CITY STATS COUNTRY: Vietnam POPULATION: 8,224,400 GOVERNMENT: Socialist Republic of Vietnam LANGUAGE: Vietnamese CURRENCY: Vietnamese Dong
iIluustration by Jack Clayton
FEATURES VOLUME SIX
THE MYTH, THE MECHANIC
ART IN SAIGON
COOPER & CO.
Cover photo by Kelley Engelbrecht Features page photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
EVERY ISSUE 3 Map 11 Editorâ€™s letter 16 Perfect Day 36 Happy Hour 78 Style Profile 98 DayTrip 102 Adventure Club 104 City Guide 106 Sister City
TEAM WONDERFILLED KELLEY ENGELBRECHT Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief JULIA ENGELBRECHT Co-Founder CARRIE KROCHTA Wonderfilled Vol. 6 Guest Editor
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photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
photo by Greg Rakozy
hello! I’m going to be completely honest with you – I had no idea what to expect when we decided to explore Saigon in this edition of Wonderfilled. I thought I knew the basics (mostly that it’s the land of deliciously addictive banh mi and pho.) Well, Wonderfilled readers, it turned out that I knew very little. Called both Ho Chi Minh City (officially) and Saigon (in casual conversation), the city, like it’s name is a layered land of history and contraction, as all good cities seem to be. The current culture can’t help but reflect a complicated past, blending post-war sensibilities with forward-thinking business savvy. The heavy hand of the government still pops up in unexpected places (as we discovered in Art in Saigon, pg. 68) while entrepreneurship runs rampant as highly skilled tradesmen and women strike out on their own. It was easy to see the strong current of change rushing through the city. Here, evolution is fast and merciless. And yet, family homes get passed down, generation to generation, keeping a firm hold on the past. It’s exciting to realize that this issue will quickly become obsolete; such is the reality with a city like Saigon. Constantly changing and discovering it’s 21 century identity. And we can’t wait to go back.
photo of a flower outside the temples on one of the marble mountains.
CONTRIBUTORS RACHEL CABAKOFF
DAVE LEMKE PHOTOGRAPHER
photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
# DA I LY WO N D E R
your daily dose of inspiration from the streets of Saigon
PERFECT DAY by Joshua Noon
A transplant from New Zealand, graphic designer Joshua Noon has spent the past two years discovering the best corners of Saigon. From coffee to massages to craft beer, some might say it’s perfection. Contrasts, cheek-by-jowl, are the fabric of Saigon. And it’s within those contrasts that the magic lies – in this tropical melting pot you can eat a delicious street food meal for $1.50 or head down the road and have an exquisite fine dining experience for $15-20.
photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
My ideal Saigon day starts with jumping on my motorbike driving down the canal to a lovely little spot called VINTAGE EMPORIUM. It lives up to the name, filled with antique radios, fabric wall hangings and other global miscellany. And then there’s the eggs … Filled to the brim with hollandaise, it’s onto the cafe apartment building on NGUYEN HUE, a uniquely Saigon creation. It’s an ancient apartment building that has found itself in prime city-center real estate. Over the years it has transformed into 12 floors of independent shops and cafes, connected by completely open, sparse staircases. It’s a great place to shop, spot trends or just have a coffee with a great view of the boulevard below.
photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
photo by Jesse Hanley
Time to book a massage at MIU MIU. These are
Having reached nirvana it’s time to eat. BUN THIT NUO
excellent services, and tip is included – they even
I never get tired of in Vietnam, and it’s best eaten on the st
give you sorbet afterward! This is a clear example of
favorite ally in BINH THANH DISTRICT and look for
where paying a little more leads to a vastly superior
Crammed into a tiny dining area, sitting on a metal, stool th
experience. Not to mention the staff are almost
ladies dish up heaven for only 28k ($1.30).
certainly better off.
photo via @saigonoutcast
ONG is the meal
Next stop is the vibrant expat community of Distict 2 where SAIGON OUTCAST is the
treet. I head to my
place for the creative indie scene. Itâ€™s a venue that encompasses all that can be interpreted
r the charcoal smoke.
as youth culture: ever-changing graffiti clad walls, shipping containers artfully stacked at one
end to form a stage , a skate shop and several climbing walls. You enter through a steampunkesque arch passing the skate ramp on your left side. This is Saigonâ€™s progressive culture ground zero. Time to climb!
I’ve earned a beer by now, and Outcast has me well covered. Craft beer has exploded in Saigon in the last 2 years. The transition has been dramatic –from virtually non-existent to available in nearly every restaurant/bar of note, craft beer is now here in full force. It’s still a cottage industry, the vast amount being made by enthusiasts in their backyards, resulting in interesting variety, experimentation and the occasional oddity. Saigon Outcast is a great place to catch live music but for the sake of variety let’s move on. The latest (seriously great) place is INDIKA. Everything worth checking out in Saigon is down an alley and up a flight of stairs, but Indika takes this to another level by being down an alleyway through another restaurant and then around a corner – only in Saigon! Once you finally find the place you’re rewarded with wonderful mish-mash of colonial architecture overtaken by trees and kitsch paraphernalia. The feeling is not dissimilar to Te Prohm in Angkor Wat. But the place is pumping and the music is great. Gypsy jazz/ ska/blues, mostly local bands keep the enlightened crowd (because how else would you find the place) moving. And of course the beer is great too. e.
photo by Kelley Engelbrecht
photo by Austen Diamond
FOOD Get a taste of the city
cà phê sữa đá Keeping company with pho and banh mi as iconic representations of Vietnamese cuisine, cà phê sữa đá, or iced coffee, represents the culture, history and poetic nostalgia of Saigon. In 1857, a French Catholic priest introduced coffee to Vietnam with a single coffee bean tree and soon the country was a leading exporter of coffee.Sweetened condensed milk was introduced when the young dairy farming industry meant limited availability of fresh milk. For a truly authentic cà phê sữa đá, use a phin cà phê, or single-serving Vietnamese coffee press. The result is a cross between the strenght of a shot of espresso and traditional drip coffee. In a pinch, however, a shot of espresso works just as well. CÀ PHÊ SỮA ĐÁ Dark roast coffee Ice Sweetened condensed milk Add ice and condensed milk to a glass. Make fresh coffee with a phin cà phê: fill the barrel with coarsely ground, packed coffee grinds; compress with the press. Add hot water and watch the coffee drip into the cup through the drip filter. Top with the lid to retain heat.
