Stepping into The Gioi Donut from Hai Ba Trung is surprising; from bustlingly chaotic to brightly psychedelic. Glossy photos of donuts festoon the wallpaper, Chinese lanterns glow and toppings galore — some hitherto unimaginable — cover the goodies. Posters tell the history of donuts.


The line moves and I order by sight, ignoring English descriptions. Some are cutely named — the ‘King’, the ‘Queen’, the ‘Fog’. Many are beautifully decorated — cartoon characters, bright frosting, happy little messages. Most creative are the packs of four unique, Twinkie-shaped ‘Sushi Donuts’.

 

The stairs are narrow and the dining area seedy, with trash on every empty table and old furniture stacked in a corner. Graffiti covers the walls, scrawled by teenagers, TGD’s main market. They fill the other tables — and no wonder, with donuts priced in the VND14,000 to VND16,000 range. Wi-Fi is free. The few drinks (mostly tea, with some other coffee shop favourites like Milo and ca phe sua da) are inexpensive too.

 

Quality varies, despite the beautiful exteriors. I bite into my Dark Chocolate Cream donut and drop it; the cream filling has soured. The Blueberry is good inside and out. The Queen, topped with salted butter, is odd, but I could like it. All the donuts’ cake is dense without being oily. When I take a sip of my iced cappuccino (VND20,000), grit sticks in my teeth.

 

 

The Passion of the Pastry

 

The owner, Huyen, arrives, and I ask about the creative, colourful donuts.

 

“I love design,” she says. She creates seasonal and holiday donuts, and designs new ones weekly.

 

She and her husband opened TGD in 2008 at the urging of a Singaporean friend — the first donut shop in Vietnam, she claims.

 

Huyen had to remake recipes to suit Vietnamese tastes. “Foreign donuts are too sweet,” she explains.

 

Donuts, so unfamiliar in 2008 that she literally had to give them away, soon exploded. TGD began selling as many as 2,000 donuts daily.

 

When it Sprinkles, it Pours

 

Then times grew tougher. Imitators flocked after TGD only to fail, while TGD hung on.

 

TGD is at a crossroads, considering offers to expand beyond Saigon. Huyen plans to renovate — but foreign giant Dunkin’ Donuts is on the scene now.

 

“Support Vietnamese donuts!” says a smiling Huyen when I ask for final comments.

 

I wish I could whole-heartedly support this David of a donut shop against the Dunkin’ Donuts Goliath; it’s a lovely story, a shop with so much potential. Maybe after renovations finish I could do it. But right now, it’s not my kind of hangout. Still, variety is nice, and doubtless I’ll try The Gioi Donut again. — Owen Salisbury

 

The Gioi Donut has a branch at 210 Hai Ba Trung, Q1, and one at 64-66 Tran Hung Dao, Q1

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