In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses were closed and people lost their jobs, but some have found their calling. Instead of trying to get back to business as usual, they’ve been looking for a new way to move forward. With the convergence of opportunity and technology, many Vietnamese entrepreneurs reinvent themselves to make a living doing what they love.
The initiative, shared by Hanh Vu, co-founder of Nom Nom Market, was conceived with the hope to improve people’s eating habits. “As life gets busier than ever, there seems to be a disconnection between people and the way they enjoy food. Sadly, not only do people not have time to cook, but they also stop eating together,” she says. The joy of eating is forgone; eating is more about function than form, more of a daily act of sustenance rather than lip-smacking cultural fulfillment.
For Vietnam, a country proudly known for its collective culture, dinner time represents a unifier, a place of community. Sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk, one of the few times where people are happy to put aside their work and take time out of their day. And yet, when people are busy preparing meals, there isn’t much time left for family members to actually gather together, socialize and share stories about their work and life. Thereby, established by a group of people with a strong passion for food, Nom Nom Market aims to deliver the best dishes under a ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat format so that customers can take on less time cooking and cleaning, while still preserving the joy of doing so.
The pandemic as an ‘enabler’
Born in the midst of Saigon’s Directive 16, Nom Nom Market has faced both challenges and opportunities. Nom Nom members must follow the strict operating conditions required by the government, such as compulsory COVID-19 testing every two days, employees should be vaccinated with at least one dose, and delivery was only allowed from 6 AM to 9 PM. And that’s without mentioning all substantial costs to uphold such conditions and compensate for the lack of delivery shippers.
But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Since the COVID-19 pandemic placed life as we know it on pause, many young entrepreneurs have quickly changed to a new direction to keep moving forward. For Nom Nom Market, it was a decisive move to operate under a cloud kitchen model. A cloud kitchen, also known as a restaurant model with no physical space for dine-in but relying entirely on online orders placed through a website or mobile app, is by no means a new concept but has become increasingly relevant than ever considering consumer’s ongoing demand and preferences of online food delivery.
Keeping the cost of rental low allows Nom Nom Market to focus on its core strengths: food quality and customer service. “Our food quality is assured by the two Qs: the quality of our supply and the quality of our chefs, whose skills are strengthened through years of working in the industry,” Hanh says. “Furthermore, we have a very enthusiastic customer service team who specializes in responding to customers, packaging and planning delivery schedules.”
When asked about the features that make Nom Nom stand out given the competitiveness of the foodservice industry, Hanh says that “our confidence commensurates with our professionalism. Not every restaurant model is confident to expose what's inside their kitchen, but for Nom Nom Market, we try to publicize the in-the-making process on social media as much as possible.”
“What we want to show to the customers is our meticulosity and attention to hygiene details; that even though we only operate as a virtual kitchen, the food that they try on has the exact same quality as the one they try in the physical form of dining out.”
Preserving the traditional cuisine with a modern twist
Cuisine, most of the time, is referred to as an expression of cultural identity. For any business that wants to succeed in Vietnam, aside from delivering good-quality products, another factor they need to consider is ways to tell a story of Vietnamese culture, values and traits.
Nom Nom’s best menu innovations come from a simple reframing of a familiar idea using various culinary backgrounds in the world. For instance, Com Tam Cha Cua Hoang Kim (broken rice with signature crab cake), one of Nom Nom signatures, uses crab cakes made of fresh crab meat and salted egg yolk. The dish represents a new delight to the classic Vietnamese com tam. The interplay between the pickled veggies, shredded pork skin, charred crab cake, broken rice and finally, the sweetness and savory of fish sauce would make even the most fastidious customers fall in love at the first bite.
Meanwhile, for Nom Nom’s Miso Carbonara Spaghetti, the carbonara sauce is upgraded with miso paste and sake (Japanese rice wine), yielding a robust, full-bodied, umami-laden flavor-bomb for a meal that is unparalleled.
Sharing thoughts on the inspiration behind Nom Nom’s signature dishes, Hanh explains that “the competitiveness in the food and beverage industry is the key determinant in fostering our creativity. For Nom Nom, our goal is not to create a completely new product that no one has ever tried before, but rather to develop a twist to the old Vietnamese flavors that we might have taken for granted.”
“To preserve the traditional values of Vietnamese dishes, we acknowledge that there are some ingredients that are just simply irreplaceable, no matter how hard we want to be creative, for instance, the broken rice in com tam,” Hanh says. “But thanks to our chefs’ experience in executing modern techniques, we always try our best to find a creative flavor pathway that enhances local delicacies, and in turn helps Nom Nom Market secure a position in today’s dynamic market.”
While moving beyond the realms of regionality to a more international sphere, Nom Nom Market has a very strong urge to preserve the Vietnamese identity, as can be observed through its commitment to support the local farmers. “Whenever we try to develop a new dish, let’s say a bolognese, the first thought that comes into our mind is how we can use the local ingredients such as tomatoes and mushrooms in Dalat to create this product,” Hanh said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given many people extra time in solitude to really think about the question of “what do you really want you to do with your life?” and Nom Nom Market was initiated as a result of that. “In the pursuit of excellence, we hope our customers can understand and be able to feel our commitment to quality as well as our strong passion and honesty which are delivered through the exceptional dishes, packaging, and services.”