Peter Cornish breaks down the hot trend of home kitchen-cooked meals being delivered from stove-top to dinner tables all across Ho Chi Minh City. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Although dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years, the term ‘cottage industry’ became popular around the time of the British Industrial Revolution. Referring to small-scale manufacturing, cottage businesses tended to be based around home-made production, with produce often unique and distinctive in its design.
Definitions of cottage industries vary, but most understand the concept as small-scale production from home, either part time or full time. Cottage industries typically have fewer than 20 employees, often family members, using their own tools and equipment for production.
This type of small-scale home production was traditionally popular in rural areas, where workers lived in cottages, hence the name. People working in agriculture made use of their downtime during winter months to produce and sell home-made goods and supplement their income. It enabled people to turn their hobbies into viable businesses. Items made and sold would typically include handicrafts, fabrics, lace or wooden products and food.
Over time, the term’s use has broadened to include any activity that allows people to work part time from home, or who make products from home and then sell directly to consumers. Technology has played a role in this changing industry, with websites like eBay opening doors for people to trade full-time or part-time from home, on a larger scale, and with comparatively low overheads.
One industry sector that is benefitting from new technologies is production and delivery of food. Websites such as Facebook and Instagram are helping home producers of food products to present a highly professional image, and target a much wider audience. Other producers are skipping the bricks and mortar storefront to bring food directly to the consumer, in what is a growing movement termed ‘ghost restaurants’.
We caught up with Timen Swijtink who, with his partners Sander Smit and Martijn Vermaire from Café-Restaurant, is taking advantage of this business model to launch a new multi-brand food concept, VuiDelivery.vn. “The idea of ghost restaurants is exciting. It works well in most countries, but is particularly interesting for Vietnam.” Timen says.
He goes on to explain that there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it avoids the difficulty of finding a restaurant location which is stable in terms of relationships and contracts with landlords. This can often be a challenge, especially in valuable, high footfall locations. Secondly, compared to other countries in the region, rental prices of good commercial properties can be prohibitive in Saigon, especially in desirable locations.
“The cost of launching a food concept can be relatively high here. Before you go investing heavily in a brand concept, you want to be sure it’s a good market fit. Once it’s been accepted and has a strong customer base, you can set up a brick and mortar outlet if you want. The initial costs are relatively low for setting up a commercial kitchen. If you’re doing it for one brand, why not for multiple?” Timen explains.
The first brands to launch with VuiDelivery.vn include The Breakfast Club, an all-day breakfast delivery including pancakes, waffles and cereals such as muesli and yogurt, and Bao & Burger, East and West comfort food with taco style baos and western burgers.
Soon to follow are Toastie, a simple grilled cheese concept with more adult options like salmon and pesto or brie and apple, and The Beer Fridge, cold beers delivered straight to your door. Future concepts will include Nashville Fried Chicken, an American fried chicken concept where you get to choose the spiciness of the covering on a scale from one to seven.
“We will continue to launch multiple new concepts from our kitchen. If they don’t float, then we will adapt and change. As we are running a small commercial kitchen, and don’t have restaurant premises, we look at this as a cottage industry business model. The downside is that we don’t have street facing representation and the value that adds. But on the flip side, we save money on low overheads and can spend this on more aggressive marketing.” Timen tells me.
Cottage industries and ghost kitchens are a growing trend in Saigon, with people using this business model and a constant stream of new technologies to bring food from all over the world to a wider market. Lucky us.
We wanted to provide a list of a handful of the best maverick food delivery enterprises taking the city by storm. You can thank us later.
GOURMET CUISINE FROM LATIN AMERICA
Owned and run by Fernando Ruizbo, Mr Patacon specialises in home-made Colombian and Latin American cuisine. Despite only being open for a few months, his traditional foods are proving a hit among the expat community, keen for fresh, high quality South American food.
Describing himself not as a chef, but as a cook with passion, Fernando honed his culinary skills under the careful instruction of his mother, aunt and grandmother as he grew up in Colombia. He arrived in Saigon last year to help his sister and was soon asked by South American friends to cook their favourite dishes for parties and events.
To produce the quality of food his clients expect, Fernando uses only the highest quality, fresh ingredients, and places particular importance on kitchen hygiene. As well as traditional dishes like empanadas, patacon and pollo a la cazadora, he also produces manjar de leche, a delicious, sweet, sticky spread made from slowly boiling sweetened milk. Traditionally eaten with local bread, it’s popular with adults and kids!
One of his specialities is ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup using the guasca leaf, imported directly from Colombia, and known for its headache-soothing qualities. Used traditionally as a cure for hangovers, Fernando sells the soup frozen. It’s quickly defrosted as the perfect breakfast for the morning after the night before.
TRADITIONAL ITALIAN CHEESES
We believe when it comes to cheese, it’s hard not to be passionate. Thuy and Andrea, owners of Ottima Cheese, feel the same, which is evident in the cheese they make.
