Minnesota Native Sonny Side Creates Binge-worthy Travel TV

You’ve feasted. You’ve slipped into a tryptophan coma and re-emerged rumpled, but otherwise unscathed. And, you hungry gobbler, you’ve feasted again. Then, you turned the feast into sandwiches and called it a snack. As that settles in your stomach, and before turkey nap number two befalls you, why not top it off with a little something extra delicious?

No, I’m not talking about pumpkin pie. Or whipped cream. I’m talking travel television.

I get you. Travel TV is a bit sad these days without Tony Bourdain. That’s why this Thanksgiving, you’ll want to pivot to YouTube, and specifically, Sonny Side’s Best Ever Food Review Show. 

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The Best Ever Food Review Show, hosted by St. Cloud, Minnesota native Sonny Side, can be found on YouTube. Screen grab. 

I discovered Sonny Side’s work when prepping for a trip to Vietnam (because the food of Southeast Asia is a primary reason to travel there). And I quickly became a fan. Let’s get real: there is a lot of crappy travel programming on YouTube. But Sonny rises above the rest. These days I can’t wait for release of his newest videos. At less than half an hour each, they’re fun, addictive, snackable viewing that takes you on an all-too-brief trip to the other side of the globe.

Did I mention Sonny is a Minnesota native? Yah, sure, you betcha!

Sonny hails from my home state, just south of my hometown of Brainerd, from the city of St. Cloud. It makes me like him even more to know he’s had tator tot hotdish and summoned the bravery to explore beyond the beautiful state of Minnesota. Because tator tot hotdish is reason enough to never leave Minnesota.

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Our Onetrip Vietnam experience included eating this deep fried river fish, rolled in rice paper wrappers with herbs, rice noodles and pineapple. Sonny does an entire episode on the Mekong Delta excursion Onetrip Vietnam offers. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
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Removing the fins on the river fish before rolling in rice paper wrappers. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

After spending eight years in Korea working in video production for K-Pop stars and other clients, he hit his stride producing The Best Ever Food Review Show. Sonny has amassed quite a collection of reviews at this point, three years’ worth, from the regional foods of Vietnam, the Phillipines, India, Thailand, Taiwan and Cambodia and beyond, to seemingly strange, cringe-worthy or rare dishes (his latest episode features two types of eel and he’s also eaten dishes like goat poop soup and gag-inducing wood-eating worms). But he’s not a “johnny one note” when it comes to strange foods–and that’s a good thing, ‘cuz I’m not a fan of eating weird things like the endangered puffin or fried bugs just for the sake of doing it. He takes a different approach, trying foods locals eat that tourists might otherwise turn up their noses at (which sometimes just happens to include fried bugs). He also eats good, daily Southeast Asian fare–but food that might seem exotic to folks from the U.S. He does it all respectfully, with an open mind and a sense of humor. And when he doesn’t like something, he gently says something very Minnesotan, like, “that’s not my favorite.” A rare win for civility and good manners.

He’s typically flanked by a local expert, these days often a guide from Onetrip Vietnam, a truly awesome tour company that is sponsoring many of his current episodes. My nephew and I took a Onetrip Vietnam excursion to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam based on what we saw on Sonny’s shows, and I can tell you although they may seem more expensive, they are legit and better than the rest. We wanted to go on the overnight tour which includes a trip to a floating market, but alas the budget wouldn’t allow for it. Still, the one-day experience was amazing!

Sonny credits his partnership with Onetrip as a catalyst for the rise in subscriptions and views of his programs on YouTube.

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The Mekong Delta tour offered by Onetrip Vietnam includes several boat rides, including this one through a coconut grove. It was truly beautiful. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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Breakfast on our Onetrip Vietnam tour of the Mekong Delta was a local dish recommended by our guide. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

 

Many Minnesotans are proud to say that Andrew Zimmern, bizarre foods lover, chef, and television and radio personality, comes from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. (Sonny himself says watching a show by Zimmern inspired him to quit his radio job in Minnesota and move to Asia.) And comparisons between YouTube star Sonny (with 1.3 million subscribers) and Zimmern would be easy to make–after all, they both eat bizarre foods and even Sonny himself has done a comparison video related to stinky tofu. But I think they’re worlds apart. I’m very “meh” on Zimmern, and always have been. Sonny serves up something special as he reviews the foods of Asia–he does it with humor and a self-deprecating approach. He’s goofy. He’s adorable, highly likable, handsome (sorry, BackpackMr) and guilty pleasure or not, I think you’ll go back for seconds, thirds and more. Noodle soup coma be damned.

Turns out cable TV saw Sonny’s genius too. He recently worked on a pilot for a show on Travel Channel. In the end Travel Channel passed, but Sonny, in typical Minnesota fashion, speaks of the opportunity with humble gratitude. He says the experience was like taking a “master class” in creating travel programming. I think Travel Channel dropped the ball. In this post-Bourdain world of travel we need something like the Best Ever Food Review Show to remind us that travel should be fun, even and especially when it pushes us outside our comfort zones. We need to laugh again: at the world, and at ourselves.

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Our Onetrip Vietnam guide to the Mekong Delta was proud to say he had met Sonny Side. Our guide was on his last day with Onetrip, as he was moving to Canada. We got to see first-hand the connections he had forged with local families who partnered with the company. Pretty amazing. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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Our Onetrip Vietnam Mekong Delta adventure included tours of several local businesses, like this coconut wood processor. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

I exchanged emails with Sonny because I had some questions, like: what’s the most adventurous food he’s had in Minnesota? And now that he’s living in Southeast Asia, what does he miss? (My money’s on tator tot hotdish.) But he’s busy producing a couple of shows a week and couldn’t squeeze in an interview–which is totally understandable. As someone who comes from the world of television journalism, I know all too well how much work goes into producing quality video (not that I ever made anything quality myself, ha!). So I’m content to share his name with you, and give a simple shout out to a fellow Minnesotan who has found his way into the world. Hey, dere, Sonny! 

This holiday weekend, it’s okay to binge on travel TV, even after you’ve binged at the Thanksgiving table. I won’t judge you. Best of all, the Best Ever Food Review Show is guaranteed not to cause indigestion.

You can find the Best Ever Food Review Show on YouTube. You can also follow Sonny Side on Instagram or on Facebook.


IMG_20181101_171306325Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel essayist and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.

Find Rollerbag Goddess Travel Blog on Twitter: @charishb.

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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