Just roll with it: A Swiss expat's journey into Vietnamese cusine

June 06, 2024 - 12:04
Many Hanoians are flocking to Phan Đình Phùng street to take a peek at a sight their rarely ever see – a Swiss man grilling and advertising nem lụi, a favourite local street food.

Ngô Đức Mạnh

The vibrant streets of Hà Nội are known for their chaotic charm, with bustling markets and aromatic food stalls lining every corner.

Amid this lively atmosphere, you may well stumble upon an unexpected sight: Swiss expat, Moritz Muggli, passionately grilling and selling traditional Vietnamese delicacies like bánh xèo and nem lụi.

His journey from Switzerland to Việt Nam is not just a tale of culinary exploration but also a testament to the power of immersion and embracing new cultures.

Love at first sight

"Last year, I came here to travel for about three to four weeks. And I really enjoyed the culture of Việt Nam," Moritz said, reflecting on his initial encounter with the country's rich tapestry of traditions.

"But as a tourist, it was quite impossible... I wanted to get to know the culture better."

Determined to delve deeper into the fabric of Vietnamese life, Moritz returned to Việt Nam as a volunteer, seeking a more profound connection beyond the surface interactions of a typical tourist experience.

Running a small restaurant is how these two spend their spare time together. — VNS Photo Đức Mạnh

Transitioning from a background in economics to becoming a German teacher was just the first step. His days became a whirlwind of activity, teaching from dawn till dusk before dedicating his evenings to a newfound passion, helping his girlfriend at her small restaurant.

He said: “I think this is quite a passion, I have to say it's more like I always wanted to create something myself. And I mean, this is not my business, I have to say, but I can be a part of it

"I'm doing some marketing, I am helping out. And I really hope that it will develop very well.

There is always time for food and camaraderie.  —Photo Đức Mạnh

"For me personally, it's very simple, but also very fresh... The taste is amazing," he said.

Business for their one-month-old restaurant is booming as curious customers gather to marvel at the sight of a foreigner grilling nem lui. He also introduced western customers on how to eat these type of street foods.

Đèo Thị Nga, an employee at the restaurant, said: “Sometimes when there are too many customers, he helps out with grilling the nem lui and also with cleaning the table, bringing out the herbs and taking orders from customers just like us.”

When it’s not too busy, Moritz hangs out with regular customers, such as Nguyễn Xuân Thái , who used to work at the coffee shop next door.

Thái said: “I come here to eat almost every day. The taste of bánh xèo is very delicious. In general, it's full of dipping sauces and other stuffs. Every day I'm surprised by his barbecue skills. His nem lui is very delicious.”

The man without fear

Claiming himself as an introvert, Moritz pulls out all the stops to step out of his comfort zone to connect with locals.

“I had to like get rid of all my fears. But since I came here, I decided to just talk to the people and try everything.

"And I think when you really try to accept that this culture they will welcome you very quickly and you will make friends very very quickly.”

Will the new pitmaster take Hanoi streets by storm? — VNS Photo Đức Mạnh

As he continues to grill nem lui and roll banh xeo with practiced precision, Moritz embodies the spirit of adventure that defines expat life. With each sizzle of the grill and each satisfied customer, he leaves an indelible mark on the streets of Hanoi, proving that sometimes, the most fulfilling journeys begin with a simple willingness to roll with whatever life throws your way. — VNS