The Word

 

Just Out

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After rumours, talk, speculation and more rumours, the controversy that has engulfed Zone 9 has finally come to the fore. According to reports from venue owners and the media-at-large, the entire area will be shut down on Jan. 15.

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Friday, 03 January 2014 15:02

South Rakka’s Filthy Sound System

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Prepare yourself for an electro-dancehall workout in Mad Decent proportions at CAMA ATK, as the man who pioneered that genre stops by Hanoi for an awesome night of Jamaican sound clash culture fused with electronic beats. Jamaican-born and Florida resident, this is none other than South Rakkas, known for his hook-laden song structures, filthy sound system beats and killer rhythms.

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Friday, 03 January 2014 14:24

Burger King Opens at Noi Bai

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Travellers passing through Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport won’t miss out on a Whopper as the capital’s international airport has a new Burger King outlet.

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Friday, 03 January 2014 14:03

Nan ‘n Kebab

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Serving up Pakistani, Afghan, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, Nan ‘n Kebab has opened up next to the Syrena Centre on Xuan Dieu, on the site formerly occupied by pho ga joint, Ba Chi Em.

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Thursday, 02 January 2014 16:37

Madake’s Collective Spectacular

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he Nam Jam Collective Spectacular will take over Madake promising to bring something well… spectacular to the capital.

 

Go Native or Go Home

Foreigners living in Vietnam do more than just adapt. Many of them go native. Have you? Here are 20 ways of telling

1) When driving a motorbike you accelerate through amber lights, drive the wrong way down one-way streets, don’t give way and overtake other vehicles on the outside, even when they’re indicating that they’re turning left.

 

2) Taking the rubber bands off plastic bags filled with takeaway noodle soup has become easy — you can now do it without spilling any liquid on yourself. You are even able to put on the rubber bands faster than the lady in the soup shop.

 

3) You have stopped trying to eat a bowl of rice with chopsticks.

 

4) Time takes on a totally new meaning. A 2.30, afternoon meeting means 2.45 or even 3pm. And hitting deadlines and getting everything ready in time becomes the exception rather than the norm.

 

5) Picking your nose in public, spitting on the sidewalk or squeezing your spots with the reflective aid of your wing mirror are no longer repulsive. They are things you do, too. You even let your partner dispense of those gruesome blackheads over your morning, on-the-street cafe da.

 

6) You start wearing long trousers and shirts out of work and during the day in heat so intense that even sunbathing on the beach would be too much. And if the temperature goes below 25°C you start complaining that it’s cold.

 

7) You spend half your time raving on about how amazing your home country is but then claim conversely that you would never live there again. You spend the rest of your time telling other foreigners how dire ‘home’ really is and trying to justify in some roundabout way why you’re living in Vietnam.

 

8) You complain about the lack of music or culture in this town and yet when it comes to spending VND500,000 or even VND200,000 to go to a gig, a Cham event or a cultural party, you don’t go. And yet you’re more than happy to spend double that on a night out on the town and quadruple on impressing the latest girlfriend.

 

9) It no longer seems odd to be giving, erm, your girlfriend or boyfriend a monthly salary for erm, being your boyfriend or girlfriend.

 

10) The music you hear in the nightclubs has stopped feeling dated, crass and mainstream.

 

11) You cross the road in the middle of busy junctions, roundabouts, highways and when the lights are green.

 

12) Even though teaching is a noble, vital profession, you start looking down on all English teachers and begin treating them like they are the scum of the earth. Because after all, you’re the one with the real job.

 

13) Heading down to The Pham only happens on those rare occasions when you end up at Go2 or Long Phi at 3am. Otherwise you avoid the area like a plague. The idea of having crass conversations with backpackers or being treated like just another tourist is demeaning. You live here.

 

14) Left-wing, political correctness, indignance at all the unfairness in the world and an unquestioning belief in the moral and intellectual superiority of the west no longer rule the way you look at and behave towards Vietnam.

 

15) The majority of travel and news features published about Vietnam overseas make you froth at the mouth due to their lack of accuracy and their lack of fairness towards your adopted home.

 

16) No longer do you try to be ‘green’ and environmentally friendly by sleeping at night with only a fan. You have long since switched over to an air-conditioner.

 

17) Telling your staff “this is the way it’s done in the west” is no longer part of your vocabulary. You have instead adopted a pragmatic approach to dealing with problems, getting things done and motivating the people you work with.