Mix, drink, repeat
mango salad Spicy and refreshing, sweet and sour, with a little crunch: this salad brings out the best flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. Green mangos dial down the sweetness, balanced out by the freshness of the mint. Tip: to easily prepare the mango, peel and score the fruit with a butcher knife in narrow strips. Use the peeler to shave the mango into long slivers. MANGO SALAD 200gr or 1 small green mango 1 c. sweet onion, sliced finely 1.5 c. vietnamese mint 2 tsp crushed peanuts 1/2 tsp chili oil sea salt black pepper SALAD DRESSING 1 tbsp lime juice 1 tbsp white sugar 1 tbsp fish sauce 1 tsp garlic & red chilling, minced In a bowl put mango, onion, 1 cup of mint, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds and dressing. Mix and toss. Serve on 4 small plates and garnish with remaining mint and crushed peanuts. Season to taste.
LE CHOCOLAT article by Katelyn O’Brien & Kelley Engelbrecht | photos by Neil Massey & Linh Pham
In the heart of Saigon, Maison Marou brings the traditional flavors of Vietnam to life through chocolate: a little bit sweet, a little bit sour, a little bit salty and a little bit spicy. Founded in 2011 by Frenchmen Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou, Marou a beautiful example of transforming an under appreciated Vietnamese commodity into something amazing & delicious, that melts in your mouth and warms your insides: single-origin chocolate. Vincent and Samuel went looking for cocoa in Vietnam, and upon finding it, they hoped it would be possible to transform it into a high quality product. Before Maison Marou, the majority of the local cacao was being exported and processed into low grade cocoa. As a result, Samuel and Vincent worried that the cocoa may not have the best potential. They began making chocolate in Samuel’s kitchen until and now, five years later, they’ve opened a factory and a beautiful, bright, heavenly scented shop in bustling Saigon. The cocoa has truly been mastered. In their factory, home-grown cacao is produced and sent all over the world. Marou exports a taste of Vietnam to over 20 countries - and countless more as hand delivered gifts and travel souvenirs. Samuel and Vincent’s commitment to encouraging sustainability in Vietnam is obvious. They are investing in and nurturing development, fully utilizing the resources that this active, busy country has to offer, sourcing cacao from different provinces around Vietnam, working with local farmers and cooperatives. Last year they started a pilot
program of sustainably planting 2,500 cacao trees in
smothered pastries, what more could you want? All her
order to preserve the existing forest.
creations are influenced by Saigon. Rich cheesecake, with a speculoos crust is garnished with candied
Back in Saigon, each beautifully wrapped bar captures
kumquat; a Madame Cam is her interpretation of the
the delicate flavors of the country. From the aromatic
iconic religieuse pastry, made with naturally flavored
cocao beans grown in the hills of Ba Ria province to
the subtle spice of those from the Lam Dong province nestled at the base of the Central Highlands, Marou’s
Maison Marou is more than just a purveyor of fine
chocolate sings the story of Vietnam.
chocolates and beautiful pastries. The factory, shops and product, itself, represent a nurtured relationship
At their café in Saigon, Maison Marou brings these
between two frenchmen and their adopted country.
flavors to their inclusion chocolates and pastries,
Careful consideration is given to the cocoa beans - and
delicately designed and perfected by French pastry
the relationships that are fostered with the farmers
chef Stephaine Aubriot. With crispy filled chocolate
that grow them – giving new life to a forgotten
tarts, like Marou’s Ca Phe Sua Verrine, and chocolate
Street Eats photos & article by Matthew Siggins
ONE OF THE MOST WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT LIVING IN VIETNAM IS THE DIVERSE, DELICIOUS FOOD: SAIGON IS NO EXCEPTION. RANGING FROM HIGH-END INTERNATIONAL CUISINE TO SOME OF THE BEST STREET CHOW IN THE WORLD, YOU SIMPLY CANâ€™T VISIT THE CITY WITHOUT SAMPLING ITS FOOD.
Food is everywhere. Stalls are on every corner, selling bánh mì noodle soups and other tasty goodies. Restaurants are everywhere too. Some of the best in Saigon are the ones you pop into coincidentally, or stumble across by accident, as you’re enticed in by the perking up of your senses as you walk by. Two of the most common restaurants, tucked between disjointed, colorful buildings and hidden in mazy side-streets, are phở restaurants and barbecue meat joints. Both of these are popular lunch venues for the locals, with meals often costing as little as 30,000 VND (less than $1.50), providing filling bowls and plates full of Vietnamese goodness.
PHỞ BẰC HẢI 28 Thao Dien, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
A perfect example of an archetypal phở restaurant, Phở Bằc Hải in the predominantly expathabited District 2. Recently relocated, this venue is standardly Vietnamese – full of metal stools and tables, family-run, and with a small but accomplished menu. On offer are the expected options of phở (noodles that come in a daily made broth) with a choice of either bò (beef) or gà (chicken). Also for selection are rice dishes made with mixed vegetables or beef. Both are cheap and simply delightful. It’s basic. Most local Vietnamese restaurants are. But, it offers great food and an interesting environment. Often, meals in Phở Bằc Hải are interrupted by Lam, the child of the family, who will be keen to shout “hello!” as you walk through the entrance and then, frequently, he decides your mealtime is the ideal occasion to show off his new toys. There are thousands of phở restaurants around Saigon and, in truth, you can’t really go too wrong. It’s no surprise that phở is Vietnam’s national dish; nutritious and delicious, simple and cheap – Vietnamese cuisine in a nutshell.
