For foreigners, the most frequent encounter with the ‘Made in Vietnam’ label is on Nike shoes. For those living in Vietnam, the label is most commonly seen on some of the best local products found anywhere in Southeast Asia that everyone can enjoy.
Ho Chi Minh City has seen a meteoric rise in quality craftsmanship, with everything from chocolate to craft brews proudly boasting the ‘Made in Vietnam’ label. The expression has been reclaimed in the form of local high-quality brands, marking the beginning of commercial enterprises that aren’t associated with cheap labor.
Looking for a locally-sourced experience that doesn’t involve clichés such as cooking classes or Vespa tours? For those who appreciate great quality and new discoveries, this guide offers a carefully curated selection of Ho Chi Minh City’s most beloved artisanal delights.
Bring Local Products from Vietnam Home
Don’t bring home another souvenir that will collect dust on the shelves. Souvenir comes from the French word “to remember”, so invest in mementos that tell a story. Authentique Home, Saigon Kitsch, Ginkgo, and Duy Tan are stores that specialize in goods with a personality. Each store is a treasure trove of haute souvenirs handcrafted by local artists. Take the time to appreciate the unique character of each individual item. A personal favorite is the loose-leaf gourmet tea from Sense Asia. Affixed on the boxes of the ‘Farmer’s Tea’ line is a smiling portrait of the farmer behind each blend. The Mango & Coconut Black Tea instantly transports me to my happy place.
Incubated by socially-responsible supply chain Fashion4Freedom, Saigon Socialite is a footwear project that resurrects the lost craft of imperial wood art. The brand designs shoes dedicated to showcasing Hue’s ancient wood carving practices. The soles of the shoe are fashioned out of wood with an intricate dragon pattern that takes a craftsman about 22 days to whittle. The one-of-a-kind pieces look more like a cultural artifact than a closet piece. Time-honored traditions find their place again in modern-day culture in the form of fashionable merchandise.
Bia Crafted in Ho Chi Minh City
When Alex Violette of Colorado’s Upslope Brewing Company partnered up with fellow American expat John Reid, Pasteur Craft Brewery was born. Even though it’s advertised as American craft beer, the flavors of Vietnam are the standout elements in each sip. Pale ales and porters are tempered with coconut, lemongrass, and dragon fruit extracts. A tasting flight truly becomes a worldly experience as you sample the marriage between premium malt from around the world and specialty ingredients from Southeast Asia. The Imperial Chocolate Cyclo Stout was awarded the best chocolate beer in the world at the 2016 World Beer Cup in San Diego.
Let Your Taste Buds Blossom
While this technically might not be considered an artisanal commodity, the dining experience at Padma de Fleur is one that centers around the handmade. Technically a flower shop, Padma de Fleur is a creative endeavor belong to Quynh Anh. During lunchtime hours, Quynh Anh serves an unforgettable three-course menu adorned with flowers from her own private stock. The menu changes everyday and features rustic recipes from the shopkeeper’s childhood. You have to appreciate the simplicity of the dishes, all made-from-scratch by a middle-age woman whose cooking evokes the same kind of emotions as that of the owner’s mother. All components of the space, like the peeling cerulean walls, are saturated in a provincial beauty that grows on you the longer you stay.
The Best Chocolate You’ve Never Tasted
Welcome to the house that Marou built. Five years ago, two Frenchmen by the names of Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou, pioneered a cooperative effort that in only a few years time, would establish them as two of the world’s most well-known chocolatiers. Together, they created Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat , a single-origin, bean-to-bar company. The beans are sourced from cacao plantations in the Mekong Delta then are brought back to their factory, the newly-opened Maison Marou on Calmette Street, which doubles as a café and pâtisserie. Each dark chocolate bar is lovingly prepared and dressed in a gorgeous wrapper that is as decadent as the products itself. The chili hot chocolate at Maison Marou is a must-have. Read our recent interview with the founders here.
Do you have any favorite artisanal products from Ho Chi Minh City? Please comment with suggestions and we’ll add them to the article.