 

18) You start telling people that although you don’t speak great Vietnamese, you understand what people are saying. Until of course it comes to the moment you are surrounded by Vietnamese and are completely lost.

 

19) Sentence constructions such as “yesterday I go to shop” and “we eat finish, we go home” become regular, subconscious features of your vocabulary.

 

20) You’ve given up learning Vietnamese.

 

So how well have you acclimatized and how much have you been influenced by life in Vietnam? Have you gone native or have you merely adapted?

 

If you have checked 10 or more boxes, then the answer is that you’ve probably gone native and if these assessments disturb you at all, don’t let them. After all, who wants to live in those dull, failing democracies overseas anyway?

 

Ten Favourite Songs In Vietnam

Ten Western songs that have made it bigger in Vietnam

How Can I Tell Her
Lobo (1971)
Whenever I’m discouraged
She knows what to do
But girl…
She doesn’t know about you
If you think you’ve heard this at a random café, you have. The catchy melody and nice-guy-who-just-can’t-help-but-cheat theme have proven enduring in Vietnam. Its lyrical build-up in the first verse is admittedly clever and the song deserves a listen. Just a little one.

 

Boulevard
Dan Byrd (1984)
Never knew that it would go so far
When you left me on that boulevard
Come again you would release my pain
And we could be lovers again
While Boulevard regularly makes the top ten of Vietnamese ‘immortal melody’ lists (direct translation), singer songwriter Dan Byrd lingers in almost total obscurity. This is perhaps the best known of all the ‘you ought to know’ songs listed here, yet old Dan Byrd has seemingly no Google presence whatsoever. He came, he sung, he left. Fittingly, his other big-in-Asia hit is called Sayonara.

 

From Sarah with Love
Sarah Connor (2001)
From Sarah with love
She’d got the lover she is dreaming of
She never found the words to say
But I know that today
She’s gonna send her letter to you
Sarah Connor is, brace for it, one of the best-selling German artists of all time. (Nothing says Deutschland like ‘Sarah Connor,’ to be shore, to be shore.) The song peaked at number one in Germany and Switzerland, making it her most successful single.

 

Take me to your Heart
Michael Learns to Rock (2004)
Take me to your heart take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is — be my guiding star
It’s easy take me to your heart
Michael Learns to Rock (or MLTR among the cool bunch) make rock-and-roll of the soft Danish variety. But these boys are no moist pastry. Formed in 1988, the band has sold over 10 million records worldwide — mainly in, you guessed it, Asia. Take Me to Your Heart is an adaptation of the famous Chinese hit Goodbye Kiss by Jacky Cheung and Andy Lau.

 

Yesterday Once More
The Carpenters (1973)
Every Sha-la-la-la
Every Wo-wo-wo
Still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling
That they’re starting to sing
So fine
Well you get the non-gist. Unlike the other songs in this list, Yesterday Once More did reach number one in the US. Top of the World could certainly be on this list, too. (“I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation…”) There is a well-endowed Vietnamese celebrity called Thuy Top, whose nickname was chosen by her father as a tribute to the song and not, as is often inferred, her high notes.

 

You’re my Heart, You’re my Soul
Modern Talking (1984)
You’re my heart, you’re my soul
Yeah, I’m feeling that our love will grow
You’re my heart, you’re my soul
That’s the only thing I really know
Modern Talking were Europop in its purest form. You’re my Heart hit number one in Germany, Switzerland and Austria before taking Asia by synthesiser. Founding duo Thomas Anders and Dieter Bohlen list among their influences “romantic English-language songs of Italian and French origin, such as Gazebo’s I Like Chopin.”

 

Midnight Lady
Chris Norman (1982)
Midnight lady, love takes time
Midnight lady, it’s hard to find
Midnight lady, I call your name
I know you can ease my pain
Not to be confused with the Marvin Gaye song of the same name, the Vietnam-friendly Midnight Lady will forever be associated with Chris Norman — at least by those who know who Chris Norman is. If you’re from Redcar, his hometown in North Yorkshire, you just might.

 

Last Christmas
Wham! (1984)
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, You gave it away
You remember Wham! — oh, what use of an exclamation mark — and you know this song. Though not as well as your Vietnamese friends do (i.e. word for word). This is the Christmas anthem in Vietnam, with renditions permitted throughout the year, in the breakfast-all-day sense.

