As a westerner in Ho Chi Minh City it’s fairly easy to satisfy most food cravings: pizza, tacos, fish and chips, Sunday roast — you can even get late night McDonald’s. One cuisine that is lacking, though, is good ol’ fashioned American barbecue. Vietnam is fairly expert in grilled meats, but a rack of ribs smothered in barbecue sauce and accompanied by disgustingly unhealthy sides? That’s another beast entirely.
Once you enter through Ploughman’s Garden’s gate, you leave Vietnam. Or at least that’s how it feels. Tucked away in an alley, Ploughman’s Garden is easily missed, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from making the trek to District 2 in search of excellent vegetarian and vegan fare.
If you’ve got experience of dining overseas, you get used to people saying some dish or another is pretty good “...for Vietnam.” It’s easy to find varied and vibrant local food, but to worldly tastes the foreign cuisine scene could still use some improvement. Espy NY Style Pizza — Vietnam’s maybe-first pizza-by-the-slice restaurant — is helping that happen.
A new eatery is trying to bring its own version of healthy, home-cooked cuisine to Tay Ho. Our anonymous food writer checks it out. Photos by Francis Roux
Be careful or you’ll miss it. The alley that leads to the rooftop restaurant is easily passed. It’s narrow, lined with small eateries and full of parked motorbikes. Walk towards the end. On the left side, you’ll find a doorway leading into an apartment building. Above the entrance is the restaurant sign. Go up the steps. Pass the signs that promise the lift is coming soon. Look down the hallways — you’ll be reminded that this is a residential building. Continue up the stairs, four flights. At the top, you’ll find The Secret Garden.
Coriander knows what it has. After sticking it out for eight years in the heart of the bustling and manic backpacker area of Bui Vien, there is no need for theatrics. You won’t find any hustling hosts camping out on the street, overly flirty waitresses beckoning for you to come inside or deeply discounted happy hour specials all working in unison to indiscriminately bring in a sea of customers.
You are hit by a real sense of the Indochine when you enter May. But it’s not tainted by the extravagance and blatant glamour that you may discover in other époque-themed Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon. Instead, there is a workmanlike feel to this French-run eatery, a sense of era without all the unnecessary embellishments, something that greets you overtly when you catch the open kitchen as you walk up the stairs.