If you are a Foodie-Connoisseur in Southern Vietnam’s buzzing (outside lockdowns that is) economic Capital of Ho Chi Minh City and possess just somewhat of an affection for Pizza (and who is the lost soul which doesn’t?!), your salivary glands most likely just went into overdrive by simply the mention of the name.
If you hear “Mattia” – you think of Pizza, a man proud and passionate about his work and with high quality standards when serving *the* dish which is worldwide possibly most associated with Italian cuisine.
As such he has built up a fair fanbase in Saigon’s Foodie scene over the years who willingly join in whenever Mattia is calling to try out his new creations.
Mattia is running the kitchen & involved in a variety of well-known gastronomic outlets across the City. While in the past year rockin’ the pizza oven at Brick & Barrel, a rooftop restaurant with a crossover of comfort food from Italy, the UK and the United States right in the heart of Saigon atop the renowned Maison Marou in Calmette 171; he’s now refocusing his craft on more artisanal creations for the classic Italian cuisine delivered by Red’n Round in District 7.
Born and raised in Italy’s Abruzzo region, famed as one of the best-known regions in Italy to eat in due to its varied geographic landscape between mountains and sea, Mattia started to make a name for himself in Saigon’s Foodie landscape straight from the beginning of his activity as Pizzamaker & chef in 2017.
Together with a selected few other restaurateurs, he has been upping in a friendly, but fierce competition the pizza game in town considerably over the past few years – to the rejoice of Saigon’s Foodie scene.
Gone are the days that Pizza in Saigon meant an incredibly disappointing piece of poorly baked bread dough topped off with commercial Mayonnaise and Ketchup of the cheapest sort.
Mattia took the time to talk with us about his journey to Vietnam, the experiences made along the way, his outlook for Vietnam and his dreams for the future – and of course what makes in his eyes “the perfect Pizza”.
BitcoinVN News: Mattia, one of the first obvious questions: Why Vietnam, what led you here in the first place and which lucky coincidences led to the point that made you choose Saigon/Vietnam as your new home?
Mattia di Paolo: I visited Vietnam for the first time in October 2016, for my brother’s wedding to his Vietnamese girlfriend. The plan to leave Italy was already in my mind and that trip led me to consider Saigon as my next destination. I heard from my brother about the city, about the economy, that Saigon at that time was lacking of Italian chefs and that I could find my way here. Obviously, I also liked the city a lot, it really impressed me. Chieti, my hometown in central Italy, has only 50.000 residents and is very quiet, so I was curious to experiment a new lifestyle in such a “never sleeping” city. The plan to make Vietnam my new home became reality only 5 months later.
BVNews: During your stay in Vietnam, you were already involved in a variety of Italian-style food outlets and restaurants. Among them Pizzamore in Thao Dien as well as Italiani’s by Ariel & Kevin which has been operating in the City since 2016.
What were some of the lessons you learned during your culinary journey in the city and what changed in the quality and variety of food offerings in town since your first arrival on the scene?
Mattia: Vietnam has been the first country outside of Europe i have worked in, so what caught my eye at the beginning was the huge amount of F&B related businesses. I don’t remember entering a street and not seeing at least a coffee shop or a banh mi stall. This made me believe that I found the right place to learn, research and develop more my idea of food and my projects. What also surprised me was the big variety of different styles and food cultures in the city. Everyday you can eat something different and discover something new. It’s very very stimulating for F&B operators to live in a city like Saigon.
BVNews: By now you are involved in a whole variety of Italian-style restaurants & food offerings across town. What are they and how do you manage all of this in just 24h per day?
Mattia: I started my journey in Saigon at Pendolasco at the beginning of 2017. After that experience I opened up my first restaurant PizzAmore. I was new in the city and the place was very small, but that didn’t stop us from being successful and getting better day by day. I truly believe that if today I have a reputation, it is because of PizzAmore. It made me move my first steps in the F&B community in Saigon and gave me chance to met many colleagues and i’m proud to say that today a big part of them are my 2nd family here in Saigon.
