YOUR INSIDER'S SHOPPING MALLS GUIDE
IN HO CHI MINH CITY 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
YOUR INSIDER'S SHOPPING MALLS GUIDE
IN Ho Chi Minh City 🇻🇳 Since 2008
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING MALLS THE ULTIMATE BUYING GUIDE FOR VIETNAMESE COFFEE LOVERS
Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travelers and ex-pats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought-after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.
However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.
We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!
Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion
Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.
Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor, or even sugar and fish sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter-tasting Robusta beans. Chemical flavorings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.
Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans, and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thickening, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.
When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset its bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.
Advancements in coffee farming have allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalization and changing preferences have resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filters. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.
Thus, the first item that you should procure is a high-quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.
City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminum and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.
Roast Levels and Blends
Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.
The three waves of coffee culture were described by Jonathan Gold in his 2008 article “La Mill: The Latest Buzz” for LA Weekly.
“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet’s and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”
Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content, and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness, and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade.
Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavor compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savory and intense in flavor, having lost most of their acidity through the roasting process, and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.
As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, and aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.
Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50, and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee. Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.
Arabica – The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.
Culi (Peaberry) Arabica – In normal circumstances, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilization of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.
Robusta – The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing have improved its flavor drastically.
Culi (Peaberry) Robusta – Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.
Liberica and Excelsa – Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries, and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.
When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter, and fine for espresso).
If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.
Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms
Bột – Powder
Nguyên hạt – Unground coffee beans
Hạt Rang – Roasted coffee beans
Cà Phê Nguyên Chất – Pure coffee without additives
Cà Phê Rang Xay – Roasted and ground coffee
Cà Phê Hòa Tan – Instant/dissolvable ground
Cà Phê Mít – Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee.
Cà Phê Chồn – Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from feces of civets that consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is made with chemical flavoring and/or artificial enzymes.
Hương – Artificial fragrance
Bơ – Butter
Rượu – Liquor
Price List for Some Popular Coffee Shops and Brands in HCMC.
These propositions were last checked in September 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
The Souvenir Favourites:
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND60,000 – 110,000 for 340g of the popular Sang Tao 1 – 5 ground coffee series featuring various blends
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND50,000 – 85,000 for 200g of ground coffee featuring various blends
The Enthusiast Range:
Mr Viet Coffee
Available at Annam Gourmet Market throughout the city
They have 4 types of coffee beans available in the 250g size:
Đà Lạt VND99,000
Good Morning VND117,000
Hương chồn VND173,000
The Coffee House
19 locations around the city
VND110,000 for 270g of The Coffee House’s signature Arabica & Robusta blend
98 Lê Lai, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, D1
VND70,000 of Robusta
VND140,000 of Specialty Arabica
The Specialty Group:
K’ho Coffee can be sampled and purchased at Trekker Cafe
21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, D1 “Journey sandwich & coffee”
6 Lê Văn Miến, Thảo Điền, D2 “Soma art coffee”
VND135,000 for 250g or VND270,000 for 500g of K’ho Coffee’s excellent specialty beans offered in light, medium, and dark roast levels.
13 Nguyễn Thiệp, D1
18 Hồ Huấn Nghiệp, D1
They have 9 types of coffee beans available in the 200g size.
