The Northwest magnificence through the lens of Tan “Hoa Ban Food”

A big part of the Northwest region is magnificent not only because of its majesty and mysteriousness but also because via the lens of Pham Tan, the owner of gold-play-button-certified Youtube channel Hoa Ban Food with 2,5 million subscribers, the life of locals living in Northwest has been displayed with the liveliness and realness of such challenging but intense survivals of humans towards the harsh natural condition of this place.

Why are so many people paying their special attention to the Hoa Ban Food Channel? Scrolling down from the channel, we can see there are more than 500 highly interacted videos introducing many aspects of the Northwest area: the Northwest produce, documentaries about the culture and ordinary daily life of the ethnic minority living by Da river or footages about the wild nature discovery initiated by Pham Tan's steps, etc. At first glance, it seems like there is nothing too special because they are just like other Pham Tan's review videos, but the impacts on the community from those videos have created many abstract values.

Other professional Youtubers indicates that building a channel to attract a big group of loyal and interactive subscribers like what Hoa Ban Food has done in the late years is not an easy job, let alone that Pham Tan still reserves the rural essence of his rustic local crew, the jungle's children. His videos appear to be so idyllic without any arrangement or embellishment but still let millions of audience long and save a special fondness for them. How did they win the audience's heart?

Pham Tan honestly answered that big question with a businessman's pure mindset: producing videos for selling Northwest cuisines and food without any intention to expand the channel. At first, he only wanted to capture the actual activities of buying and processing the produce to reassure their sanitary and origin quality. It is completely necessary because, between 2012 and 2013, the Internet was not strongly enhanced. Thus, providing products' information from the mountainous areas to the urban zones was even more challenging. The only solution at that point was manufacturing videos reviewing the products, which he learned from other big cooking channels in the world, such as "Food Inc,". Now, that action has created a vibrant ecosystem for Hoa Ban Food in 8 years of working.

Little by little, Hoa Ban Food is not merely a Northwest product selling channel anymore but it adds in many connective values for the community by their ways of introducing the culture, culinary, ordinary lives of the ethnic minority and the distant villages’ sentimental lifestyle. Those elements come to life via the one-of-a-kind camera vision of Tan "Hoa Ban Food."

Hi Tan, you are known as a Northwest child, leaving the area to the city to study, working for a while then coming back to your hometown to run your own business, what are your feelings when coming back?

Oh, talking about feelings, of course, I feel great and could’ve never been better! (laughing). I can breathe the fresh air, get away from the crowded and boisterous city. The scenery of Northwest mountains and forests is alluring for an amateur photographer like me. Every time going back to this place, I feel like stepping back into my childhood to hang out, go swimming and fishing in the streams, climb trees getting fruits with the kids innocently as you can see a lot in my videos from my channel.

When meeting with the locals for the business, I feel people's mutual and genuine bonds. The more remote and faraway places, the more fondness I receive from them. I had the chance to accompany with my sidekicks, living with them like a family, trek into the jungle to look for wild honey, cross the streams, and cast some nets to catch fishes. They are the real blood brothers that without them, there will be no Hoa Ban Food as it is today.

Nếu vậy có lẽ anh sẽ có góc nhìn cận cảnh nhất về đời sống của bà con sinh sống nơi đây?

So could it be said that you have the closest and realest look at the locals' daily activities in this area?

For the Northwest residents, though they live simple lives and highly appreciate fondness between people, they depend on nature and utilize the natural fresh foods that are available for many generations. Thus, it is struggling to raise the living standards or change their works especially when the resources are not abundant anymore.

If any audience may notice in my videos about us collecting wild honey in the jungle in the series "The Jungle Journal," compared to the first period, the amount of wild honey is not substantial as it used to be anymore. And it is just one in many particular examples about the depletion of natural resources. Humans cannot only rely on natural produce forever, and they should learn how to cultivate and domesticate to have more sustainable and well-off living conditions.

"The Jungle Journal" on Hoa Ban Food Channel attracts many viewers because of the arduous and treacherous adventure of the Northwest mountainous humans to exploit the sweet wild honey.

Do you think if there are any solutions to assist the locals in changing their life?

The only solution is to work, work, and work. It is not right to blame your circumstance or fate, it is your responsibility to find the solutions to make a living. For me, in any context, if a person works hard and smart enough, they will never die of starving. Northwest humans possess the trait of working hard, laborious, and assiduous, but they do not know how to work more efficiently. Most of them think of living a run-of-the-mill life because they don't have much demand, thereby only working enough for a day. They take advantage of the produce they have in the garden to put on their dish every day. If it can be ordinary forever like that, it is okay, but in case of illness, there is no money to go to the doctor, and it is impossible to borrow some money too. Just like that, poverty keeps trapping them.

I always tell them to work when they still can and work even harder than they can. When the bamboo shoot seasons come, they need to focus on collecting them, and if the seasons are over, they need to find something else to do. And I also advise them to start saving at all costs. The saving habit is still new for people here. For example, if they catch four fishes on a day, they will cook all fours for that day; meanwhile, there is no plan for tomorrow's food. I advise to spare for everything, even little daily things. If they catch four fishes, they only need to cook 2 of them and save other twos for tomorrow.