ĐỆ NHẤT BBQ
43-45 Street 9A, Binh Hung, Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Open-faced grills full of meat, huge rice cookers and dainty, red plastic stools. Observe these objects and you’ve arrived at another classic fixture of Saigonese food culture: barbecue meat joints, another popular lunchtime venture for the Vietnamese. Đệ Nhất BBQ, located in Binh Chan District, can be lost easily amongst a wide variety of street food venues. At lunch time the place is packed with locals, and indeed a few foreigners, who come to sample the meaty goodness. You pick
your meat of choice from a large metal viewing platform (akin to a trolley you would find being pushed down the aisle on an airline) and it is plated up with freshly cooked rice and a side of vegetables, varying dependent on the day, for you to enjoy. Meals here are incredibly cheap. 30 - 50,000 VND will get you a plate of rice and meat, a small bowl of soup and a cha đã (iced green tea) on the side. Not bad for a couple of dollars. Part of the appeal of Đệ Nhất BBQ is the buzzing, electric vibe that spills out of the eating area and onto the street as you pass by. Run by a large Vietnamese family, you will always find one son at the front with the meat trolley at the ready, another on the barbecue cooking pounds of meat to perfection while the mother runs around bellowing orders and taking the cash from happy, well-fed consumers. It’s not exactly a relaxing spot, but it has its charms nonetheless. Word about Đệ Nhất BBQ has spread. Often, arriving after noon means you’ll be too late for a seat and will have to settle for either a takeaway option or, if you’re lucky, notice someone finishing up and dive into their spot before another potential customer gets the chance. After the hard work, you deserve a good stomach-full. Phở Bằc Hải and Đệ Nhất BBQ are situated on opposite sides of Saigon, yet both offer perfect examples of what makes Vietnam’s food scene so alluring. The simplicity, the taste and the price. Straightforward, delicious and cheap. Nobody leaves disappointed. e
photos courtesy of Pasteur Street Brewing Company
PASTEUR STREET BREWING COMPANY was born out of a quest for delicious beer made with local ingredients and flavors. With an American brewmaster and a passion for small-scale craft beer, they’ve slowly asserted themselves as the godfather of craft brewing in Saigon.
“Two years ago, opening a bar without Tiger or Heineken would have been unthinkable. Now, bars that serve craft beer exclusively are starting to pop up all over town. Safe to say that craft is here to stay.” - Mischa Smith, Co-Founder
PASSION FRUIT WHEAT
Our co-founder, John Reid had been living and working in Saigon for 6 years and wanted to drink good beers that were brewed locally with local ingredients and flavors. Not being a brewer himself he went back to the U.S. and did a huge brewery tour. John explained his idea and tried to recruit a brewer who was willing to relocate to Vietnam. He met Brewmaster Alex Violette at Upslope Brewing Co in Boulder, Colorado. Alex loved the idea and agreed to consult and to help John find a brewer. Two days later Alex decided he was up for the challenge himself, quit his job, and moved to Vietnam to help John fulfill his dream of crafting world class beer in Saigon.
Vietnam has had a huge beer drinking culture for a long time so turning them onto craft has been fun. When we first opened it was almost exclusively foreign customers; a handful of Vietnamese customers would come in thinking we were brewing coffee, not beer. As the concept has become more well-known we have attracted more and more Vietnamese customers and they seem to really appreciate how weâ€™re using local products (like fruits, spices, chocolates and coffees) to produce true Vietnamese Craft Bia. Two years ago, opening a bar without Tiger or Heineken would have been unthinkable. Now, bars that serve craft beer exclusively are starting to pop up all over town. Safe to say that craft is here to stay. e
Fresh morning glory, basil & mint at a market in the Mekong Delta
CRAFT Meet the movers and the makers
photo by Ryker Garrett photo by Ryker Garret
the myth, the mechanic by Carrie Krochta | photos by David Dredge
There are certain relationships that are critical to your quality of life no matter where you are in the world. Your hairstylist or barber, your barista. In Saigon, it’s your mechanic. Picturing Saigon without motorbikes is like picturing New York without the subway or Venice without boats. The city simply wouldn’t work without them. A Smartcar couldn’t be as nimble through tiny alleyways and markets. Bicycles may have worked in days of yore, but pedal power simply can’t keep up with the pace of contemporary life of one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. And when’s the last time you tried transporting a mini-fridge or a family of 6 with a bicycle? The stigmas applied to motorbikes in places like the U.S. don’t really apply here. They’re not considered dangerous or even cool: they’re the everyman form of transport. Motorbikes are the lifeblood of the city so the only option as an intimidated foreigner is to suck it up and ride. The vulnerability of an expat doesn’t stop after you’ve cleared the hurdle of navigating traffic. Living in Southeast Asia, you come to terms with the fact that you’re going to get ripped off, frequently. You learn to always be on the lookout for the other shoe to drop by being overcharged, don’t receive what you expected or a combination of both. So when your motorbike breaks down for the first time, there’s an overwhelming sensation of having no clue where to turn. In a city of over 7 million motorbikes, everyone claims to be able to fix them. But who can you trust? After that first, likely harrowing, experience, you’ll ask around for recommendations where word of mouth is king. And word of mouth usually points to one man who has carved out a niche of being a friend to the expat in their time of mechanical mishap.
You’d be forgiven for overlooking Thach’s shop. Signs for sửa xe (mechanic) seem to be everywhere on this dusty road in Bình Thạnh district just beyond the city center. The faded sign for his shop, Hùng Phát, is partly obscured by a tree that is literally growing through a wooden bench that serves as the waiting area. It’s not a tidy place – more like an overstuffed closet that has burst, spilling it’s contents onto the oil-spattered ground – a minefield of tires, wrenches, wires, tubes, rags, and unidentifiable bits of bike. At any given time, there might be half a dozen people in that waiting area, which is more or less indistinguishable from the working area itself. But the breadth of clientele might cue you to the fact that this place is just that bit more special. For the past 20 years he’s been the friendly neighborhood mechanic to construction workers, businessmen, mothers, xe oms (motor taxis) and vintage bike junkies. More recently, a fast growing number of expats are counted among the ranks. Superficially, the appeal is obvious – he speaks English and his prices are fair. But the real reasons for Thach’s loyal following has more do with the other qualities that make him equal parts salt-of-the-earth and class-act. I distinctly remember the first visit I made to the shop on Ung Văn Khiêm street. Having been dismissed by a number of other mechanics, I went to Thach as a last resort. I was skeptical, even nervy about my brand-new ride being manhandled in the chaotic shop by a stranger. But within 2 minutes, the job was done, and when I tried to pay, I was waved off. “No problem, it very easy,” he said “Anything else?” I’d be lying if I said that every job was perfect or that he remembers everything you ask him to do (which probably isn’t aided by the fact that he scribbles his service orders on random bits of scrap paper), but what’s far more important is the fact that he just doesn’t have an angle. He just likes to solve problems and simply do right by his customers. If the job isn’t done correctly, there are no excuses. He’ll just make it right. If you try to add a tip on top of his extremely reasonable prices, you’ll find it’s nigh impossible to get him to accept. The only way to leave a token of appreciation is to do so with stealth, by wedging a few bills into whatever engine bits happen to be lying about. But when he does find it, it goes straight into the hands of his staff and apprentices.