Spirit Of Eakmat – VND300,000
Ethiopia-g1 – VND240,000
VN Phin – VND100,000
Shin Espresso – VND300,000
Khe Sanh Blend – VND100,000
Sơn La Blend – VND180,000
Shin Blend – VND300,000
Đà Lạt Blend – VND150,000
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe – VND240,000
Vietnamese Coffee Republic
8A/7B2 Thái Văn Lung, D1
Republic Blend – Arabica/Robusta
30-70 VND125,000 for 250g
50-50 VND145,000 for 250g
70-30 VND165,000 for 250g
100 percent Arabica VND205,000 for 250g
The Workshop Coffee
27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé W, D1 (2nd floor)
Vietnamese coffee beans – VND260,000
Foreign coffee beans – VND335,000
A Cafe Specialty Coffee
15 Huỳnh Khương Ninh, D1
Espresso – VND198,000
Arabica – Robusta Blend:
50-50 : VND100,000
70-30 : VND92,000
30-70 : VND108,000
100 percent Arabica – VND120,000
100 percent Robusta – VND78,000
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING MALLS BEST GOURMET SHOPS IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in September 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
In a new but rapidly developing metropolis like Ho Chi Minh City, sometimes the best things remain hidden or hard to find. Without much marketing or advertising, great shops that you never heard of only come up during conversations with friends or a random in-person encounter while you’re zipping around the city. But let’s say you need some rare spices, want a regular place for your organic items or miss yourself some good old quality chocolate. Where do you go? Luckily, we compiled a handy guide of awesome shops and what they specialize in. Check it out below.
Annam Gourmet Market
Usual times are 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
16-18 Hai Ba Trung, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)902 668 876 / +84 (0)902 333 510
Saigon Centre, 65 Le Loi St., Ben Thanh Ward., D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)777 747 263 / +84 (0)392 043 674
88 Song Hanh St., An Phu Ward., Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)328 943 085 / +84 (0)326 277 490
41A Thao Dien St., Thao Dien Wrd., Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)903 998 681 / +84 (0)903 998 082
64-70, Nguyen Duc Canh, D7, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)989 517 149 / +84 (0)977 407 149
More locations can be found at annam-gourmet.com
Saigon’s most popular imported goods chain, you can find plenty of Western produce, beverages, kitchen items, and more. The staff speaks English and delivery is available for orders above VND300,000.
7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
58 Ham Nghi, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3914 1318 / +84 (0)28 3824 1423
48 – 50 Huynh Thuc Khang, D1, HCMC, Vietnam (corner of Pasteur street)
Less fancy and more affordable than Annam, Phuong Ha is closer to what you’d expect from a corner convenience store in America, packed with goods. While not too pretty in appearance, these two shops facing each other on each side of Ham Nghi plus the annex on Pasteur have been operating for 20 years and have 20,000 local and imported items, both for individual shoppers and companies. They offer free delivery within 5km and speak some English.
60 Ham Nghi, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3829 2135
322 Nguyen Tat Thanh, D4, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)909 379 293
Next door to Phuong Ha and with a similar appearance, Thai Hoa specializes in kitchen items, imported Branston pickles, Russian caviar, cereals, biscuits, canned foods, spices, frozen foods, wine, and spirits all at fair prices. Delivery services are available and English is spoken.
Nam An Market
6:45 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
21 Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3519 1646
More info at namanmarket.vn
A premium shop in line with Annam, Nam An specializes in providing fresh food items, particularly U Minh prawns, Norwegian salmon, and fresh squid from Ninh Thuan. In addition, you will easily find all kinds of imported and local meats, vegetables, and fresh fruit.
Co-op Supermarket (ex- Auchan/Giant)
8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Crescent Mall, 101 Ton Dat Tien, D7, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 5412 1416
This supermarket located on the bottom floor of the mall offers an extended range of products, from fresh food to grocery items and general merchandise. It is a favorite shopping destination for both local and expatriate customers. The bread, beer, wine, cheese, fish, and cold cuts sections are not to be missed. Little to no English is spoken.
9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
No. 1, Street 2, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam /+84 (0)28 3744 2565
More info at meatworksasia.com and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This international standard, Australian-owned butchery in the heart of District 2 serves imported beef and lamb, local poultry, and more, as well as catering for BBQ events. All meat products are free range, ensuring juicy, healthy cuts. They have great weekly specials as well – so watch out for those.
La Poissonerie VP Seafood
Tue – Sat 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., Sun – Mon 8:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
31 Tong Huu Dinh, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 28 3519 4070
More info at vpseafood.com and via email at email@example.com
VP Food is a wholesaler and retailer that provides a diversity of seafood and top-notch product quality. They offer live, fresh, and frozen local seafood, including shrimp, crustaceans, fish, oysters, shellfish, ready meals, and even specials like a stingray. French and English are spoken.
