Meat. Lovely, lovely meat.
Most people love meat; ergo, most people love BBQ, which is finally reaching Saigon in a big way. Not the grilled meats that have long been a local staple, but the kind of smoky, slow-cooked, silky-soft delights that fill the air with their scent and the mouth with drool. BBQ American style.
Jake’s BBQ on Pasteur is the newest player in this boomtown scene. The sheer volume of food stunned me before I took bite one. And when I did? The quality of the food, the mouth-filling savour of it, made me feel like I was back in some battered Oakland BBQ shack of the carnivore gods. To my repeated delight, Jake’s also carries my personal favourite bottled beer; Boont Amber Ale, a drink well suited to the task of eating my own body weight in pork.
It’s also a nice, traditionally-appointed BBQ place fitted to the long and narrow style of Saigon buildings. Jake himself and a handful of waitresses handle the service, and the task of moving food to feeder chugs along without incident.
The Task of Eating My Body Weight in Pork
When doing an article like this, sometimes the chefs decide, and sometimes we do. Since I’d been to Jake’s the night before and eaten a fantastic bacon cheeseburger (charred on the outside, juicy pink on the inside, melted cheddar cheese settled over crispy bacon) I decided to go for more traditional fare.
We began with the Tower of Power (VND90,000), a foot-high stack of onion rings. One look and I knew I’d never be able to finish what was to come. The onion rings are tasty, with the onions cooked enough to sweeten without losing their crispiness. Light on the oil and heavy on the crunch, I found the batter good if a touch too heavily applied.
Next came the Parfait, which requires some explanation.
“The Parfait? That’s kind of a joke,” Jake said, shaking his head and chuckling when I ordered it.
Joke or not, it was terrific, a one-stop-dish for all that’s best in BBQ. A swirl of buttery mashed potatoes, a dash of beans, and a generous handful of pulled pork served like an ice-cream sundae. The photographer, Bao, and I shared bite after bite; the damn thing never seemed to end. We also got the Flying Pig Sandwich (VND210,000), a mighty meal unto self, loaded with every pork product found West of the Mississippi. One bite and I felt my protein needs for the week were covered, as well as my salt needs for the year.
Ribs Are Serious Business
For the piece de resistance, what would do but a half-rack of ribs?
The St. Louis Ribs Half Rack (VND575,000) came, and let me tell you, the pictures cannot do it justice.
The meat pulled away from the bone at the touch of the teeth — and while I may prefer the chewier style of ribs favoured in BBQ competitions, that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize skill when I chew it up and swallow it.
The Sauce Maketh the BBQ
The real magic was in the sauce, the heart of any BBQ joint. Tangy, smoky, sweet, bold; it’s the best BBQ sauce I’ve had since I landed here five-and-a-half years ago. Basted on in layers as the meat cooks, it’s a crunchy, chewy crust that complements the whipped-cream softness of the meat.
Not joking — it was also much cleaner than most BBQ because the sauce is cooked onto the meat so deftly, making this one of the rare times I didn’t have to scrub spots out of my shirt after eating.
“In 10 years, I might sell the sauce,” Jake says when I bring up the idea of bottling this tangy goodness. I guess I’ll just have to wait.
Luckily, of course, I can get as much as I want if I go to Jake’s BBQ.
Jake’s BBQ is located at 50 Pasteur, Q1, HCMC or online at facebook.com/jakesbbqatmogambo