Andrea explains to me that the secret to making excellent cheese is the quality of the milk. Believing that milk transported from Da Lat doesn’t retain its freshness, they source their milk from farmers much closer to Saigon. This way, it can be in their lab by 8AM, ready to have pH and bacteria levels checked, and then straight into production.
Their production process follows the traditions of Italian cheese making, with the added advantage of using modern technology to maintain a consistent product and hygiene standards. First a curd is created, the base of every cheese. Then enzymes and rennet are added and monitored until the curd has matured and is ready to extract, a moment that varies depending on the season.
As well as favourites like mozzarella, bocconcini, ricotta and scamorza, they are the only artisanal producer in Saigon to make burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. Delicious and filling!
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Tel: 090 131 11 71
HOME COOKED HANOI CUISINE
Despite the name, Iris Cafe is delivery-only, home-made cooking, specialising in traditional Vietnamese dishes from Hanoi. Although the owner and cook, Yen Nguyen, had planned to open a cafe, the low-cost, delivery-only model made more sense, especially as she also caters for events and can entertain at home if there is a demand.
“I don’t have to worry about paying additional rent so I don’t get stressed and can put my passion into making food. My customers feel and taste the passion which is part of my success”, Yen tells me. “I’ve seen many people from the north come to Saigon and open a restaurant. They think that it’s the same as cooking for a family and then struggle to pay the bills.”
The dishes she cooks for her local and foreign clients include specialities such as banh cuon, or stuffed pancakes, with a recipe taught to her by her mother. Another favourite is ga chay bo, free-range chicken wrapped in banana leaves and lemongrass fresh from her garden. “I use fresh, high quality ingredients and always go organic when I can. It costs more, but I don’t have high overhead, so I can keep my prices fair.”
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200K minimum order/order in advance
PIZZA AL TAGLIO
It’s hard to beat a pizza. Freshly baked bread smothered in cheese, tomato, topped with whatever ingredients you fancy and pulled piping hot from the oven. But it can be hard to recreate the fresh deliciousness at home.
In comes Gusto Saigon, pizza al taglio, or by the slice, delivered half cooked and frozen direct to your home. Meeting with Gian Stella, owner and cook at Gusto Saigon, we learn that pizza al taglio cooks at a much lower temperature than the traditional Napolitan pizza we are used to when we eat out or order in. This means it can be cooked at home in a normal oven, or even in a frying pan with a lid, in less than five minutes.
With 13 different flavours to choose from, including the traditional Margarita or four cheeses, or a more gourmet Parma ham and artichoke, Gian imports his cheese and tomatoes from Italy and France and sources all his additional toppings locally.
Each slice comes vacuum sealed, and that will keep it fresh for up to two weeks in the fridge, or up to a year in the freezer. Quite a convenient way to enjoy a slice of fresh pizza at home.
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094 678 15 42
HOME PREPARED POLISH MEATS
Although Smoky Piotr, Piotr Sobczyk, has a restaurant in Hoi An, he delivers his home-produced Polish meats, cheeses, and other delicacies to customers in Saigon through his colleague Leszek Mitraszewski. He also has a regular stall at Saigon Outcast events.
Smoky Piotr prepares his meats in the traditional Polish method of preserving over smoking wood chips. The technique he uses has been passed down through generations and combines secret blends of Polish spices, learned from his family.
As well as 6 different types of Polish sausage, including kabanosy and zywiecka, he smokes bacon, ribs, chicken and cheese. Depending on the type of meat being prepared, the smoking process can take up to 74 hours to produce the delicious flavours we love.
Piotr also prepares other traditional Polish dishes, such as globki, bigos and pierogi. A particular speciality he is known for are his ogurki, or mini cucumbers, which he pickles in dill, garlic and a mix of spices.
Where possible, Piotr sources all his ingredients locally and opts for organic when available. He gets his meat from a friend’s farm where he introduced a Polish style of raising animals that produces a unique flavour when smoked.
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Tel: 0166 982 5845
VEGETARIAN FOOD FOR THE HEALTH-CONSCIOUS
Chay was set up by Trang Nguyen as a home delivery meal-plan, producing home-cooked vegetarian and vegan meals delivered daily to their clients. They run from a professional kitchen with professional chefs and offer a ten-meal plan, spread over 5 or 10 days.
As to be expected, their meals are made from organic vegetable, sourced directly from their partner farm in Dalat. “There are no chemicals used in the growing process, the farm is completely sustainable and we have a tracking system that tracks our vegetables from seed to table.” Trang explains
Chay’s meals set about destroying the myth that vegetarian food is boring, blending a fusion of European, Asian and Middle Eastern tastes that appeal to many. The meals are balanced nutritionally. “We get much of the nutrition from vegetables, and superfoods such as lentils and grains,” Trang says. “We also make sure to add vegetables that are high in vital chemicals, antioxidants and plant sterols that help reduce cholesterol levels.”
Each meal has two courses, an appetizer and a main, ensuring there’s enough protein, good fats, and carbohydrates to provide a balanced, healthy meal. Menus change daily to ensure variety and you don’t need to be a vegetarian to appreciate this food, both for its taste and nutritional value.
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Tel: 092 875 78 99