It’s always refreshing when you’re walking down the same street you walk down each and every day and something new crops up, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a testament to this evolving metropolis. On the corner of Nguyen Cu Trinh and Tran Hung Dao is a welcoming and newly set up quan nhau — Nuong 5KU An Phe.
In its central location just behind the Bitexco Tower, Ham Nghi serves as a pertinent place to host the plethora of food outlets that line the street. From the all day market that has bubbling tubs of fresh fish to the mini-marts specialising in western brands, it’s a street with something for everyone. But it is at 66–68 Ham Nghi that the biggest name of all, Nhu Lan, presides over the competition. Open 24 hours and standing as a delicatessen, bakery, butcher, roadside barbecue and Vietnamese street food restaurant all in one, this corner property has been here for over 40 years.
Framed sepia-toned pictures of the ‘old country’ adorn the walls of this quaint and surprisingly lengthy restaurant. The concave ceiling made up of exposed brick is strangely reminiscent of the London Underground’s Baker Street tube station and a pre-20th century European wine cellar. It’s comforting and wholly conducive to the relaxing yet chatty ambience.
Located inside a recently restored Indochina-French (possibly what the IF stands for?) colonial villa just off Ha Bai Trung, the restaurant has been tastefully decked out to evoke memories of the 1920s. Limestone plastered walls, antique ceramic titled flooring and original furnishings such as louvered window shutters and oak swinging doors replete with authentic Chinese-made hinges are the important details that help separate Café IF from the competition.
Living here makes it easy to forget that there are noodles not made from rice. One popular variety is the ramen noodle from Japan. Most of us were probably introduced to ramen noodles in college. It wasn’t until afterwards, when we came across the real thing, that we discovered that ramen noodles in plastic packaging with a seasoning packet for about VND2,000 weren’t very good.
The atmosphere in Tokyo BBQ is pleasant enough, with dark wood furnishings accented by rich colours, and music that provides a soothing, but not overbearing, ambience. The cooking style is similar to bulgogi, which is a Korean form of cooking over hot coals right at the table. The Japanese adopted this and styled it to their tastes. The menu combines elements from both cultures. It feels authentic, but alas, you can’t eat the atmosphere. Aesthetics aside, my dining experience at Tokyo BBQ can be best described as ‘A Tale of Two Meals’.
With the countless selection of eateries Ho Chi Minh City has to offer sometimes one craves the comfortable rather than the chic, the exotic or street food. And what whispers ‘comfy’ as confidently as a British-style pub? With its warm, pastel red walls, dark wood tables and high tops, and a generous helping of football banners (we’re talking soccer, here), The Tavern fits the bill.
Located in the heart of Phu My Hung, Pham Thach Thao’s first restaurant, S’Cottage, opened its doors in October 2010. It derives its name from combining Thao’s nickname, Sandy, with the word cottage. The small eatery boasts international cuisine and its décor is inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. It may sound a bit kitsch but it works — the restaurant is bathed in bright green, pink, blue and red pastels that emit an aura reminiscent of the European countryside blended with an Asian cottage. Music from the café is piped into the downstairs and outside dining areas.
Living in Saigon, every now and then I find myself in a bit of rut. I go to the same places, see the same people, and do the same things. So when the opportunity came along to explore even slightly further afield than Districts 1, 2 and 3, I leapt at the chance. To be fair, Casablanca, in District 10, is only ten minutes by motorbike from Saigon’s epicentre, so it’s not exactly the place on the map marked ‘unknown territory’, but it’s far enough out of my usual stomping grounds to give the evening an air of adventure. Tucked down a quiet alley, the restaurant makes its home on the ground floor of the owner’s house, giving it a comfortable, cosy feel. The menu is succinct but enticing and wonderful aromas emanate from the kitchen. Appetites piqued, we order a wealth of food.
The cool interior of Lion City is a welcome respite from the searing tropical sun. It’s slightly late for lunch and the tightly packed tables are filled with contented looking diners slurping the last succulent morsels from their Singapore chilli or black pepper crabs. The air is filled with the tantalising fragrance of spice and I have the glorious feeling that I am in for a good meal.
Is there a better way to while away a Sunday than delving into some dim sum? At one extreme it can almost be a contact sport: a blizzard of bamboo baskets deposited on your table by hurried waiters, battalions of children running riot, scalding tea cascading across the table — a drop or two even landing in the cup occasionally, and joyfully cacophonic conversations taking place at volume eleven. At the other end of the scale lies Shang Palace; a gentler, more restrained affair.