 

The Day You Went Away
M2M (2000)
Well hey
So much I need to say
Been lonely since the day
The day you went away
You may have a vague recollection of two stunning Norwegian girls, one blonde and one not, singing in the snow. That’s M2M. The Day You Went Away was their fifth single and, according to Wikipedia, “very popular in Asia.” (A somewhat conciliatory endorsement.)

 

Santorini
Yanni (1986)
It has no words but Santorini is familiar to many Vietnamese because it is played almost every time anyone of importance takes the stage to collect anything of significance — on live television, at company events, even at weddings. Cue the red-champagne pouring music. Google it and practice your acceptance speech.

 

Ly Club

 

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 menu is divided into two sections — east and west. However, such a simplistic notion is betrayed by the fact that the majority of dishes appear to incorporate elements of both Asian and western cuisine. The overriding influence, though, is French.

 

We order from both sections and start with the pan seared scallops and crunchy black sticky rice with saffron lime, green herb oil, lime leaf and fennel salad, as well as an order of deep fried seafood stuffed in eggshells. We’re taken aback by the exemplary presentation afforded to each dish.

 

Three large, pearly-white scallops sit on the darkened rice cakes — all tender and meaty. The white butter and herb oil add a zesty and fragrant creaminess that complements both the shellfish and the drier texture of the rice. Sublime.

 

The deep-fried seafood, which arrives in several egg-coated ringlets, catches us off guard. Perhaps naively on our part, we’re both shocked to find ourselves chewing, literally, on eggshells. It’s an acquired taste, and probably something I’d not order again, though the spices flavouring the assorted fish and sweetness of the accompanying plum sauce is delicious.

 

For mains, we order the grilled free-range chicken with tropical honey sauce and roasted lamb rack with vegetable ratatouille and potato puree. Simply put, both taste and look fantastic. The chicken and lamb have been grilled and roasted to perfection. The former is tender and moist, possessing a satisfyingly crispy exterior that works well with the honey glaze, while the interior of the latter is an exquisite pink.

 

Our only minor complaint is that the lamb is a little too fatty, though there’s still enough juicy meat to satiate our quibbles. The vegetable ratatouille possesses a rich, cheesy body while the potato puree is light and sweet, resulting in an interesting juxtaposition of textures and flavours.

 

We finish the evening decadently with the Ly Club strawberry cheesecake and warm moelleux au chocolat. The cheesecake arrives with half a dozen sliced strawberries coated in a coulee sauce and a small scoop of strawberry sorbet in a wafer basket. It’s the better of the two as we find the moelleux au chocolat a tad bitter, even with the addition of crème fraiche and orange slices. The cheesecake is dense and could be considered too sweet for some, but we find it utterly moreish.

 

Sure, it’s expensive, but the lack of pretension and the bang you get for your buck — especially in such eye-pleasing surrounds — means the near-VND2 million we spent on two three-course meals was well spent.

 

The Prices

Scallops VND235,000

Stuffed seafood eggshells VND160,000

Lamb rack VND525,000

Grilled chicken VND180,000

Ly Club cheesecake VND125,000

Moelleux au chocolat VND125,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 12.5

Service: 11.5

Interior: 13

 

Food, Interior and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

 

Monsoon Restaurant & Bar 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.

 

It’s important to point out that at the time of visiting this restaurant and writing this review, Monsoon was still in its ‘soft opening’ phase and its full menu had not yet been made available. By now certain dishes reviewed in this article may have evolved or disappeared while other brand new meals will most certainly have been added to the fold. Still, the sample menu presented to us reveals more than an adequate breadth to gauge the quality of the kitchen.

 

My partner and I plump for one dish from each country, with the exception of Cambodia, which hadn’t appeared on the menu at the time. We start with Thailand and order a plate of phad thai goong sod (stir-fried rice noodles tossed with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli peppers, bean sprouts, scallion and shrimp). It’s fantastic. Accompanied with a side of crushed peanuts, coriander and fresh lime, this meal is a taste sensation, with the sharp zestiness of the squeezed lime juxtaposing the sweetness of the tamarind. It’s also remarkably light on the stomach. We devour it as quickly as possible, each bite seemingly increasing our addiction.