“He proceeded to stuff a screwdriver into a latch on the side of the engine, and using it as a lever with his braking foot, engaged the clutch to change gears. ‘See? Like car!’ He proudly proclaimed.”
A customer recounted a story in which his clutch cable snapped while running errands around town. Stuck in second gear, he employed what he perceived to be an ingenious combination of pushing, rolling and electric start to limp the vehicle to Thach’s shop for a repair. But his tales of resourcefulness were overshadowed by the ridiculously simple solution Thach demonstrated. He proceeded to stuff a screwdriver into a latch on the side of the engine, and using it as a lever with his braking foot, engaged the clutch to change gears. “See? Like car!” He proudly proclaimed. I recently had the opportunity to embark on a 3-day ride with Thach through the mountainous Ha Giang province in Northern Vietnam. Out of our party of 6, I was by far the least experienced with a manual bike. The stalling and swears (and tears) on hill-starts was unremitting. Thach didn’t bat an eye, patiently demonstrating the finer points of clutch-work and how to navigate the rough terrain. During one photo stop,, Thach disappeared into a field without explanation. A few minutes later, he re-emerged with a expertly arranged crown of flowers which he lovingly placed on his wife’s head. The kind of fairy-tale gesture that, stereotypes dictate, you just wouldn’t expect a modern man, let alone a mechanic, to know how to do. Though his profession is physical, filthy and humbly masculine, this softer side is just as important to his character. When he’s not using screwdrivers as clutchalternatives, he’ll be at ballroom dancing classes with his wife (in fact, it’s how they met) or reading to his 8 year old daughter and 6 year old son, who are just as cheerful, fun-loving and kind as their father. So if you’ve found yourself in the midst of some motorbike misfortune in Saigon, the man to call is obvious. You’ll come for the service and stay for the company because like many things in this city, he’ll surprise you. Underneath the layer of engine grease is a heart of gold. e
The incense maker in her studio
Note from the editor: As we gathered stories about creativity in Saigon, we found ourselves referencing Saigoneer, an English website and community dedicated to sharing the latest news from this bustling city. In the spirit of discovery, weâ€™re so excited to announce our new partnership for Wonderfilled Volume 6, developed to bring you even more Saigon, straight from the source - starting now. The next article, about music & nostalgia, was originally published by Saigoneer this fall. Over the coming months, weâ€™ll be sharing even more from our Saigon experts: art, culture, and everything thatâ€™s the current pulse of the city.
Nhac VÃ ng BRIDGING THE GENERATIONAL GAP WITH RETRO SAIGON TUNES by Khoi Pham | photos by Brandon Coleman
As the chatter starts to die down and the soft disco lights turn on, peppering the room with myriad colors,
It’s a tall order to come up with a clear-cut definition of
it seems as if the entire interior of Nguoi Sai Gon
nhạc vàng, as even the name itself is subject to debate.
cafe has travelled back in time to the golden age of
Some associate it with a more political connotation
meaning “yellow music”, using the primary color as a way to distinguish the genre from nhạc đỏ, or
Anh Nguyet steps onto the small stage, a modest
“red music” – music with a more communist theme,
wooden foundation coated with red velvet and
commonly imbued with messages heralding labor and
squashed into a corner of the room, and hums the
nationalistic values. Other nostalgic music enthusiasts
first few notes of Tran Trinh’s “Le Da”. The guitarist
just take it to mean “golden music”, referring to the
strums through the song effortlessly, as if he’s done this
music from the golden zenith of Saigon’s cultural
a thousand times – and he probably has, considering
development – a short period before 1975.
Nguoi Sai Gon’s frequent schedule of night shows. Nonetheless, it’s still fascinating to witness such swift
No matter which interpretation one prefers, there’s
and nimble finger-picking technique in action.
a general acceptance that nhạc vàng’s golden age ran from the early 1960s to before 1975. During this
The more Nguyet sings, the more entranced the
period, Vietnam’s music scene was heavily influenced
audience seems. If not for the occasional appearance
by western culture. As discotheques and lounges
of smartphones and digital cameras, one could easily
started blasting Pink Floyd and The Beatles, and
mistake the scene for something out of an old Saigon
musicians started adding western instruments to their
postcard. The cafe’s handful of tables are fully occupied
arrangements, Vietnamese music aficionados also began
by a few dozen music lovers, whose eyes are fixed
to develop a fondness for delicate ballads about love
on the warmly lit stage and the way the chanteuse’s
and life, set to guitar-infused backing tracks.
mauve áo dài sways with the rhythm. Throughout these golden years, the local music scene The patrons of Nguoi Sai Gon come from all walks of
also saw an increase in the popularity of bolero,
life: from middle-aged couples to groups of fashionably
a Spanish music genre characterized by its slow
dressed youths to families spanning two generations.
tempo and distinctive 4/4 time signature. The slow,
This mix of eclectic profiles makes the venue’s full
easy rhythm of bolero meshed perfectly with locals’
house all the more surprising, as for some, the type of
penchant for songs with strong narrative elements,
music they have all convened to enjoy – nhạc vàng – is
resulting in an impressive repertoire of tunes that has
a cultural product that has existed since well before
managed to survive until today.
It’s easy to understand how Nguoi Sai Gon’s old music nights have managed to attract a sizable middle-aged audience: their generation grew up listening to Khanh Ly’s raspy voice and memorizing Pham Duy’s lyrics. However, it might come as a surprise that the rest of the room is filled with so many young Saigoneers. For Hoang My Uyen, owner of Nguoi Sai Gon, the explanation for the diverse audience at her shows lies in the natural development of one’s emotional maturity. “Personally, like today’s youths, I also had a few [music] phases. There was a phase when I loved the music of ABBA, Gipsy Kings and the like, meaning foreign bands. There were periods when I liked pop music, too,” she tells Saigoneer. “However, there will come a time when you’re old enough to be aware of things that are happening around you. There will be some vicissitudes in your life that can’t be comforted by pop music. And [the lyrics] are not enough to convey your feelings. It’s natural that people will seek out something more profound.” Like many Saigoneers of the current generation, Uyen’s childhood was filled with the melodies of nhạc vàng. In this case, her mother sowed the seeds for her love of the genre. For many young fans of nhạc vàng, this affection has the same starting point: their parents’ favorite songs, heard during the early years of childhood. Many grew up subconsciously memorizing the entire oeuvre of Trinh Cong Son without fully grasping the meaning behind his flowery, metaphor-laden lyrics. In Uyen’s case, her childhood connection to old music eventually blossomed into Nguoi Sai Gon and its special music nights, dedicated to sharing her love for the genre. “Since I started doing this, I have come to realize that [the cafe]’s patrons come from two generations, especially young people. Many older customers are surprised to see this many youths in such a distinctly retro space,” the Da Lat native says. “I think [nhạc vàng] is like a ‘hyphen’ connecting the two generations to help them understand each other more.”
