Podcast Profile – The Bureau Podcast
By Seven Million Bikes
Started in August 2019 and hosted by Matt Cowan and Melanie Casul, creators of The Bureau Asia website, with Mike Palumbo. The show was originally focused on the local Food and Beverage scene, primarily because the hosts were passionate about food and drinks! Especially the boom in craft beer and cocktail bars. Matt, Melanie & Mike would chat about what was getting them excited in the ever changing and developing food and beverage scene in Saigon.
A favourite segment in early episodes was W.T.F.A.T.B.A.O.F.N. about the daily melodramas on a well known local Facebook group (see below for Matt’s explanation of the acronym). The conversation didn’t strictly stick to food and beverage though, talking to local architects and cartoonists among others.
Initially, episodes came out twice a month but that then slowed down in November 2019 as Covid hit and through March and April 2020 the format changed to more regular, shorter episodes called “The Bureau Bites”, at less than 15 minutes in length. The content became even less focused on food and beverage and more on the lockdown and covid situation hitting Vietnam at the time. Understandable as restaurants and bars were intermittently shut down.
After a long hiatus between April and September 2020 a regular full episode returned featuring Harper’s Bazaar Editor Chris Thompson to discuss the fraught food and beverage situation in Saigon. This was followed by an even longer break of 5 months and it was wondered whether the show would return.
Inspired by a trip to Vung Tau when travel was possible, Matt & the team put out two episodes based on their destination that was a noticeable change in direction. While there was still some foodie content they also gave travel tips and talked about tractor pulling and whale worship!
What came next after this 2 episode Vung Tau mini-season was completely unexpected.
A historical podcast, “Blood Debt – The legend behind the Nguyen Thai Binh neighbourhood of Ho Chi Minh City”. Matt explains the pivot, “Essentially I wanted to be less ignorant about the country I call home. I came to the realisation that I didn’t know much in the grand scheme of things. I’ve embarked on a journey to educate myself and document it better.”
This episode sets out to tell the mostly unknown story of a young South Vietnamese university student from the Mekong Delta called Nguyen Thai Binh. There’s even a small neighbourhood named after him in the city centre. It was fascinating to learn some little-known history about Saigon.
Congratulations to the team, as the trailer for this episode was one of 100 podcasts to be highly commended from more than 2,000 entries submitted in the My RODE Cast Competition in Australia.
This was quickly followed up by another highly entertaining and interesting Saigon history episode about Saigon’s underworld. Titled as Part 1, two months later we’re still waiting eagerly for Part 2 to come out!
From there they pivoted again back to their more traditional format with Matt, Mel and new co-host Andrew Tran (AT).
We asked Matt about this constantly changing direction, “So in that sense, rather than being rigid and being niche, my podcasts will evolve, twist and turn as the journey continues, depending on what I discover.”
It’s quite unusual for a podcast to change in their content so dramatically mid-show but this is what the team at The Bureau Podcast decided to do. Matt told us, “I haven’t done away with F&B entirely, it’s still one of my content pillars.”
“Essentially I wanted to be less ignorant about the country I call home. I came to the realisation that I didn’t know much in the grand scheme of things. I’ve embarked on a journey to educate myself and document it better.”
It can be quite confusing to a fan of the show to know what exactly is coming next and when. But independent podcasting is about doing what you love and if that is what Matt and team want to use their platform for then we support that. While the history episodes were unexpected they were excellent. They obviously take a lot more time and effort to make than a chat-show format but we hope to hear more soon.
Most of all we’d really love to see The Bureau Podcast stick to a more regular schedule so we know when to listen! Keep reading below to hear more information directly from Matt about the show…
Show: The Bureau Podcast
Host: Matt Cowan
From: Australia. Been in Vietnam since Jan 2010
Favourite Bar: Coolabah
Favourite Restaurant: Sol Butcherant
Favourite cafe: Navido
1. Why did you start the podcast?
In a rapidly changing space, I recognised the risks of just being a one-trick pony in terms of content creation these days. I needed to add to the appeal of The Bureau Asia to give myself a better chance of growing my audience. Everyone kept telling me to do video, but the jump from writing and editing articles to filming video and editing felt daunting and expensive.
Podcasting was a logical step for me, plus I grew up on a diet of talkback radio and Top 40 hits in the 80s – there’s a love for listening to stories, especially told by engaging speakers. As a content creator, it’s also a safe bet to invest in podcasting, I don’t think audio is going away, in fact, snippets of podcasts are a great way to draw attention to the rest of your podcast, and they don’t need a lot of time and resources to create.
At the time I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to achieve from it, plus continuity was an issue, we all had day jobs and just had to fit a podcast in whenever we could. Lately there’s been a concerted effort to do a podcast regularly, and it’s working…so far!
2. Who hosted originally?
Originally it was me, Mel and Mike Palumbo. I had become friends with Mike through working together at Word Vietnam where I was eventually the editor and Mike a photographer. The plan was for the podcast to be heavily F&B focused because all of us are very much into food and drinks, plus at the time, no one was really covering it, especially the boom in craft beer and cocktail bars, at least in a podcast. But again, finding time was an issue, because I was also writing for my website and maintaining the site on my own, Mel was lecturing full time in digital marketing and Mike was hustling photography jobs. Mike has had to move back to the States indefinitely, but fortunately I’ve found a great co-host to join me and Mel in Andrew Tran. He’s young, enthusiastic, has very similar passions and adds a nice mix to the panel – old white Aussie guy, energetic young at heart Filipina, and a millenial Aussie with Chinese and Vietnamese heritage who looks at the city with fresh eyes, rather than my tired and cynical ones.
3. Why W.T.F.A.T.B.A.O.F.N.?
Haha, it stands for What The Fuck Are They Bitching About On Foodies Now? We’d noticed that people just complained far too much on a local Foodies page, so being the smartarse I am, I wanted to take some sneaky potshots at some of the people and topics on it. It really is a great source for material. But I’ve left that page now. It’s become one big adspace that gets hijacked constantly by business owners and seeders. I want to maintain objectivity with my F&B content anyway, so I think it’s best that I maintain a distance from it. I’ve been wrongly accused in the past of only promoting paid partners, but that’s just so far from the truth. Who knows, I might resurrect the segment in the future!
4. What’s next for The Bureau Podcast?
Just get better at what we do and remain relevant and be recognised here and abroad as a show that’s entertaining and educational. If people continue to enjoy it and learn something about HCMC and Vietnam at the same time, then we’ll keep doing it!