I also worked at Italiani’s in all their 3 locations: that has been a very important experience for me. It really helped me a lot to understand more about Asian customers’ taste and more specifically Vietnamese as well. The owners are Vietnamese so everyday was interesting to discover the different points of view about taste and more generally about organization of the restaurant. I co-operated in Indika Saigon as well and more recently in the last 13 months I have been involved in Brick&Barrel and Red&Round. I have to say that 24hours a day are not enough for me!
BVNews: What’s the target audience for Red & Round and which special dish would you recommend visitors?
Mattia: Red&Round is located in District 7 and the location was one of the reasons that made me accept their offer. I’ve never worked in that area before and I was curious about how to deal with the big variety of customers living in there. There is a big community of Korean, Japanese and Chinese customers and I was thrilled to discover that they truly love pizza and Italian food in general. Red&Round is where I had my biggest achievements in terms of customer satisfaction and skills improvements. We have customers of all ages. Many couples love to dine at Red&Round but also families and companies.
We have a big selection of dishes and we are mostly known for pizza, but if you want to try something special I would go for roasted gnocchi with parmesan fondue, caramelized apple, mint leaves and cocoa.
BVNews: One of the locations, Red & Round, is also sporting a Bitcoin ATM, allowing people to buy and sell Bitcoin for Cash. What’s the background story to that and what’s your personal opinion on Bitcoin?
Mattia: The story started when I was working at Italiani’s where I saw Bitcoin ATMs for the first time. I saw they were quite popular so I decided to propose it to Red&Round owners and they were as curious as I was, they accepted and now we are one of the few in the area. About Bitcoin, I simply say that it is the future of modern economy and finance. It may take time, but it will be real.
BVNews: As somebody grown in Europe and now with several years of experience under your belt in Saigon/Vietnam – what makes Vietnam such a good place for entrepreneurship? And what are the biggest business challenges newcomers face when coming to Vietnam?
Mattia: It depends a lot from the typology of business but I’m quite sure that the biggest difficulties are about bureaucratic processes, location leases and a big difference in task organization and job planning. By the way, business is never easy but I think that Vietnam’s economy will keep growing in the next few years and it’s still a great option for many different fields.
BVNews: For the past half year Vietnam has been suffering under the potentially most harsh lockdowns measures globally with the expected dramatic fallout for the domestic economy and the mental, physical and financial well-being of its people. How did it impact you personally – and how did it potentially change your views on Vietnam and the things which matter in life?
Mattia: I believe that the epidemic did not change only Vietnam but the whole world. There’s no country that did not struggle in the last 2 years. It affects your finances, affects your independence but most of all it affects your mental health and your social life. Many expats decided to leave and come back to their hometown, but in my opinion Vietnam is still one of the best places where you can be at the moment. The country is doing its best to fight this situation and I have been very happy that the government decided to include expats in the vaccinal campaign, in fact I already received both doses. Of course without tourism and with the severe lockdowns we are going through the country is struggling but I believe that the worst has passed and we are almost there. Saigon will come back to be the amazing and vibrant city we all know.
BVNews: What are your personal plans for the coming year – and for the next five years?
Mattia: For 2022 my plan is to focus on Red&Round development. We want to create something new and we want to keep improving the quality of the dishes and the pizza. While doing that, we would like to launch a new project.
For the next 5 years, I see myself still here in Saigon trying to open up the restaurant of my dreams, you will know about it when it will be the time.
BVNews: What makes a perfect Pizza to you? And – what’s the worst crime you have ever seen committed to a Pizza?
Mattia: in my opinion the perfect pizza doesn’t exist. It became a global phenomenon. There is not a specific code, rules or recipe to follow, there are many kinds but I personally prefer the Neapolitan style and that is the best for me. My concept of pizza is a light, airy and crispy dough, which has been resting and fermenting for 36hours at least, topped with quality ingredients and cooked at high temperature for not more than 2-3 minutes.
About the crime, in Cambodia I have been served raw uncooked dough, with wrong topping and medium size for 18 usd. That means killing not only the pizza but also years of studying and research we invested in to reach our best (that it is yet to come).