Like all period-specific cultural products, there will
text reads: “Sài Gòn vẫn hát” (Saigon Keeps Singing).
always be a gap in understanding between the two
Throughout the owner’s conversation with Saigoneer,
generations when it comes to music. The younger
the word “Saigon” is used on numerous occasions,
generation sometimes can’t fully comprehend the
yet it seems that it takes on a different role with each
experience woven within the verses of old music and
mention: at times as a geographical setting, an adjective,
seek to fill in the missing pieces in those narratives.
an identity or even as a sentient entity in its own right.
Therefore, young people taking the stage to perform their own renditions of their parents’ favorite tunes are
Saigon is changing at a dizzying pace. In a short period
great conversation fodder.
of time, many of the southern hub’s iconic landmarks have become things of the past: Saigon’s Tax Trade
Even though Nguoi Sai Gon’s music tastes have always
Center was closed; Nguyen Hue was fenced off; a
stayed faithful to the past, there’s a contemporary
plethora of old buildings met their demise at the hands
feature of the venue’s live performances that one
of the wrecking ball.
might find incongruous with the vintage setting: an iPhone set-up primed to livestream every minute of
“People who love the city can’t help being perturbed
the show on the cafe’s official Facebook fan page.
and disappointed,” Uyen says. However, to her, “Sài Gòn vẫn hát” encompasses a message of hope for
According to Uyen, the decision to livestream came
the future. Nhạc vàng is the common thread that links
spontaneously after a few tries with the new feature,
the city’s stories. According to Uyen, many singers
which has gradually become an indispensable fixture of
and performers she knows are now pursuing other
subsequent shows due to popular demand.
endeavors: some have returned to their hometowns in the countryside; some now work overseas; some
“Every time I livestream [the performances], it reaches
left Nguoi Sai Gon and have had a successful career
out to Vietnamese from all over the world. I receive a
lot of positive feedback, which makes me happy. Some even wrote me letters saying that I made them cry,”
“It’s the nature of Saigon: some may stay and some
she explains. “For an entire generation, an old song
may go. But they are still singing,” she tells Saigoneer.
means more than just a form of entertainment: it’s also
“Because they can demolish a building, but they will
reminiscent of their past.”
never destroy our love [of old music], as long as we still preserve our optimism.
On the backdrop behind the stage lay four words, painted in a vintage font commonly seen on old Saigon shopfronts and advertising banners. The red and blue
Originally published in Saigoneer on September 5, 2016
rrakesh leather by Kelley Engelbrecht | photos by Dave Lemke
IN THE END, IT BOILED DOWN TO A YEAR ON THE ROAD, CONSULTING, TRAVELING, AND LIVING OUT OF A SMALL CARRY ON, PLUS A WELL MADE LEATHER BAG. IN THE WORDS OF GRANT HAWKINS, “THAT BAG BECAME MY BEST FRIEND.” Bought in Morocco (Marrakesh to be exact), the bag went everywhere on bikes and planes, tucked into coffee shops, stashed away during meetings. And when the leather strap broke, he replaced it with a 1970’s guitar strap. In so many words, Grant bonded with his bag. During a time in his life when minimalism reigned supreme, it wasn’t enough to carry the essentials - it was critical to carry the right essentials. From then on, this idea of intentionality and careful curation took new life, because, as reflects Grant, “every product you don’t have a bond with, is a missed opportunity.”
Shortly after that year of travel (both for work and pleasure), Grant found himself in Saigon much the same way most expats end up in Vietnam - eager for something different and intrigued by the rapidly evolving cityscape. A teaching job was the impetus, but after the move he realized that this city could be the place to dust off an old business plan that hadnâ€™t taken flight in the U.S. One that involved well-made leather goods. A few years earlier, flush with excitement over his leather bag, Grant went to Mexico and bought the supplies needed for his leather making business. Unfortunately, this venture was met with more loss than gain. The shop was was quickly shuttered only to be reopened in the Vietnamese market a few years later. Before diving into the nuts and bolts - or shall we say rivets and stitches - of the appropriately named Marrakech Leather, itâ€™s important to understand Grantâ€™s business philosophy. Or more specifically, the importance of knowing your economical handprint.
