disease and strokes. I’ve never had either, so there’s your proof! During lockdown, I’m drinking less alcohol. I try to appreciate precious moments and be more grateful for the things we take for granted. Of course, it’s stressful, but unexpected things happen in life and there are things you can’t control…like COVID. I try to avoid getting frustrated, focus on ‘now’ and the things I can do today. I can still work, I can still order and eat delicious delivery food, I can still chat online with my friends, and I can still study things online, the things I’d postponed doing before. Personally, I think that stress can be positive. It can help you realize your desires and to help you reflect on your current emotional state. Moreover, it sometimes catalyses you to work better and to play harder. So don’t try to reduce stress, live with it instead.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

I miss surfing a lot. I love surfing. Even simply floating in the ocean and looking at the shore when there are no waves is relaxing. It gives me the feeling that I’m a part of nature. And it helps me to view the world with a refreshed perspective. Oh, and I really miss checking out new movies as well. It has been a long time since I watched a new movie at the cinema.

I miss drinking with people the least. I used to drink a lot before…I guess five days a week. Now I drink once or twice a week and I enjoy it more, which is something COVID helped me to realize.

What new discoveries have you made and how have they improved your lockdown life?

Overall, I’d compare lockdown life to yoga. As with life now, with yoga, you learn to breathe, you learn to relax, you find stiff and tight muscles to work on. I don’t actually do yoga any more by the way…

I’ve enjoyed watching the brand stories of companies like Ferrero, Balenciaga and Hyundai on YouTube. I discovered they all have resolute founders who didn’t know how to give up. After watching them, I feel I need to work harder and to enjoy what I’m doing more. But that’s just me — when I encourage other people to do the same, I realize I’m doing what I dreamed of, and maybe they aren’t. I’m meeting coffee farmers, roasting coffee, making coffee, communicating with customers about our brand, and applying their feedback to the next project.

How do you order food during lockdown and what’s been your favorite meal?

I try to order food from my friends’ restaurants and Lacàph’s partners, like Kashew Cheese, Urban Fresh and The Picnic. I think it is a great way to support each other and become one of their customers so that I can give honest feedback to the restaurants as well. So far my favorite was Urban Fresh’s Urban Cheeseburger and Beef Empanada. Kashew Cheese’s Mozza Pesto Sandwich, Saigon Blues’ LA Galbi with Mashed Potato and The Picnic’s Don Katsu have also stood out. Besides that, I don’t really order much. I’d rather cook.

What was the best thing that came out of the last lockdown? What do you hope comes from this one?

The last lockdown prompted me to make three Lacàph coffee blends – Lacàph Espresso Blend, Lacàph Filter Blend and Lacàph Phin Blend. You will see more unique, interesting coffee coming from this lockdown!

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

Enjoy life and enjoy the vibe, and prepare for another lockdown even though I don’t want that to happen!

Lavelle Library’s executive chef, Thao Na

Thao Na, Executive Chef at Lavelle Library 

Thao Na has been in the industry for 11 years, first in France where she worked at the Park Hyatt Paris. She came to our attention here with the brilliant but unassuming French restaurant Atelier des Reves in Saigon’s District 3. Then she joined the chic dining and lifestyle space called Lavelle Library where her Chef’s Table evenings grew a devoted following. Now, she’s over at Lavelle full-time.

What routines do have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

I have been doing more exercises at home. I’m trying to keep a regular routine and that includes riding my bicycle more and planting and cultivating my plants at home.

I’ve been ordering lots of juices from Nectar, Thao Dien, too.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

It’s not a cliché to say I really miss my customers. Just to see them coming and going, and the daily flow and those feelings are things I can’t wait to have back.

I miss friends too. Being able to drop by a street food spot and catch up is something I really can’t wait to do again. There’s the odd thing I don’t miss…traffic jams and pollution.

What new discoveries have you made and how have they improved your lockdown life?

My gardening hobby has really taken off. I have more time to go online and search about how to cultivate plants. It’s really had lots of benefits; it’s healthy, it’s eco-friendly and watching them grow uplifts my mood.

Besides that, I’ve been binge-watching “Top Chef”. It gives me lots of inspiration…and entertainment. I’m sure when lockdown’s over, I’ll return with more passion and creativity than ever.

Can you share three of your other favorite lockdown delivery restaurants? And what do you order there?

I’ve been ordering from Thaifood Love. The chef there is my friend, so I trust them. I usually order “Heo Chiên giòn chấm mắm ruốc” and “Hủ Tiếu bò Thái”. Then there’s Bà Bà – Bún Bò Nam Bộ. The owner is French and their cooking style reminds me of the Bun Bo Xao taste as when I was in France.