7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
130 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 6673 3350
117 Nguyen Thai Hoc, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 6685 0532
24 Nguyễn Quý Đức, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0) 28 2212 6326
More info at organica.vn and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This specialist grocery store focuses on imported goods. The shop has a small but interesting range of imported international food products, coupled with fresh produce direct from their own farm in Da Lat. The walk-in cold chamber stocking steaks, salmon, cheese, and salads are definitely worth a visit. They have no delivery service and the staff have only basic English.
Mon-Sun 7 a.m. – 8.30 p.m.
93 Tran Nao, Binh An Ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)93 1771 088
123 Dinh Tien Hoang, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)969 421 088
146 Phan Dinh Phung, Phu Nhuan, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)902 921 088
39 Street 16, Canh Vien 2, D7, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 7307 1088
More info at organicfood.vn
Organic Market sells all kinds of vegetables and fresh fruit which are produced to high quality, organic, natural, and GAP standards. Check the blackboard outside each day for special deals. They operate from their shop in District 7’s Sky Garden, and the staff speaks English.
Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat
9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
167 – 169 Calmette, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3620 1791
No.90 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3620 1791
Multiple locations and more info at maisonmarou.com
Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat stocks superb quality hand-made dark chocolates, with cacao beans grown in Dong Nai, the Mekong Delta, Lam Dong, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau. Their packaging is original and produced in-house and the staff speak English.
37 Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 6296 0066
More info at voelker-vietnam.com
Lovely European-style bakery producing fresh pieces of bread, quiches, pastries, and pies. Their fine tarts and cakes are among the best in the city. Delivery service is free within Thao Dien. English and French are spoken.
Saint Honoré Saigon
33 Tống Hữu Định, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3620 1816
More info at sainthonore.com.vn or on Facebook
After 10 years, Saint – Honoré is the leading French-style bakery in Vietnam. Their service includes wholesale and retail bakeries or patisseries, bakery-café for a quick bite, and even a small and affordable French-style restaurant.
Gian hàng L2.20A, Level 2, Saigon Centre, 65 Đ. Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3821 8727
Multiple locations in the city and more info on Facebook
PAUL is a “Maison de Qualite” since 1889. PAUL makes 43 different kinds of rustic and fancy bread, plus a vast selection of viennoiseries, pastries, and seasonal sandwiches. There are also light French-style snacks with sweet and savory tarts, a variety of crepes, simple dishes, and mixed salads available at PAUL bakery restaurants.
9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
85 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3822 6655
9A Đ. Thảo Điền, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3744 2363
More info at redapron.vn
Red Apron offers a wide range of imported fine wines and spirits from more than 10 countries. Delivery is available for all orders within the city and English is spoken.
Mon-Sat 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
5/5 Le Thanh Ton, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3825 8826
94 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)914 938 844
101 Mai Thi Luu, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 (0)931 107 109
More info at warehouse-asia.com
With 8,000 brands to choose from and a first-class range of spirits and wine accessories, The Warehouse is HCMC’s most comprehensive beverage shop. Delivery is available on orders of three bottles or more and English and French are spoken.
Wine Embassy Boutique
41 Quoc Huong, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 6296 0552
More info at en.wineembassy.vn or via email at email@example.com
Wine Embassy is a lively shop with more than 150 well-selected wines. The resident sommelier has more than 12 years of experience and will assist you in your selection. They stock more than 30 wines below VND400,000 from various countries, five different champagnes, and a great selection of fine wines. They have a loyalty program and wine tastings. Free Delivery until 8:30 p.m., white wine and sparkling will be delivered already chilled, ready to enjoy.
7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
26 Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 (0)28 3744 3939 / +84 (0)28 3744 2661
More info at ubl.vn or vial email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Discount shop with lots of cheap toys, kitchen items, utensils, party items, and more. Basic English is spoken and they offer free delivery for orders over VND150,000 in HCMC (VND20,000 for less). Deliveries within 1-2 working days. Little English is spoken.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING MALLS SAIGON’S SECRET ORGANIC FOOD SUPPLIERS
The search for truly organic food in Vietnam has always been a bit difficult.