 

Crossing metaphorical borders we return to Vietnam and opt for a Saigonese favourite, bun thit nuong cha gio (vermicelli rice noodles served with grilled marinated pork, fish sauce, julienned daikon radish and carrots, cucumber, coarsely crushed peanuts, mint, fresh herbs and deep fried spring rolls). It’s a decent attempt; the pork is flavoursome with a slightly charred aftertaste, while the fish sauce is sweet and mild. Strangely, the noodles are a bit al dente while the spring rolls are soft, lacking that crunchy deep fried outer shell that usually envelops a plentiful serving of mixed pork and vegetables.

 

Those that order the Laos-style laab gai (tossed minced chicken salad flavoured with roasted rice powder and red chillies among a heap of mint leaves) beware; this unassuming-looking dish will knock your socks off. Served with an assortment of raw vegetables (white cabbage, green beans and cucumber), both my partner and I are taken aback by its surprisingly spicy potency (the fiery burn creeping up well after you’ve swallowed your mouthful). The raw veggies prove a welcome counterpoint, especially the cucumber, which soothes and refreshes in equal measure. It’s very tasty, but just be prepared!

 

Our final dish is considered by many to be the national dish of Burma, mohinga (hot fish-paste broth served with rice noodles and boiled fish, and garnished with boiled eggs, gourd-fritters, finely chopped coriander leaves and spring onions, among many, many other ingredients). Neither of us is initially enamoured by the rich and salty, porridge-like soup, however, by the end I’m very nearly a believer. The boiled eggs are an acquired taste, though the gourd-fritters and rice noodles help expand a dish that on its own may fail to dazzle.

 

All things considered, Monsoon is already proving itself an impressive addition to this city’s ever-growing international restaurant scene. Attempting to condense an entire region’s culinary traditions under one roof is a bold and ambitious move. Time will tell whether it was also the right one.

 

The Prices

Bun thit nuong cha gio VND69,000

Phad thai goong sod VND95,000

Laab gai VND55,000

Mohinga VND85,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 9.5

Service: 13

Interior: 11

 

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

Read 6768 timesLast modified on Monday, 05 March 2012 13:50

 

MOF Japanese Sweets & Cafe

Ministry Of Food (MOF) Japanese Sweets & Cafe is an unlikely choice for our Mystery Diner review because it’s known more for cakes, ice creams and beverages than its savoury offerings.

Indeed, a skim through the menu reveals a heavy emphasis on health-conscious, organic drinks and desserts, with an overwhelming number of frappes, shakes, smoothies, yoghurts, Japanese matchas, gelatos, parfaits and more front-loading the first half. It’s not until the back end that you hit the savoury items, which consist of ramen, udon and yaki noodle dishes, bento boxes, curries, rice dishes and an assortment of Japanese snacks.

Unfamiliar with MOF’s main courses, we opt for several different dishes including tori curry don (chicken curry with rice), a bowl of shoyu ramen and a portion of gyoza (dumplings).

Choosing drinks, however, proves much more difficult with such a wide number of choices. Exhibiting some control, I eventually settle on a glass of ice matcha kanten (powdered green tea with a scoop of green tea ice cream and cubes of semi-translucent jelly). Said to contain antioxidants, its deep-green appearance certainly intrigues. Made from lotus root, the kanten jelly is imported from Japan and is claimed to contain zero calories and even slimming properties. Regardless of the accuracy of the claims, this drink is definitely one for green tea lovers. Thin yet malty in texture, with a pistachio-esque aftertaste, it’s a viable alternative to an iced coffee.

Now onto the food. The tori curry don arrives first. A large breaded chicken breast sliced into seven individual strips sits atop a generous helping of steamed rice, and opposite a dark brown pool of thick curry gravy containing chunks of potato, onion and carrot. Not in the least spicy, fans of mild Indian kormas and stroganoffs will enjoy this. However, on this occasion the veggies are too soft and lack earthiness, though the dish is ultimately redeemed by the tender, crispy chicken and rich curry gravy. It’s a solid lunchtime option.

The six gyoza dumplings appear pan fried and possibly steamed latterly. Bursting with a fragrant garlic flavour, each morsel is packed with minced pork and comes with a small bowl of soy sauce. The dough-based shells are cooked al dente, preventing them from falling apart when not consumed in one mouthful, and our only minor complaint is their overly oily texture.