Similar to an environmental footprint, the concept explores the idea of how purchases, and therefore dollars, are impacting the community. Local, handmade - these can become more than buzzwords and bring a sustainable impact to those directly involved. In this instance, that meant supporting local Vietnamese craftsmen and environmentally-friendly practices. It all begins with Grantâ€™s initial design. Like that infamous leather bag from which Marrakesh Leather grew wings, he focuses on intentionality: What is needed? What is superfluous? What will bring the greatest utilitarian function while looking on trend? Luckily for Grant, inspiration is boundless in Vietnam. Daily commutes
via motorbike mean seeing what everyone is wearing and the confluence of influences that dominate Vietnamese design. “There are three big influences here: America, Japan and Korea, and all are very different,” Grant explains. “Korean design is black and white, with rounded corners. Japanese is all about consistency and perfection, and American is name brand and flamboyance.” But with Vietnamese design he says, “it’s whatever they think is beautiful - and sometimes that doesn’t make sense to Westerners.” Next Grant sources the materials. This lends itself well to Saigon, a city with merchant streets spanning anything you need, from porcelain to textiles to leather. All of Marrakesch Leather’s products are made with vegetable tanned leather, the counterpart to the more mainstream chromium-tanned leather. It takes longer to make, is more stiff, and accounts for only 10% of leather goods. But it’s ultimately more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Even without a true command of Vietnamese, Grant found a supplier with whom he’s been able to build a strong relationship. For Grant, building trust in this business environment varies from what he’s most familiar with in the U.S. As he says, “With the absence of language, it’s hard. Giving is a huge part of that. It’s not about giving the right thing, it’s about the thought behind the gift.” Once he has the materials, Grant makes the prototype and sends it off to Sang, a skilled craftsman whose team he employs to fill out rest of his inventory. Marrakesh Leather’s most recent offering is a crossbody purse that’s small enough to remain nimble, but large enough to carry an iPad, notebook, and phone; all of the essentials. For the moment, Marrakesh Leather is content with the local retail scene. They’re focusing growth first in Saigon, then southeast Asia, and reinvesting in the local economy. And according to Grant, from an entrepreneurship perspective, Vietnam’s business culture is open, generous, and rich with talent. He’s committed to staying put, for at least a little longer, so his economic handprint can build into the community he’s grown to love. e
ART in SAIGON
by Kelley Engelbrecht | photos by Dave Lemke & Dang Thanh Long
Since the beginning of civilization, to see the tides culture and itâ€™s rapidly changing current, look no further than art and those who create it. In Saigon, itâ€™s no different, as a burgeoning contemporary art scene grows, giving light to the schisms of old versus new, truth versus tradition. At the forefront of such change are local art patrons like Dang Thanh Long and foreign expats like Ben Wayman. To be an artist in Saigon (or Vietnam, for that matter) is a unique challenge, a fragile dance between creative genius, governmental red tape and censorship. Dang Thanh Long is the publisher of Saigon Artbook, now in its sixth volume. The concept is to promote art in Saigon. The only parameter is that to be a featured artist, you have to live in Saigon and make art about Saigon. With the launch of each book, Dang Thanh Long curates an exhibit that regularly draws 7001000 people from a wide community. And for it to be successful, it needs to be legitimate - he canâ€™t have the police showing up to shut it down. During the current Saigon Artbook exhibit, Dang Thanh Long was confronted with more censorship than in the past. The launch party was set for Friday,
but that morning he got word that two artists were
Of the artists subjected to censorship in Dang Thanh
censored. He wouldn’t be able to legally show their
Long’s exhibit, one was a photographer, who took
photos of old buildings in Saigon, and the other artist did an installation of a series of images transfered onto
Ben Wayman came to Saigon by way of Wales and
chiffon as commentary on traffic in the city. Both, as
teaches art classes at Vin Space Art Studio while
deemed by the government subjectively, painted the
creating art and exhibiting. According to him, as a
country in a less favorable light. Instead of taking down
Western artist in Vietnam, “there’s incredible difficulty
the art, Dang Thanh Long and his team decided to
with censorship and language, but there’s so much
cover the pieces with brown paper as a statement on
opportunity. The scene isn’t as mature – it’s more fresh.
censorship in and of itself.
Art with limitations can spurn greater productivity since I have a set of rules to work by.”
That’s the twist that artists always have to consider - for whatever reason, your art might not make it
Artists have been confronted with censorship laws in
past the licensing process. There are workarounds, of
Vietnam since the 1970s and the end of the Vietnam
course, like the photography being shown in the cafe
War. To host an exhibit legally, each piece of exhibited
of the exhibition space where it will be classified as
art needs to have a license from the government
- which isn’t always straightforward. Bribery is common (just make sure to pay the right person)
In some ways, this is the final vestige of communism
and some artists avoid asking for a license, going with
in Vietnam. Even with an enthusiastic embrace of
the old adage of: “it’s better to ask for forgiveness
capitalistic values, it’s easy to forget the reality. Unless,
than permission. And at times it seems like the only
of course, you’re a fine artist – then the constraints are
consistency is the inconsistency.
felt more acutely. All political art is underground and performance art is illegal (because it’s not considered
With no real guidelines, galleries hedge their bets on
art, therefore unable to get a license). Artists either
what they think will be permissible and take a chance.
work with the system, or pour talent into more
Artists and curators, like Dang Thanh Long, choose
alternative spaces like graffiti– a rapidly growing scene
to avoid bribery for the sake of playing by the ever
– or organize license-free pop up galleries.
changing rules. The gallery which employs Wayman avoids bribery because once you start, you can’t stop.
Ben, surrounded by his photocopied lino-carved selfies
In order to see Saigon Artbook’s exhibit in its complete form, you have to buy the latest volume, which is good for sales as long as he can get a book license. But according to him, “The only way to get [censorship laws] to change is to make more art.” For now, artists in Vietnam use the restriction as a creative challenge, using reality in the art they make.
ARTIST PROFILE : BEN WAYMAN For an artist, Saigon offers much in terms of inspiration and resource. For someone like Ben Wayman, the opportunities to create are endless. Originally from Wales, Ben works at Vin Space Gallery by day, teaching art classes. After hours he indulges in his artist pursuits. A self described consistent artist, Wayman believes that, “I need to keep making. Like a shark, if I stop, I’ll be dead.” And no task is too small. Whether it’s fixing a t-shirt or building a large stop motion machine, Wayman thrives in the in-between spaces’ various mediums. Neither painter, nor sculptor, his work brings to life conceptual ideas that reflect his environment. Ben’s most recent works offer a snapshot of culture as it stands. Early on, he realized that photocopy shops were, as he puts it, “a real Saigonese institution.” He made lino carvings, photocopied them in different ways, and made patterned self-portraits or selfies, if you will. The result is a compelling commentary on
“Whether it’s fixing a t-shirt or building a large stop motion machine, Wayman thrives in the inbetween spaces’ various mediums. Neither painter, nor sculptor, his work brings to life conceptual ideas that reflect his environment.”
Saigon culture (the photocopying), pop culture (the selfies), and identity as a whole. Censorship aside, Saigon is rich with inspiration for the artist. A city in constant evolution, transformation happens at rapid speed. “In a year and half my neighborhood has completely changed, ” says Ben. And as new class structures develop, like a middle class, there’s suddenly a market for art, regardless of government restriction. There’s an eagerness to support all kinds of art – with or without the government’s blessing. Currently Ben is working on a collection to show in the next Saigon Artbook exhibit. Enshrined in a cloud of ambiguity, the threat of censorship always lingers. For Wayman, it merely takes an adjusted attitude to embrace the restriction. As he says, “I can’t see where they could take offense [with my pieces] but it could be cool to be censored. You’d get street cred.” e
Ben with nylon sculpture pieces based on the recurring pattern of female-trinities in mythology. Made from simple domestic materials the sculptures change dramatically when under lit- creating a temporal ephemeral change.