Ines Quoico, owner of The Organik Shop and Organik Da Lat Farm, previously told City Pass Guide that not only are there no certifications issued for organic farms in Vietnam, but the ordeal of getting certified through the European Union, a similar US food safety body or another certifying organization involves finding land that is not infected with dioxin, then flying in auditors to test the soil, the water, the fertilizers, and to perform countless other trials.
Yet, without these certifications, the word “organic” holds no weight. What’s more organic farms are complicated and costly to run as a result.
Yet, these challenges don’t change the fact that there is a demand for safe, well-made food in Vietnam. When people read another news story about a food scandal such a battery acid allegedly being used to darken coffee, or formaldehyde extending the shelf life of noodles, they turn towards labels they feel like they can trust and organic fits that bill. A report in Vietnam News estimates that organic food revenues have reached VND3 trillion.
So where can you go to find products with that little green organic label? Most supermarket chains carry at least a small selection of organic fruits and veggies from Da Lat at this point but the big players in the organic food scene are mainly in well-heeled D2. Nam An Market and The Organik Shop are the places to go for the biggest selection but Annam Gourmet also features a nice choice of organic offerings amongst their international imports. D7, D2, Binh Thanh and D1 have similar stores.
But where do you go if you’re interested in smaller businesses, specialty products, or food delivery? Read on.
Farm to Doorstep
Looking for a food delivery service that is a bit more health conscious than Domino’s Pizza? Vuon Rau can deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables right to your door. The organic products are clearly marked across the top with a green banner. The website is in Vietnamese, use Google Translate to navigate. Plus, then you can enjoy reading through some of the blog posts that read like Williams Carlos poems such as this one:
It was a red plastic tray, lined with thick, golden sheets of paper, in which ripe tomatoes were sitting next to each other listening to the car’s sound at night.
Chopp delivery is a grocery delivery service that consolidates all of your market shopping into one easy to use website and app. A quick search of the word “organic” pops up 274 products, from imported baby food to fruits and vegetables that the service will pick up for you at Naman, The Organik shop, or numerous other locations.
La Holista is more than just a place to grab healthy food. It’s a one-stop shop for a full body recharge. La Holista focuses on health coaching and meal plans for corporations and schools as well as cooking classes and healthy shopping tours. But most importantly they’ve got great snack options, such as organic cashews, quinoa salad, and kombucha. Products can be ordered on their website and delivered to your door in HCMC.
For more vegan snacks in Thao Dien, check Patty’s Kitchen out. They offer vegan options such as dips, dishes but also meal prep plans and cooking classes. Their best seller is definitely their hummus. They cook MSG and sugar-free food and use as little oil and salt as possible.
Where to Get Your Greens
Green Around the Corner (23 Street 61, D2), a light-filled café tucked into the hems of Thao Dien, can be hard to find but it’s worth the search. Not only can you curb your mid-day hunger pangs with hearty vegan salads and nut-based cheeses, you can also buy their products to take away. This is the place to go if you want to do your part in reducing plastic waste—here, you can pick up a set of reusable glass, stainless steel, or bamboo drinking straws.
The Organik Kitchen Saigon in District 1 serves a healthy vegetarian fair with an international flair. Their juices are organic but that’s not all: this is one of the few places in town where you can buy truly organic wine.
Address: 43 Nguyễn Văn Giai, Đa Kao, D1, HCMC, Vietnam
Sustainable Farming & Accountability
Les Vergers du Mekong does not list its products as organic, however, the company does make available information on how the fruits and vegetables used in their products are being farmed and whether it is sustainable. Les Vergers du Mekong prides itself on its traceability, meaning the consumer can follow the path of where the fruit was grown, what was added to it, and how it was transformed into the product you hold in your hand. Ethically-sourced, juices, jams, Fair Trade honey, coffee, and tea are available.
