I’ve always believed that the best way to discover great food while traveling is to simply walk around the place you’re visiting without any expectations. Start at one street corner and follow the scent and the crowd. I have fond memories of doing this on my last pre-pandemic trip to New York City. These days, however, with fuel and food prices higher than ever, there’s another way to immerse oneself in a city’s dining scene without actually traveling.
Enter YouTube, which features more than 500 videos uploaded every minute—a far distinction from a decade ago, when it was just 35 per minute. It’s not all instructional how-tos and funny cat videos anymore. With more variety comes great diversity, and more ways to educate oneself about other cultures. The best YouTube videos let you experience things that once required a physical presence. Thus, it’s become my new rabbit hole.
After my partner recently sent me some videos about Huế, a city in Vietnam, I’ve discovered a treasure trove of virtual immersive experiences originating from Vietnam, as well as other countries in Asia. They’ve educated me on the countries’ food history and popular food trends and gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how much hard work and dedication it takes to feed people every single day. Here are some of my favorite channels; maybe you will delight in falling down the rabbit hole, too.
What the Pho began in the summer of 2020, when Van Vu, a Vietnamese student studying abroad in Michigan, posted her first video on YouTube about her experience in a “military quarantine camp” in Vietnam. The video went viral, and thus began her YouTube career. She mainly covers food, travel, and Vietnamese culture, along with short personal blurbs, like why she decided to move back to Vietnam. While this channel is highly edited in true influencer style, I found the videos to be educational and uplifting. Van highlights popular places and foods associated with those places, but she also highlights off-the-path food stalls and differences between eating in America versus eating in Vietnam. Best of all: I learned things I didn’t even know about my own country!
Watch if you want to learn more about Vietnamese food, “travel” around the country, and learn how its history influences the foods available today.
Alternatively, Street Food Thảo Vy is the opposite of influencer style. What attracts me about the channel is its simplistic nature. The videos appear to be unedited walking tours, from someone with a lot of time on their hands who simply wants to represent their city as it is. Watching these videos made me feel like I was on a walking tour with a local friend. Sometimes there are short, casual interviews with the street vendors; other times, they’re visits to certain food stalls. Many of the foods featured are Vietnamese desserts and snacks. Everything is in Vietnamese, but the camaraderie between the street vendors and their customers is both evident and authentic, and the colorful foods might make you salivate even more as you watch how they are made.
Watch if you like long, winding street food tours interspersed with conversations with the locals.
From the very first video I watched, about a seafood restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, I knew this channel was special. Like What the Pho, Yummy GO appeared on YouTube two years ago. Since then, they’ve amassed 477K subscribers, impressive for a new channel. To me, Yummy GO is like a food travel diary, blending in language that I understand (English) with places that I know very little about. It’s like visiting a new city for the first time and feeling the culture shock but knowing that your amazing friend is here, ready to take you on a delicious tour filled with tips from a local. A lot of videos feature Thai street food, along with Korean and Chinese cuisine. The best part is the “behind the scenes” look at how many vendors make their foods, making it a delicious and educational experience.
Watch if you like travel diaries and want to go behind the scenes to learn more about Thai, Korean, and Chinese food at the same time.
JJin Food began two years ago and has morphed into one of the most watched channels in this space. About 1.92 million subscribers tune in for their real-life depiction of Korean food and culture. This channel is more of a modern take on Korean street food, blending in restaurant coverage and popular food trends in Korea. For example, this video about Montreal-style bagels wouldn’t necessarily be categorized as “traditional” Korean fare, but it was fascinating to see how it has become so popular in Korea. You could argue that this is a westernized way of showcasing food from Korea, but I think it’s brilliant, because I learned things about both cultures that I didn’t know before, all with English descriptions, making it easier than ever to understand.
Watch if you want to learn about modern Korean street food and Korean restaurants and be introduced to unique foods.