Experience the aesthetic
An interior designer and visual artist, mixing video, painting and photographs, Quynh works to bridge the past and present through perception and identity. Her personal style also reflects this dichotomy, paying homage to history with a decidedly contemporary feel. MY FAMILY STORY IS RELATED TO THE HISTORY OF VIETNAM. My family was moved from the North to the South before the war in 1954. When I was a child, I found a box of photographs in my uncleâ€™s room: he and my other uncle were photographers. After asking many many times, I persuaded him to let me see. I was obsessed with the old family letters and photographs. My parents didnâ€™t want to be reminded of the past and I had to discover it by myself. It took me more than ten years to go back Dalat and Hue, cities in the middle of my country, to find the old places where my uncle took the photos. And I had to find my old relatives from the North to collect more family photos for my project about perceptions or the lack of cultural and personal identity in traumatized nations. My inspiration as an artist comes from an obsession of BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH MATERIALS from my uncle who is an obstetric doctor. When I was young, I was interested in female and reproductive functions. In my opinion, the formation of life is a BEAUTIFUL STORY. I draw with minimal colors and create mystery, excitement and curiousness about the materials. I also use organic colors, extracted from mushrooms (whose property is rapid growth) as I create pictures revolving around fertility. Most importantly, I create with objects that relate to my concepts, helping me create art which features symbols through materials such as special flowers and fruit with feminine imagery.
Personal Style I’d love to wear comfortable outfits, something light and bright, inspired by Vietnamese women in the early 1960s. I also work as an interior designer so I have a tendency to choose meticulous materials. I love to wear linen, lace, silk or patterned/floral fabric. I always try to look for batik or vintage fabrics when I shop - my hobby is collecting scarves and shoes. I’d love to wear shoes that are comfortable and simple, like moccasins, clogs, ballerina flats, mary-janes or even flip-flops.
What’s your go-to outfit? Scarf, turban, farbic bag or seagrass handbag, embroidered blouse and flowing trousers.
What’s in your make-up bag? Givenchy lipstick, Le Prisme blush, & Diptyque perfume.
Favorite places to shop in Saigon: Annam Gourmet, Takashimaya, Art Friend, Maison de Bunga. e
An older photograph of Quynhâ€™s paternal aunt and her sister-in-law at Xuan Huong Lake, Dalat overlaid with a photograph taken in 2015.
An older photograph of Quynhâ€™s paternal uncle and his friend at Xuan Huong Lake, Dalat overlaid with a photograph taken in 2015
Cooper & Co. by Rachel Cabakoff | photos by David Dredge
A walk down any of Saigon’s bustling streets is sure to heighten one’s senses with its symphony of motorbikes, colorful display of local crafts, and its unique aroma of smells. But it’s the tailors that really capture the true skill of local artisans. They practically outnumber any other vendor in the city with walls lined with rainbows of fabrics, silks, styled mannequins, beading and more. From tailored suits to dresses, blouses, button down shirts, and more, walk-ins take their pick of the vast selection of Vietnamese tailors. One thing that seems to be missing is a full range of on trend options for men. This is where the founder of Cooper & Co., Quynh Tran saw an opportunity. “There are a lot of options for the female consumer in Vietnam whether it’s international or local brands, a lot of local designers tend to do women’s instead of men’s. It’s very rare to see them go full menswear. I figured if a local Asian guy wants to get a suit, either he has to go to Ralph Lauren or Hugo Boss versus something he could get nicely custom-made but at a more affordable price,” Tran explains. “I wanted to start something with a little bit of a modern, innovative twist.”
Born and raised in Vietnam, Tran headed to the U.S. in her teens where she attended school in fashion and merchandising, working for local womenswear companies in Dallas. After returning back to Vietnam in May of 2013, it wasn’t until her friend asked her to help style a shoot for Esquire Vietnam that Tran realized the huge demand for menswear in Saigon. Since Vietnam is a little bit behind on the trends, with Tran’s U.S. experience, she was just what Saigon needed to give the city a little push in the right direction. “I like to take what I learned in the states and apply it to the Vietnamese market,” Tran says. “We’re not just selling suits, we’re trying to educate men on how to dress better. It’s a lifestyle we’re trying to improve for Vietnam in general.”
Named after no one better than her dapper Shitsu, Cooper himself, in 2013 Cooper & Co. came to be. Always sporting the latest trends whether he’s wearing bow ties, bandanas, or tuxedos, Cooper (the dog) has been a big part of the brand’s image and overall style since the very beginning. With the brand established, Tran set out to find the right team. “On the first day, my head tailor was so used to the Vietnamese way. He had the skills but no innovation or style. After working with him side-by-side, he was able to find a way to fulfill what I’d ask of him. I was learning from him and he was learning from me,” Tran said.
their loyalty. It’s not uncommon for Tran and her team to form long-lasting relationships with their clients that extend far beyond the borders of Vietnam. By keeping a profile of each customer in their system, they’re able to keep track of each individual’s likes and dislikes, measurements, previous orders, favorite materials, colors, and more, making it a smooth transaction when it comes to placing another order. “I have customers that have come to us from the very beginning and they’re still with us,” Tran explains. “They’ll call us and just say, ‘you pick whatever, I trust you.’ And if they have a chance to come back to Vietnam, they’ll email or call us beforehand and place an order for pick up while they’re here.”
For Tran, it was important that her staff was open to innovation from the very beginning — trying out new designs and styles while also keeping their craft. Not only does their attention to detail and designs separate themselves from other local tailors but so does the overall experience upon first entering their store.
When it comes to Cooper & Co.’s threads, Tran is always searching for top quality materials and more inspiration. Whether it’s through sourcing different fabrics and silk linings from the U.S., Bangkok, Hong Kong or Thailand, handcrafted Italian buttons, and more — the possibilities are endless.
“We don’t consider ourselves a designer. We’re a tailor. Both the client and us, we’re both the designers of the suit,” Tran says. “They come in and tell us what they want, we ask them questions, what will they use it for, when do they need it, what will they wear it to…we get to know our clients really well. That’s what sets us apart from other tailors, we focus a lot on the little details.”
Cooper & Co.’s suits start at around $400 and can vary from there. The typical turnaround time for a custom-made suit from the very first consultation to measurements and completed designs takes about 4 weeks. And customers are not limited to simply suits; they have their pick of trousers, casual shirts, khaki pants and more. Cooper & Co. knows how to dress down in style, too.