Food vendor Maifarmi has a Facebook shop filled with photos of bright leafy greens and branches drooping under the weight of the ripe avocados on their farm. As with Les Vergers du Mekong, Maifarmi does not tout their organic certification but they are part of the farm to doorstep movement that is just beginning to get a foothold in Vietnam and are worth mentioning. You can order by contacting the growers on Facebook and they will deliver directly to your home.
If All Else Fails …
Grow your grub yourself. Saigon’s climate is perfect for balcony or windowsill gardening. Interested but don’t know where to start? Gagaco (So 2, Street 53, Thu Duc City) is a shop for amateur greenskeepers to get all the gear—wooden planters, water systems, and seeds—as well as to gain knowledge. Gagaco offers free gardening advice to anyone who asks.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING MALLS THE RISE (OR FALL) OF MALL-BASED RETAIL IN SAIGON
The history of shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively brief. The country re-opened to foreign investment in the early 1990s, a time in history when inhabitants of numerous major cities in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok were receiving their glutton-like shares of retail therapy via the introduction of mega malls. Investors eyed every possible inch of land in these metropolitan places, effectively holding citizens hostage by nurturing a mall-based retail culture that has, so it seems, never truly hit Vietnam, even until now.
Malls Take Over Valuable Real Estate in Saigon
The first modern ‘mall’ in Ho Chi Minh City, Diamond Plaza, opened its doors in 1999, superseding the antiquated Thuong Xa Tax on Le Loi street, built by French colonialists 136 years ago, as a retail pilgrimage spot for the middle class and wealthy Saigonese. The establishment was, however, not very much different from its de-facto ancestor: effectively a departmental store with limited choices of food & beverage (F&B) establishments and recreational facilities such as an arcade, bowling alley, and a billiards club.
Fast forward to 2013 when Vincom Centre began operations at the junction of Le Thanh Ton and Dong Khoi street. The arrival of a mall and office tower worthy of presence in even bigger cities signified a rather revolutionary change in retail trends in Vietnam: American apparel brands and fast food chains such as DKNY and Carl’s Jr featured as neighbors beside popular Vietnamese F&B chains including Pho 24 and Highlands Coffee. Between 2013 and 2018, numerous other notable malls such as Saigon Centre, Crescent Mall, SC Vivocity, and The Garden Mall began taking over the most valuable plots of land in District 7, District 1, and District 5.
A walk in these malls, however, easily sparks a common sentiment: most retail tenants in these places seem to be focused on F&B. In fact, this phenomenon has also sparked the birth of an indie-style retail culture in downtown Saigon, where several colonial-era residential buildings such as 42 Nguyen Hue and 26 Ly Tu Trong are now filled with independent cafes and fashion boutiques, many of which cannot afford the sky-high rental costs at larger malls.
Has the convenience of e-commerce and online shopping already beaten mall-based retail to its own game in Vietnam?
An article in April 2018 by the Financial Times stated that the Vietnamese are one of the largest sources of digital consumers, commanding a solid 35 percent of the total online population, compared to 24 percent in Thailand and a measly 3.2 percent in Singapore. Mr. Tran Ngoc Thai Son, founder of Tiki.vn, began with online sales of hard-to-acquire English language books in 2010 and has now expanded to a huge variety of products including electronics and promotional flight tickets. He shared that Vietnam is a “very young country going through a golden population period”. Incidentally, the youth are the most enthusiastic users of mobile devices in Vietnam, potentially the reason e-commerce could be a success here. Amazon is also set to enter the Vietnamese market shortly, competing directly with Lazada, the most popular e-commerce operation in the country. Chinese giant Alibaba owns 83 percent of Lazada, having injected another US$2 billion worth of investment into the company earlier last year.
However, tales of smuggled and pirated goods on e-commerce sites are not unheard of. An article by tuoitre.vn showed examples of household appliances by popular brands such as Panasonic and Philips being sold at less than 30 percent of their recommended retail prices on sites such as Lazada, Sendo and Shoppe. The origins of these items are hardly traceable. Could such problems spur consumers back to traditional shopping?
