Ăn Vặt Cô Béo has a snack for every season | Food and Beverage Function

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  • JEFF MARINI for Chicago Reader
  • Natalie Vu wants Americans to find out how Vietnamese eat snacks.

Natalie Vu will work to find a snack that’s right for you.

“Tell me a bit about your tastes or your love for eating,” asked the 23-year-old owner of the online snack bar Ăn Vặt Cô Béo. “Do you want something really authentic?”

I had asked her to help me narrow down a handful of selections from this month’s menu of 128 imported snacks from Saigon, a variety of dried fruits, fiery jerkies, spongy pastries, dried and seasoned seafood and leaves. of rice paper that melts on the tongue and seems to strike that crisp and chewy magical balance that is the holy grail of snack makers.

The latter category, bánh tráng, has a Proustian appeal to many millennial Vietnamese immigrants. “In Vietnam, we drink milk tea every day at school,” says Vu, who grew up in Saigon before his family moved to Southern California seven years ago. “We buy the milk tea, we buy the rice paper, we stand in front of the school before the school starts chatting, hanging out, talking. Just milk tea, and the other hand is holding a rice paper bag.

Vu’s career as a snack bar started three years ago in San Jose where she worked as a waitress in a restaurant and in a milk tea store. Trying to bolster her tips, she bought rice paper at the market, seasoned it with chili oil in her own kitchen, and sold it to friends.

Soon after, Vu, his older brother and sister jumped into a car and moved to Chicago without knowing anyone here. “It was a pretty young and wild time,” she says. “I came downtown. I think, ‘This is my town.’ She quickly found a job in a nail salon, but didn’t have many connections, so her snack business fell dormant. .

But after a year, she recognized an untapped market in the city’s Vietnamese nail salons. She had scoured the online offerings of Saigon snack makers and shipped a load. Packing a large black gym bag filled with bánh tráng, dried chicken, and salted fish skin, she began to shop around downtown lounges. Word spread and as orders increased she was making her mark. Ăn Vặt Cô Béo roughly translates to “Miss Bella Snacks”. She designed her own packaging, website (anvatcobeochicago.com) and Instagram page (@ anvatcobeo.chicago), and her logo features a typical street vendor that could be displayed outside of any school. Today, she moves around 300 pounds a week in online orders, available for shipping, delivery or pickup.

JEFF MARINI FOR THE CHICAGO READER

  • JEFF MARINI for Chicago Reader

The large shopping bag filled with snacks Vu prepared for me stayed with me for days – and neither did my dog ​​keenly – as I tried to regulate a constant intake of dried, chewy palm seeds; sweet, tangy and crunchy baby crabs with dried lemon leaves; dried sticky squid strips; Tom yum beef jerky with mayonnaise; and a bunch of squares of rice paper seasoned with tom yum. This was in addition to an earlier purchase of honey kumquats, cured pork, chicken rice paper, lemon leaf and LP size cake from com chay, crispy puffed rice covered with a Sweet and sticky salted egg layer. and pulled pork.

Vu was put on leave from her job as a nail technician for three months at the start of the pandemic, but her snack business has exploded. “People would order a lot of them and also give them to their friends as gifts,” she says. “They kept ordering and referring new people. ”

It’s against the usual snack cycle, which she says slows down during the summer, when living rooms are busiest. “The technicians work open to close without eating,” she said. “They are busy making money. Concentrate only on their work.

Snacking is seasonal in other ways. In the summer, she sells more dried fruits: Thai tamarind pods, plums and gooseberries to dredge in chili salt; sesame crusted dried bananas; crispy pumpkin slices; pickled mango. In winter, its sales of dried and cured seafood skyrocket: crispy fish skin seasoned with creamy salted duck egg; Chicken Jerky with Garlic and Butter; spicy tangles of dried cured squid; or fried anchovies with lemon leaves.

Bánh tráng in a multitude of flavors is always appreciated: cheese, seaweed, chicken with lemon leaves, shrimp and mayonnaise, or super spicy beef. She is continually bringing new things to the table in other categories: Lemon Garlic Cashews, Creamy Bear Cakes, Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Mini Egg Rolls. “I change the menu every month. I’m an entrepreneurial person so I always have the idea of ​​doing different things.

The overwhelming majority of Vu’s customers are Vietnamese, including a segment of locals who seek her out when visiting Chicago. And she ships boxes filled with hundreds of snacks to salon owners across the country who want to keep their employees happy.

JEFF MARINI FOR THE CHICAGO READER

  • JEFF MARINI for Chicago Reader

She only has a few non-Vietnamese customers and worries that some of her flavors may not suit the American palate in general. So she no longer bother to publish her menu in English, even if she will if asked – and she wants to be asked.

In addition, she has more ambitious plans: “I want to open a milk tea and snacks store in the future. But I’m definitely going to be opening a nail salon in the next couple of years first. Meanwhile, after a successful pop-up at a street fair in Argyle earlier this spring, she’s eager to connect with people who host collaborative culinary events in the alternative economy. “I want to promote my brand to Americans,” she says. “I want them to try out how the Vietnamese eat snacks,” she said. “So when you talk about Vietnam, it’s not just about pho.” v



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