Seafood restaurants are a dime a dozen in Vietnam, enjoyed daily from north to south. Yet, on a cool Monday evening in deepest, darkest District 7, idle staff at Nha Hang Ca Bien Saigon Moi out-number customers two-to-one. No one’s here, reducing the atmosphere to a damp squib.
There are some Vietnamese dishes that seem to regularly win favour with foreign diners. One such dish is com tam. The name refers to the shattered grains of rice that are used in the recipe — developed by poor farming communities, who in times gone by would sell the whole grains but reserve for themselves the rice that broke during the rough threshing process. A humble peasant’s dish this may be, but the resulting meal has a soft, fluffy consistency with a slightly nutty flavour.
Though looks aren’t everything, it’s hard not to be dazzled by Ly Club’s plush aesthetic beauty — itself a homage to the creative prowess of the Ly Dynasty. Elegant yet casual, we sit in a softly lit and greenly shrouded front garden, surrounded by comfy French-style garden furniture atop a raised wooden deck area. A stunning infinity fountain, a vast French colonial villa and a sleek outdoor bar make for captivating eye candy. The cacophonous rush hour traffic is replaced by the swirl of Eurasian lounge music.
The roundabout at Nguyen Tri Phuong and Ngo Gia Tu on the border of Cholon and District 10 is an odd place for an outlet of one of Taiwan’s foremost snack chains. And yet on the wall of an unaffected, sidewalk-dining, local-style restaurant, is the unmistakable trademark of the Starbucks of the soy milk world, Yonghe Doujiang Da Wang. The name in Mandarin is a mouthful and the ostentatious translation is just as tough on the tongue — ‘The Eternal Harmony Soy Milk King’. Fortunately, the drinks and cuisine here are anything but.
Opened in 2002 and named after the late Danish cartoonist and illustrator Robert Storm Petersen, this no-frills Scandinavian eatery and bar serves up hearty and wholesome, home cooked-style Danish and Bavarian-inspired cuisine in a quaint and cosy setting.
If any restaurant currently epitomises the ‘new’ Ho Chi Minh City, it’s Koh Thai. From its chic and voguish décor to the menu’s unique and contemporary twist on authentic Thai cuisine, this recently opened venue screams modernity. Upon our visit the emerging middle-income Vietnamese occupy the majority of the dining tables.
Search for a connection between South America and Japan, and you’re likely to end up at Alberto Fujimori, the former and now disgraced President of Peru. Delve deeper, though, and you’ll discover that the largest overseas Japanese population is in Brazil, mainly in Sao Paolo. 1.5 million people-strong, the cuisine has followed. It has fused, too, with the flavours of the land. And it is this theme that the middle-floor restaurant in Blanchy’s Tash is trying to bring to Saigon.
Established in 2004 in Yangon, Myanmar, Monsoon Restaurant & Bar officially opened its Saigon outlet last month. Specialising in pan-Southeast Asian fare and offering a host of signature dishes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, the restaurant has been beautifully designed in a stunningly revamped French colonial-era villa, located minutes away from the backpacker area.
Banh cuon is a northern breakfast staple that is rarely seen down in the south of Vietnam, but one restaurant is trying to change that. Hat Gao Vang (101 Mai This Luu, Q1, with two other outlets in Q11 and Tan Binh) is putting its own twist on this early morning speciality using a little southern flair.
Curry and cold beer. It’s just one of those combinations that seems to work. And it’s a theme that the Saigon South bar, Peaches, has used to good effect. Not only is there a novelty factor — most bar food in this town mixes standard international fare with the odd dumbed down Vietnamese dish — but with dishes coming from all around the region, it’s a theme that is somehow more fitting to the taste buds of Vietnam. So, as a curry lover, it was with relish that I rocked up to this Phu My Hung mainstay.