The Changing Architecture of Retail Zones
On the other end of the spectrum, the freedom to operate F&B and retail business from almost any property has turned entire residential enclaves into non-mainstream, open-spaced shopping complexes. The best example is the Thao Dien ward of Saigon’s District 2, known for its high density of villas, condominiums and international schools which mainly serve the foreigner and expat population in Ho Chi Minh City. Xuan Thuy street and its immediate surroundings at the heart of Thao Dien are now a respectable foodie haven; from an American burger bar, barbecue diner, and craft beer bar to Hakata-style pork ramen, Danish sorbets, and even a celebrity-level duck balut joint, a VND100,000 note suddenly becomes rather powerless in a country known for its cheap eats.
Huynh Van Banh street in Phu Nhuan district is another apt example. Known to young fashionable locals as a mecca for cheap apparel deals, one would wonder why these flamboyant youths would ever bother to sacrifice commuting convenience and low prices to shop at large and intimidating malls. One easily finds similarities to Bugis Street in Singapore, effectively a fashion bazaar built on a now-defunct street between two parallel lengths of old colonial buildings.
A feasible strategy would be for the local authorities to designate certain areas in suburban Saigon for similar purposes. Nonetheless, locals may still remain skeptical unless rental rates and shopping can be kept affordable; it is unavoidable that any ‘night market’ or ‘fashion bazaar’ pop-up in Vietnam would quickly be disregarded when compared with highly successful fashion and food bazaars found in downtown Bangkok—potentially leading locals into yet another self-induced bout of inferiority complex.
Perhaps it is time for local mall operators to up the game by identifying the causes of discomfort and local aversion to physical shopping. The reliance on motorbikes as the main form of transportation is a key point that should not be ignored. Parking in malls can be intimidating to some locals; extended walking distances and searching for one’s motorbike in a large parking lot is an uncomfortable experience for many. The purchase of bulky items and groceries is also a challenge: uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.
Thank God for our hardworking ‘shipper’ guys who will stay relevant, regardless of whether malls are here to stay.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING MALLS THE SWEET SUCCESS OF MAROU FAISEURS DE CHOCOLAT
Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou joined forces and their names to create the Marou brand. Both co-founders have been dedicated to the Made in Vietnam concept from the beginning—producing their chocolate within the country and buying small batches of top-quality cacao from local farmers.
Samuel Maruta, explained the importance of ingredients to Marou, “We are a bit like a chef who goes to the market every morning to find the freshest products.”
The chocolatiers make it their mission to find excellent ingredients while maintaining their commitment to sourcing locally.
Marou sells mostly dark chocolate – at around 70% cacao content – a trend that Maruta believes was instigated by the increasing French taste for higher percentages. Marou also produces several other products, including dairy-free milk chocolate made with coconut milk.
At Maison Marou, the brand’s flagship Ho Chi Minh City cafe, the chefs experiment with more adventurous recipes, such as a ganache infused with the same spices that are used to make Vietnamese pho. Marou has expanded its offering at this central Saigon hub to also feature a gourmet pastry menu, which offers some of the best desserts in the city.
Maruta outlined the journey that he and Vincent Mourou have been on for the past seven years since the inception of Marou—from two friends making chocolate in their kitchen to a business that has two shops, a factory, and a team of almost one hundred people. Being an entrepreneur means both freedom and responsibility to Maruta—the freedom to make decisions but also the responsibility to our customers and colleagues who have put their trust in us.
Marou has become known internationally as the specialist brand of Vietnamese chocolate.
Marou’s market is both local and international. The company has a wide range of retailers in Vietnam and abroad as well as plenty of visitors to Vietnam buying the chocolate to take back overseas. Maruta pointed out that chocolate has always made a good gift because it travels well across the world.
In the future, Marou will continue to grow but Samuel Maruta highlighted, “We are big on organic growth.” He said that expansion should not happen at any price and that the company’s principles will always remain at the forefront of its business.