Food Food

Sonny Side’s hunt for surprises

Imagine shoving a live octopus in your mouth and slowly chewing the head, while it wriggles to put up a fight. Try being funny after that. Sonny Side can throw himself at any food you may call ‘extreme’, and make it the most entertaining video you have seen that day. All for the love of food, and to document the most uncommon and casually ignored street foods around the world. Based in Vietnam after having moved from South Korea, he travels around the world with a weighing machine in his luggage, creating content. The Best Ever Food Review Show is one of the fast-growing YouTube channels with around 1.8 million followers.

Sonny Side’s hunt for surprises

Sonny was on his third visit to India recently, on a 10 -day road trip that started in Mumbai, stopping in Pune, Goa and Bengaluru before ending in Chennai. His next series on street food in Southern India will be online in March. We managed to get him to talk after he wrapped up his trip with a collaboration with ‘Daddy’ Arumugam from Village Food Factory. Here are some excerpts from the phone interview.

What is the most colourful food experience you’ve had?

In northern Vietnam, near Hanoi, there is a place that harvests sand worms traditionally for two months a year. Hundreds of sand worms are harvested each day. They baked these worms into a pancake for us. It looks very off putting and strange, especially for Westerners. But it ended up tasting pretty good. The Vietnamese really know how to cook.

What is the one food that surprised you?

Most bugs. Most people have heard of bugs or have an idea of how bugs taste. 90% of the time, they are really good and harmless. They are fried up and kind of crunchy with a little bit of salt. Its like bar nuts, but in insect form.

Since street food is as much about the people as about the food by itself, what have you learnt from these experiences?

I’ve learned that people in every nation take pride in their food. If people have pride in their work, they want it to be high quality. If you like their food, it’s a way for them to feel closer to you.

Some people are not comfortable with street food, worrying about hygiene. What would you say to them?

Most people serving street food are at the same spot day after day, with almost the same customers. If they made people sick, they wouldn’t be in business for long. Most street food vendors have a certain level of quality they have to uphold or they won’t have customers. So don’t worry so much. Don’t stuff yourself too much. Be a little cautious but have a little adventure, have a little fun.

India is considered traditionally conservative in terms of experimenting with the kind of meat. Now that you’ve visited India thrice, what is your opinion?

True. I think India has the least kind of extreme foods of many countries I’ve been to. Still, there is food here that I didn’t expect. I’ve had different organs, like goat brains. On this trip, I’ve had baby shark, which seems normal to people here, but is something I would never find in the West.

What excites you about food from India?

It’s my third trip now, and I’m finally beginning to understand flavours of Indian food and spices. The atmosphere and the openness and kindness of people, especially the vendors, is great. For someone making entertaining videos, it’s great being in a country that has so much energy.

What did you learn about Indian cities through their street food?

We’ve already discovered the different availability of certain meats and foods across the country. I’ve had beef here in some places, but in the North it’s completely unheard of. Part of the fun of this trip is to feel the different personalities of each city and discover the nuances that make each place unique.

You are now quite popular around the globe. Do you ever want to get back to working for a network in the future?

I don’t have any plans to do so. YouTube is really great, I can reach a huge audience. I’m my own boss, I dictate the direction of the content and there’s no reason I would want to change that. I reach more people now than I could through traditional television. I would maybe consider a streaming service in the future, but right now, what I’m doing is great and I love it.

How was it working with YouTube fame ‘Daddy’ Arumugam from Village Food Factory?

Sonny Side’s hunt for surprises

This is one of the amazing things about YouTube. It’s democratic: people from so many different countries can get involved, start making videos, and if they build an audience, they can create a lucrative income. These guys were in a village as small as 40 families. Through these videos, in seven months, they are able to afford a house: that’s crazy. It’s exciting to meet people here who just focus on food, with a really simple camera, no high technology or production value, and create huge success for themselves. That to me is inspirational. These guys are great and humble and they are killing it. It was a pleasure to hang out with them and see how they work.

Countries he’s eaten in
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • India
  • Uzbekistan
  • China

Where are most of your viewers from? Do you customise the street food you cover according to what works with them?

Our viewers are scattered around the globe. Roughly 40% western countries, maybe 10% India, 10% Philippines, 5% Vietnam and just tonnes of little percentages from other countries. We don’t tailor our content to anybody. We just want to eat the food of the country, in that country. I just try to make the best and most entertaining content possible, regardless of who is watching.

What is the maximum number of views you’ve had on your video and which one?

A recent video about fugu — supposedly the most dangerous fish in Japan — got nearly nine million views recently in a couple of weeks. That happened while we were in India. It was a big surprise, and we didn’t expect it. We got a lot of new subscribers from seeing that video.

Sonny Side’s hunt for surprises

Sonny Side’s hunt for surprises

Have you ever get a response from anyone you’ve featured in your videos? Did it change their life in any way after they went online?

That’s a really rewarding part of what we do. We don’t necessarily set out to do that. Often, we go to places that are already well-known locally; they just get a little bit more push from us. But we’ve had a handful of places that were completely off the map: our video with them went viral and they got success from that. There is a small company in the Philippines that makes a special kind of roasted pig: after our video, they got seven million views on Facebook. Before that, they were almost completely unknown. We really blew up their business and more people wanted to shoot with them. They are really doing well now.

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Printable version | Jan 10, 2021 3:10:20 AM |

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