Peter Cornish gets acquainted with one of the city’s most lauded Facebook pages, Foodies in Saigon, and finds some positivity to reflect on in the swirling chaos of internet social groups. Photo by Vinh Dao.
Saigon’s Facebook groups have become synonymous with snarky, trolling, middle aged men with chips on their shoulder. There is one stand-out group that flies in the face of this, and has taken off the chips from their shoulders and placed them on plates to be discussed with respect and genuine interest. It all seems a bit atypical for an internet-based discussion group. That’s the wonderful part.
Foodies in Saigon has seen its membership rise rapidly over the last 6 months. They operate a zero-tolerance policy on trolling and spam, supported by a strict membership policy. If your profile doesn’t fit the criteria, you ain’t coming in. And if you don’t like it, tough. The result of this stance is “one of the fastest growing as well as the most positive and socially-outgoing foodies groups in the country,” explains Tuan Huynh, one of the group’s food-conscious admins.
The group was founded by Daniel Gordon Jones, prompted by a discussion on the Hanoi Foodies page. With heated views being expressed about which city had the best food options, Daniel realized that Saigon had no similar reference point on which to base an argument. “Food is food,” Daniel expertly informed me. “Everyone has an opinion.” With the number of posts made daily, it’s evident he has his finger firmly on the city’s culinary pulse.
Currently standing just short of 7000 members, the group’s admin have emphasised quality rather than quantity. The result is a welcoming, informative and resourceful environment for people to discuss and share all manner of food related topics. “Members do usually go out of their way to help other members”, Tuan continues. “Foodies in Saigon do genuinely love anything to do with food in Vietnam.”
As well as giving local foodies a platform on which to share photos, recipes, questions and cravings, the group has provided a central focal point for the city’s restaurateurs to peddle their wares – provided they don’t spam.
“It’s a great resource for newbies,” Daniel tells me.
In a city where new food outlets spring up as frequently as fake reviews on Trip Advisor, knowing the best place to pick up a deep pan pizza, wet burrito, rack of BBQ ribs or veggie breakfast is invaluable information for the hungry.
The group was also provided a platform for entrepreneurial amateurs in the kitchen. Home production has grown quickly, with the group giving access to a wide customer base eager for tastes from home or to try delicacies from faraway lands.
“Social media has fueled the entrepreneurial, start-up mentality,” Daniel points out. The group has actively encouraged this as part of their growth strategy. “We have a massive variety of nationalities in our membership base, able to produce a huge variety of food,” he adds. “Mama taught them how to cook and they are putting their homegrown talents to good use.”
In addition to supporting local cottage industries, group members have also been eager to join regular Pot Luck events held at venues around the city. Organised by Kris Burgess, another of the group’s dedicated admins and recognised as the country’s leading authority on jars, he tells me that everyone is welcome, but also encouraged to bring a dish. “Overall, the quality of food is outstanding, and it’s an excellent opportunity to network with fellow foodies”, Michael Brent explains, the group’s ‘watch dog’. “We encourage people to make an effort, but at the end of the day we want to be inclusive.”
“What is quite surprising is the number of exceptional home cooks who contribute in a friendly way and that we will always encourage”, says Kris, who regularly posts photos of his culinary creations.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a five-star Michelin chef, or struggle with beans on toast, if you have a passion for food we welcome your contribution to the group, because with Foodies in Saigon, sharing is caring”, Tuan clarifies.
What the future holds for Foodies is unclear, but there are projects simmering on the hob including a portal for the city’s cottage produce. “Our inspiration was to be a community and knowledge base of all things food”, Daniel says. It seems that the group is establishing itself as just this.
“I just hope it continues to grow in a friendly way, while being both informative and positive”, Kris adds. “We want to become a central place for foodies in Saigon, for professionally prepared food in the city’s many restaurants, but also as a one-stop resource for people who like to cook at home.”