​Would you dare eat ‘scary’ Vietnamese foods with Sonny Side?

Have you seen a guy traveling on Saigon’s streets gripping the back of a motorbike while speaking non-stop into a camera attached to his helmet?

Well, if you have, that was probably American food vlogger Sonny Side filming for his YouTube channel Best Ever Food Review Show and the 173,000 subscribers who tune in to watch him try some of Vietnam’s lesser-known delicacies.
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Sonny Side and his favorite Vietnamese dish called 'bun dau mam tom' are seen in this photo he supplied to Tuoi Tre News.

Pig brain, shrimp paste, balut, and more

A self-proclaimed fan of trying interesting and strange foods from around the world, Side seems to have zero hesitation when it comes to dishes typically considered “scary.”

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A combined screenshot shows Sonny Side filming a video for his YouTube channel.

“My show is from a Western point of view, more importantly my point of view, but is not meant to offend any person or culture,” Side writes in the description of his videos.

Many of the foods featured on Side’s YouTube channel have been dubbed ‘mission impossible’ by many Westerners, particularly the pha lau bo (cow organ soup), sup cua oc heo (crab soup with steamed pig brain), hot vit lon (balut), mam tom (shrimp paste), and tiet canh (duck blood soup).

Now based in Ho Chi Minh City, Side produces two videos each week – one featuring a Vietnamese dish and another reviewing food from an Asian country he has visited.

When asked which Vietnamese food is his favorite, the Minnesota native thought long and hard before declaring snail, banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake), and shrimp paste amongst his top three.

“When I tried mam tom for the first time, it was so strange and the smell was so intense when I put it in my mouth,” he told Tuoi Tre News, recalling his first experience with 'bun dau mam tom (rice noodle with fried tofu and boiled meat served with shrimp paste).

“OK, I survived!” was his thought after he 'processed' the sauce with other ingredients like the way Vietnamese do (normally with sugar, kumquat juice and chili) and had it with meat.

“By the end of the meal, I had become addicted to it, and I put like tons of that sauce all over the meat,” he admitted.

The 33-year-old food vlogger admitted that his videos occasionally are “tough” for the others, especially Westerners who are not thrilled with the thought of eating rats and snakes.

“Some people can’t stand those videos, but that’s what my show is about. I show something different from what they know. They can experience it [through my videos] and make their own decision,” Side said.

After nearly a year of living in Vietnam, Side has traveled to many places across the country – from the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang to the southern Mekong Delta – and he has been “really blown away by the quality of flavor and food in every region.”

“Even though there’s a ton of variety within Vietnam, the food is consistently delicious everywhere. For things so unusual to most Westerners, I think if I have an open mind and no expectations, I can find it delicious too,” Side shared.

To foreigners in Vietnam, street food is typically a major highlight of the country, and Side is no exception.

Besides the “scary” stuff, his Best Ever Food Review Show is also a source for reviewing popular foods like pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice pancake rolls), banh mi (Vietnamese bread), and several tropical fruits.

Eating must be fun

Side first began his food review videos two years ago while living in South Korea.

“I was a video director and producer in the Republic of Korea. At that time, there was very little travel content online, and most of it was not very entertaining. I wanted to make the type of video that I liked to see. I want people to laugh and feel positive emotions while enjoying the food. That’s how the show slowly developed,” he said.

With a clear orientation toward entertainment, the biggest impression that his videos leave on viewers is the sense of enjoyment from the way Side playfully makes fun of himself, to showcasing food.

The “arrogant” name Best Ever Food Review Show is also meant as sarcasm, according to Side.

“I’m not a food critic, I just show the food and making it entertaining,” Side stated.

“I like food a lot because it’s interesting, very human and relatable. Everybody eats, has favorite foods, and is passionate about them. When I made a video about pho in Saigon, someone in the north reacted “that’s not pho, my mom makes pho.

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American Sonny Side and his 'signature' head bandana. Photo: Best Ever Food Review Show

Not only about food

Though the underlying spirit of his videos is light-hearted entertainment, each episode of Best Ever Food Review Show highlights its creator’s sophisticated efforts to produce quality content.

“My goal isn’t to focus only on food, but also to tell the story of it. If I can, I want to show the way people make it, the purpose of the food, and when and why people eat it,” Side said.

In an episode about banh mi in Saigon, Side created a ‘tour’ of 4 different types of banh mi that Saigonese typically love as well as an introduction to the process of making the dish from late at night until early in the morning.

What he feels after trying more than 100 dishes in Vietnam, Side says, is the pride of Vietnamese people in their food.

“People who make pho wake up at 3:00 am to start making the broth. They focus on making good quality and the tastiest food, not just making it the easiest or fastest way,” Side commented. “It’s very much part of the culture here.”

Making videos of food in Vietnam has also changed his perspective on the country, especially considering that pho and banh trang (Vietnamese rice paper) were the only Vietnamese dishes he knew of before coming to Vietnam.

“Besides the amazing diversity of food, Vietnam is also diverse in geography and landscapes with really amazing people. Unfortunately, for a lot of Western people, the only thought that come to their mind when talking about Vietnam is the war between the US and Vietnam. Hopefully, some of my videos can replace that first thought,” Side said.

And they truly have. Side said some people have said they have traveled to Vietnam specifically after watching his videos.

In the comment part of one video about food in Saigon’s Districts 5 and 11, one viewer wrote, “bought a ticket to Saigon, not joking ” while another replied, “Haha, I was just checking prices too!”

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