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The Northwest women with the eternal love for family, the hospitality for the guests and the hardworking trait.

Does Hoa Ban Food come up with any solution to reassure the supply for the market when the resources are depleted day by day?

In every video of mine, I shared a clear viewpoint that when I started this project of selling Northwest produce, I prioritize sustainability and do not chase for profits or the market demand as well as fully exploit those precious resources. There are products such as Da-river fishes which could cost millions of vnđ per kilogram. Still, they are occasionally available, and we only cook them for ourselves because of the lack of reliable supply. But there are products that we can manage, such as buffalo meat to make Hoa Ban Food traditional dish "thit trau gac bep" or tapioca tree to make tapioca starch. I advise them to think of new ways to develop the products and not just count on what they are having.

During the trip to directly buy the products from the locals, we are always joking that the demand for cattle is never enough to keep on raising those cattle as much as possible. But they could not understand right away. Thus, there needs to be a professional coach to guide them in the production of raising cattle efficiently, then the quality and quantity of the produce can be improved. We are purely a supplier in charge of processing to take the products into the market, and we are not policy planners or companies focusing on production; therefore, it is still out of our reach.

Being able to witness the sad but true downside of many fortuneless lives in the Northwest in the deep forest, would you like to send any message?

Honestly, when we carried out the trips to support people living in the remote areas, I realized that in the most lonesome regions, though they have a lot of troubles to make end meets, they are full of love and friendliness. Like in the journal "Jungle Man", I ran into a makeshift hut with four children, the eldest was in grade 6 or 7, and the youngest was only two years old. Because their parents went to work, they had to take care of themselves. There are stories that I cannot imagine how rough life is for the locals, which makes me evaluate my own life and feel grateful for what I am having and live a more meaningful life.

Entering the Northwest mountainous area, which is jagged, distant and full of risks must be the unique experience that not everyone can have, could you share some practical experience from the trips you took?

My first advice is never to go into the jungle alone. In my videos, I also counsel many particular cautions about what you should do and don't while traveling to the Northwest highland area, especially not going into the woods on your own or sailing on Da river without the locals who are competent in guiding.

I also made some videos about discovering Northwest for family-friendly picnic trips that I am planning to develop a channel named "Hoa Ban Camp" focusing on short period trek service in the Northwest with my local buddies. Rivers and mountains are like pieces of cakes to them. They are also strong, resourceful, enthusiastic and genuine people whom, if you don't mind, I called the Hunters. We instruct the survival skills with some modern tourist tools for this type of picnic trips. At the moment, Hoa Ban Camp has more than 400 thousands subscribers.

Are there any arrangements to express the ideas in your videos?

There are absolutely no arrangements except for some food review videos that need to set up a bit for the food. The rest of the journal, experience videos are all real journeys. Those are moments as well as the progress of the journey that I recorded. It is impossible to tell Toan to climb on the tree and wait until he climbs to set up and shoot the footages. In the jungle journal that you guys see in the videos, the scene when we went over the waterfall, the moment when our raft crossed the fast-flowing stream, I couldn't ask my team to come back just because I want record because it is hazardous.

---

The local buddies: strong - resourceful - enthusiastic and genuine humans.

Doing business about cuisines and cookery in Northwest, you have a lot of videos introducing the different cultural culinary of the ethnic minority in the remote area, what is your impression with the food of Northwest?

(Thinking for a while) The culinary style of the locals in the Northwest is much simpler than the urban areas because the ingredients are less abundant and they are always in the circle of pork, chicken, wild vegetable, wild fish, etc. while there are many kinds of ingredients from many cultures to cook a lot of dishes in the city. Thus, the food in the Northwest is less flavour than the food in the city. The only thing I see that is more significant is the love of people put into the dishes they cook as can be seen when the food is always served for kids and the elderly first. If there is any delicious food, it will be shared for everyone. All in all, this is an endearing cultural feature that I see in every family from any ethnic in Vietnam.

---

The only thing I see that is more significant is the love of people put into the dishes they cook that can be seen when the food is always served for kids and the elderly first.

How did you make the culinary in the Northwest look so lively in the following videos that continue to attract more viewers on Hoa Ban Food?

As I mentioned before, the first purpose of Hoa Ban Food was to boost the sales, not to make money via the Youtube channel. We will strive our best to produce more videos with contents more related to the locals' lives, of course, the quality will be improved so that our audience can entertain while watching more scenery, clearer and less shaky shoots. But we will concentrate on the quality rather than the quantity of the videos, so after the audience watch a video, it can leave some particular impression on them. We want to create such memorable footages because 20 or 30 years later if we want to re-record those moments, it would be barely possible.

For sure, seeing the same scenes with the same people, the audience eventually will get bored, if I were them, I would be too. Therefore, I am planning to a certain point in the future when I finish my mission of providing all the necessary info for people, I will stop making videos to focus on doing business. That is the long-term strategy that we aim for. Small stores with high quality, they will be the places our customers can rest assured buying the Northwest produce.

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You love the Northwest and would like to understand more about it or just simply want to watch the daily scenes of it, don’t forget to subscribe Hoa Ban Food Youtube channel or follow Hoa Ban Food Fanpage.

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