But I often order from Lavelle Library. We recently launched the delivery service. I have been eating the orange salad with grapefruit, shrimp and mint, a lot. And I created some interesting bundles that I have if I’m sharing with friends like the Coquelette Bundle, or the Veal Osso Buco bundle.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

I’ll be at Lavelle Library. I’ll invite some friends over and we’ll enjoy the vibe in the garden, the delightful dishes coming out of the kitchen and the feeling of life returning to normal…

Nguyễn Minh Tâm bartender at LABAR and 419 co-founder

Nguyễn Minh Tâm, Bartender at LABAR and co-founder of 419 Izakaya & Mixology

After shaking up chic, Vietnamese-themed cocktails at Nhau Nhau, Tâm joined LABAR, an equally impressive venue with wrap-around bar seating where Tâm and the team get lots of chances to interact with guests and introduce them to cocktail culture. A couple of months ago he co-founded 419 Izakaya & Mixology too, a hidden speakeasy in hip Nguyen Thai Binh Ward that combines Japanese classic dishes with great cocktails and lots of sake.

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

Catching up on household chores, doing exercise, reading travel magazines and watching travel channels on YouTube for some escapism! Right now I’m into Lost LeBlanc and Khoi Lang Thang.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

Without hesitation, I’d say traveling and discovering new restaurants and bars in Vietnam. I love to have new experiences. Before lockdown, I discovered The Chairman Bar in Dalat, Dot Bar in Saigon, and Hiên Charcoal Kitchen in Phú Quốc. And what do I miss the least? Like most people, the traffic.

What new discoveries have you made? How have they improved your lockdown life?

I have to confess getting into TikTok. There’s some entertaining people on that app and I’ve discovered things about crypto-currencies and travel.

How do you order food during lockdown?

I’ll order from Grab or Now, or directly from some of my favourite restaurants and bars like Yugen Bar and Ministry of Men, or I’ll drink our own bottled cocktails from 419, and KinDee – Thai Gastropub for Thai food.

So far I’ve been enjoying street food deliveries from the market near my house – banh mi, bun bo Hue, com tam. Our Japanese lunchbox from 419 Izakaya & Mixology is good too, I have to say. And sometimes I’ll order noodles from Chu Dimsum House. Then there’s the occasional KFC and McDonald’s order…

What was the best thing that came out of the last lockdown? What do you hope comes from this one?

Simple things, taking time to take care of my house and my parents, planning and creating. This time I want to come out of lockdown with lots of new and exciting recipes for LABAR and 419.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

Straight back into Saigon’s nightlife, making drinks for my beloved customers. That’s all.

Cơm Gà Chị Tư and model, Ngọc Anh Thư (photo by Spirit Tuan)

Ngọc Anh Thư, Model and Owner of Cơm Gà Chị Tư

Ngọc Anh Thư is a model and the face of Wink Hotels. You might have noticed her, in the red hat, plastered across the hoarding before Wink Hotel Saigon Centre opened. When she’s not in front of the camera she’s busy building her chicken rice restaurant empire, Cơm Gà Chị Tư, the first of which she opened in Phu Nhuan.

What routines have you adopted to stay healthy and reduce stress during lockdown?

I cycle a lot, usually around 10km on the quiet streets every day. I’m studying cooking too – there’s always things you can improve or learn. My favorite resource is ESheep Kitchen.

What do you miss most about normal life? What do you miss least?

It’s hard not being able to see family and friends. I miss being able to go out and eat with them. On the positive side, the air is clean and there’s very little traffic – which I appreciate when I’m cycling. Saigon feels so quiet and empty right now…

What has been your favorite lockdown meal and how do you order?

I usually order through the Now app. Besides eating (and loving) the chicken rice I serve at Cơm Gà Chị Tư, I’ve been ordering from Chewy Junior, their cheese lover cake and their almond sweetheart cake, and also from Thỏ hạt dẻ. For drinks, I grab something from the convenience store.

What was the best thing that came out of the last lockdown? What do you hope comes from this one?

I really feel separation makes us realize so much. We become so much more aware of our responsibility to ourselves, our families, and our society. There’s really a sense of togetherness even in isolation, with everyone adhering to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines and directives.

What are your immediate plans once this lockdown ends?

I’ll call some friends and we’ll go eat hotpot – probably at Haidilao. I can picture it now, the good atmosphere, the laughter and jokes; just enjoying the moment with loved ones.

Source: The Dot Magazine