Where Chefs Eat: Giang Chí “Teddy” Tín, Sous Chef Extraordinaire & Human Food Encyclopedia
Address: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Sam Dart sits down with ” Teddy”, the Sous Chef from the newly opened Tê Tê Taphouse, to discuss Saigon Eats, Chinese influence in D5, Venison and soda.
We meet Tín, affectionately known as Teddy, deep in district 5, and he’s arrived early. Perhaps it’s no coincidence—an unlikely meteorologist, he claims to be able to feel when it’s going to rain 30 minutes beforehand. “My nose gets clogged, then I know it’s coming. Every time”!
“Gregarious, opinionated, and adventurous, he’s an ideal dining companion.”
It’s rainy season in Saigon, and he’s comfortably dry. The rest of our party, considerably damper, settles in while he orders for the table. Gregarious, opinionated, and adventurous, he’s an ideal dining companion. This afternoon, we’re at one of Teddy’s long-time favorite spots, hủ tiếu sa tế gia truyền Tô Ký, serving up venison hu tieu and bo kho. Over a bowl of each, Teddy fills us in on how he found a great many of his favorite street spots around the city.
An early start
“When I was little, my grandfather used to drive me all over the place on his Honda 67. If I got a good grade in school, he’d always bring me out to eat. Most kids had to sit in the front, but at that age I was already a big guy, so I hopped on the back and got a sense of the city. He took me everywhere”.
The Venison Spot
This very venison hu tieu stall was no exception. Teddy’s grandfather first brought him here when the two of them were still feeling a little hungry after a wedding, and it’s since become among his favorites. The ultra-tender venison is served up in a rich, addictive peanut sauce mixed together with pho noodles. It’s something you won’t find on just any street corner, but the small restaurant, run by a Chinese family, is characteristic of the neighborhood’s complex identity.
A Chinese influence
Teddy, whose father’s family comes from Beijing, gives us an abbreviated history of district 5’s cuisine and culture. As it goes, Chinese immigrants first came to Danang, then followed the coast down and up the river all the way to Saigon, eventually ending along the Van Kiet Canal in district 5. Over the years, the Chinese influence in the neighborhood has remained profound; in food, yes, but also in the form of its remaining temples and even shop signs displayed in both Chinese and Vietnamese.
The chef’s own background is also filled with complexities. In addition to Chinese influences come those of his grandmother and aunt, from whom he first learned to cook. His grandmother, a long-time vegan, once brought him to a Buddhist temple for a month during a school break; it turned out, the food they prepared was so good that Teddy kept coming back every year. Here he learned about the value of simplicity, freshness, and patience in cooking.
When asked what makes the food of Southern Vietnam so special to him, Teddy’s answer is relatively straightforward: “it’s the sugar. And, more importantly, it’s knowing how to use it, from caramelizing to adding it in at the right time. It completely changes a dish”. It should also be noted that Teddy is a connoisseur of soda, his preferred variety being the long-standing local favorite Saxi. An at-first-taste-confounding mix of cola and root beer, one can be sure that it employs sugar without hesitation.
RELATED: Try Streatery’s pick of favorite eateries in Tan Dinh, HERE.
A chef’s life
Today, Teddy has brought these lessons to his life as a chef in modern Vietnam—and he’s got the experience to show for it. The chef got his start as a cook at Quan Ut Ut followed by Biacraft’s first location. After that, he served as head chef at the widely-acclaimed Anan. In this role he helped to develop the menu through painstaking research around the city. Following his work there, Teddy ran the kitchen at Quán Lão Trư – Street Food BBQ & Beer. At the moment he is helping create and refine the menu at TeTe taphouse, which is now open in District 1’s Da Kao neighborhood.
Along the way, he’s become an authority on where to eat in Saigon. We asked him to tell us five of his favorite street spots:
|6 – 11AM
|6 – 11AM
|Cơm tấm Ba Ghiền
|9:00 – 21:00
|Hủ tiếu sa tế Tô Ký (venison)
|6:00 – 22:00
|Bánh Xèo Bắc Hải
|16:00 – 23:00