If you stop a Saigon foodie on the street and ask them about the event they’re anticipating the most, their answer will probably be Taco Loco! Taco Fest. In fact, I guarantee it.
More than a thousand people are expected to stop by Saigon Outcast this Saturday for their taco fix. Food fusions seems to be an unwritten theme of the event with Vietnamese fusions like the banh xeo taco from Anan Saigon, and amazingly enough, a British interpretation by Union Jack’s Fish & Chips. Even Hanoi’s Tex-Mex favourite Anita’s Cantina will fly south to participate. All in all, nine restaurants will compete for the best taco title in Ho Chi Minh City’s first Mexican food festival.
Angela Payne (pictured above) and Linh Nguyen (Saigon Outcast’s owner) came up with the idea for Taco Loco! Taco Fest after seeing many new Mexican eateries springing up around town. It should be noted that the dynamic duo are no stranger to large-scale foodie events. Before this, they have enjoyed a string of successes with the Curry Cook-Off, and most recently, the Saigon Burger Fest in March this year.
Although Payne only helms one event per quarter (with an admirable amount of fanfare), she used to host monthly beer tasting events with Saigon Beer School.
Hailing from Milwaukee, the beer town of America, Payne was a home-brewer for over ten years. After graduating with a degree in history, the American hit the road and travelled across the big pond to Prague to give talks on beer history. After a short spell in Czech Republic, she once again packed up and found herself in Ho Chi Minh City about three years ago. Her timing couldn’t been better, she reflects. The city’s craft beer scene was still in its infancy by the time she founded Saigon Beer School. “I really enjoyed watching that scene explode and being a part of it, at least on the periphery, exploring and sharing beer with Saigonese,” she smiles.
On her knack for hosting food & beverage events, Payne attributes it to her lifelong belief of giving back. “Wherever you live, you need to contribute to the scene in some way. If the place is boring, then why aren’t you doing something to make it interesting? People should be active in their community. This is my way of doing that, using my expertise in F&B and event planning.”
As of today, her role as a beer ambassador is on hold as she spends most of her time working for Junior Chef Saigon as a cooking teacher for kids. “It’s a really rewarding job, teaching kids this life skill that everyone needs but many people don’t have. How to cook, how to shop, how to prepare a meal.” Despite the lovely and affordable range of restaurants in town and her remarkable workload, Angela still eats at home quite frequently. “You just have to make the time to cook your own food. I’d recommend setting aside maybe Sunday afternoon to prep the food for the rest of the week, and then from Monday to Friday, just take the food out and heat it in the oven or the pan.”
The active attitude that has guided her since she was an adolescent landed her the gig with Junior Chef. “When I showed up for the interview, they were completely slammed,” she recalls. “They just got a big takeaway order and couldn’t do my interview. ‘Can I help?’ I said, and they were like, ‘Can you make any types of salad?'” Well, after spending most of her working life in the industry, of course she could. She made 15 salads for the order that day and got hired immediately.
Ever since, she has gone from planning monthly events to quarterly ones, however, the ones she plans now are much bigger in scope. Payne confirms that Taco Fest will have two bars that will offer an array of tequila shots, margarita, and local beer. Some lucha libre by the Saigon Pro-Wrestling Club and live music will serve as the entertainment of the day.
“The restaurants are going put their heart and soul into the food,” Payne concludes.
For those who love to discover the flourishing Mexican and fusions food scene, it’s gearing up to be quite the fiesta.
Taco Loco! Taco Fest 2018 will take place at Saigon Outcast on Saturday, 26th May 2018.