Ninety percent of Cooper & Co.’s clients are businessmen between the ages of 20 to 45 years old, most returning customers. There’s a reason for
“For each suit, they can put their own touches in there. Choose their own linings, contrast stitching, initials, and different colors. All of the little details that
make it their very own suit. No one else will have the same exact design,” Tran explains. Although Cooper & Co. is small in size right now; Tran has big plans for the future. Starting with her new store location. Since their recent move from District 4 to the heart and soul of Saigon in District 1, Cooper & Co. is experiencing a lot more foot traffic than ever before. In addition to her new store location, Tran is already in the works of offering ready-to-wear items such as blazers, dress suits, and trousers expected to be available on the store racks in about a month. As far as expansion goes, Tran is hoping their next stop will be Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi. And from there, who knows? It’s all in the stitching. If you happen to find yourself navigating the busy streets of Saigon, don’t forget to pay Cooper & Co. a visit. e
Mid Century Memories In 1966, the then-named Independence Palace was inaugurated, a contemporary monument designed by acclaimed Vietnamese architect NgĂ´ Viet Thu. Rife with Eastern philosophic symbolism, the structural plan reflected the ideograms of good fortune, power and wisdom (just to name a few) married with the sensibilities of modern architecture. In 1975, the northern army crashed through its gates, ending the war, renaming it the Reunification Palace and preserving the place in time. A tribute to a bygone era, today the palace hosts tourists and dignitaries, alike, to marvel at a moment of mid-century design prowess. e
Spotted in Saigon: wellmade, beautifully designed accessories and apparel that reflect the bespoke nature of the city and its current style profile.
Find them on Instagram & follow along for even more inspiration. @WONDERHOUSE.SG
(trust us, itâ€™s worth it) @FLORALPUNK
Day Trip: Marble Mountain
In central Vietnam, about 12 miles north of Hoi An and just south of Da Nang are a cluster of five marble and limestone hills named for the elements: Nui Kim Son (metal), Nui Thuy Son (water), Nui Tho Son (earth), Nui Hoa Son (fire) and Nui Moc Son (wood). After a steep climb, beautiful views make way for a series of caves and tunnels. For centuries these grottos have housed Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries; during the war, they were used as a hospital. Today, tourists and locals alike explore the passages, finding relief in the cool mountain caverns during the hot season.
On the slopes, pagodas and temples peeking out of the foliage, joining the marble statues in the visual feast, worthy of the climb. e
Wonderfilled Adventure Club How we explored this volume’s featured city.
pho bo tai
WHAT WE DRANK Freshly squeezed juices at L’USINE
Bia Hoi (fresh beer) at CAFE 43 & Jasmine Tea at ROSE CAFE in Hoi An Cold brew coffee at KLASIKS COFFEE ROASTER
WHAT WE ATE Pho bo tai at PHỞ CÔ DẦN
Hen xuc banh da (baby clams with rice crackers) at KENTS Banh Mi Op La (sandwhich with fried egg)
WHAT WE DISCOVERED The lush Mekong Delta with VIETNAM VESPA ADVENTURES Independent designers & artists at HELLO WEEKEND MARKET Cooking Classes at MADAME VY’S in Hoi An Rose Cafe
Motorbikes on the Mekong Delta ferry | Tasting crispy pancakes at Madame Vyâ€™s | freshly baked bread for Banh Mi
CITY GUIDE The Perfect Day VINTAGE EMPORIUM 95B Nguyen Van Thu Street MIU MIU 4 Chu Mạnh Trinh, Bến Nghé, Quận1 SAIGON OUTCAST 188 Nguyễn Văn Huong INDIKA 43 Nguyễn Văn Giai, Đa Kao, Quận 1,
Le Chocolat MAISON MAROU 167-169 Calmette Street
Street Eats PHO BẰC HẢI
28 Thao Dien, District 2 ĐỆ NHẤT BBQ 43-45 Street 9A, Binh Hung,
Happy Hour PASTEUR STREET BREWING COMPANY 144 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Nghé Quận
Marrakesh Leather MARRAKESH LEATHER Etsy Shop >
Cooper & Co. COOPER & CO. 53B Nguyen Du, District 1
Mid Century Memories REUNIFICATION PALACE 135 Nam Kỳ Khoi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1
Day Trip: Marble Mountain MARBLE MOUNTAIN Hòa Hải, Ngũ Hành Son, Da Nang,
Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA sis·ter cit·y (noun): A city that is linked to another to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation, one individual, one community at a time The Neighbourgoods Market was met with a mix of excitement and skepticism when it first opened in Johannesburg in 2011: Could it ever compare to its predecessor in Cape Town? How would it fare in Braamfontein, a neighborhood playing a lead role in the revival of Jozi’s downtown? My friends and I had to find out for ourselves. Filling a parking garage that had been sitting empty on weekends, the Neighbourgoods Market provided a place for local vendors to share creative dishes with visitors to enjoy on-site, and other delicious and unique products for consumption at home. The entrance to the market was relatively unassuming, a long walkway up to the garage between two buildings. It was simply adorned with plants growing in burlap sacks affixed to the concrete walls. When we arrived, however, we were impressed by the sights and smells that greeted us. It didn’t take long before Neighbourgoods became a popular destination. With seating on the roof of the garage, visitors adopted it in droves as a place to linger, socialize, and soak in the Saturday afternoon sun. Every time I went, I was torn between trying something new and returning to my favorite vendors. The variety of options was – and I believe increasingly is – notable, too. At one stall, I found a pan of paella over three feet in diameter bubbling away; another sold biltong, South Africa’s flavorful version of jerky, this time made out of buffalo meat; others offered beer, margaritas, and baked goods, to name a few. Our favorite vendor by far, however, was the Balkan Burger, offering a Serbian twist on the classic. South African beef makes great burgers, but it was the bread and toppings that made the Balkan version stand out. We soon became regulars and were chuffed to be greeted personally after a few weeks of chatting with the family as they served a growing flow of diners. Over the last five years, Balkan Burger, like other start-ups that earned their stripes at Neighbourgoods, has built a brand for itself outside of the market. Neighbourgoods itself has grown, too, now selling vintage clothing and garments from local designers and hosting live entertainment. It has become well-known enough that interested vendors must join a waiting list. The abundant energy and entrepreneurial spirit evident at Neighbourgoods represent what I have long loved about Johannesburg; the amazing food itself isn’t a bad draw, either! Alison Whitten lived in Johannesburg from 2010 to 2012 while working as a management consultant. In addition to visiting weekend markets with friends, she misses easy access to beautiful hiking trails and seeing the jacaranda trees in full bloom at this time of year. She has since returned to the Southern Hemisphere and now resides in Melbourne, Australia.
photo by Kelley Engelbrecht