And unless your hunger pangs are nearly insatiable, the large bowl of shoyu ramen is a dish best shared. Swimming in a clear soy-based broth with curly ramen noodles, the combination of thinly sliced pork, strong-smelling bamboo shoots, green onions, bean sprouts and a split-open hard boiled egg, makes for a big and hearty feed. Tangy and salty, it’s surprisingly light on the palette, and a good alternative to pho.

We finish up with a slice of caramel mousse cake and a portion of waffles. This is where MOF truly comes into its own. Drizzled in yummy, sticky syrup and accompanied by a scoop of premium Hokkaido gelato (we choose a cookies and cream flavour), sliced strawberries and whipped cream, the waffles are delicious. Although originally frozen, they’re still crispy on the outside and wonderfully warm and soft in the middle. The caramel mousse cake is unbelievably light and airy, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.

When it comes to the sweet things in life, MOF is nearly peerless. However, with so many Japanese restaurants here offering similar savoury Japanese delicacies, MOF will have to overcome its competition before it’s considered an all-round food destination.

The Prices

Ice matcha kanten: VND75,000

Tori curry don: VND148,000

Shoyu ramen: VND148,000

Gyoza: VND60,000

Waffles: VND80,000

Caramel mousse cake: VND35,000

The Verdict

Food: 8.5

Décor : 9

Service: 9.5

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

 

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Bother Learning Vietnamese

Unless you’re a lifer, Niko Savvas believes there are much more useful things you could be doing

Learning Vietnamese is not worth your time.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (or if you’ve heard somebody refer to it during a cocktail party, which is more likely), then you already know that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. As Gladwell himself probably says*, there are exceptions to this rule — mathematical savants, child prodigies and so on.

*Your correspondent hasn’t read the book, either.

But these people are rare. Most six-year-olds are more likely to swallow a chess piece than use it as part of a brilliant Steinitz Defense. And the “10,000 hours” figure itself is suspiciously precise. Anders Ericcson, the psychologist whose work Outliers is based on, later found that it may take anywhere from 500 to 25,000 hours to earn your metaphorical Expert badge.

 

In light of Ericcson’s findings, consider the following numbers:

 

500 hours — 20.8 days — 0.06 years

 

10,000 hours — 416.6 days – 1.14 years

 

25,000 hours — 1,041.7 days — 2.85 years

 

Let’s pretend that you could master Vietnamese in a mere 500 hours (you cunning linguist, you). All you’d need to do is lock yourself in a dank, windowless room for three solid weeks with your Pimsleur tapes, several college-ruled notebooks, and a towering pile of Bolivian nose sugar. After a fortnight and a half, you’d emerge speaking fluent Tieng Viet, switching seamlessly between Hanoi and Saigon accents. Learning Vietnamese would seem to be an excellent time investment.

 

Now compare this hypothetical scenario to your real-life experience, in which the hotpot waitress glares at you dumbly while you beg to know the location of the restroom. Chances are good that you’re not a Vietnamese-pronunciation wunderkind.

 

A Language Limited in Range and Function

 

You’re not alone.

 

Vietnamese is a Category IV language with “significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English”, according to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The FSI designates Vietnamese as one of the most difficult Category IV languages to learn, along with tongues such as Finnish, Estonian and Magyar. Learning Vietnamese is considerably more challenging than trying to dust off your high school Spanish.

 

Which, if you think about it, would probably be a much better use of your time anyway — Vietnamese is more or less useless outside of Vietnam. The Vietnamese Consulate General in Houston estimated the total number of overseas Vietnamese at around four million in 2014. The densest concentration of people with Vietnamese ancestry outside of Vietnam is found in the United States, where they constitute 0.6 percent of the population.

 

 

In an international context, speaking Vietnamese isn’t going to help you travel. It isn’t going to help you work, either — the number of jobs requiring proficiency in Vietnamese is roughly equivalent to the number of jobs that require applicants to have excellent fire-swallowing skills.

 

Vietnamese is not a particularly rich literary, cinematic or musical language either. Compared with Asian pop culture trendsetters like Japan and South Korea, Vietnamese artists produce little of note. There are no Vietnamese equals to Haruki Murakami or Bong Joon-Ho. The best-produced TV programmes are knockoffs of western shows like MasterChef or Vietnam’s Got Talent. No one is breathlessly predicting the rise of V-Pop.

 

Opportunity Cost

 

But if a person is going to live in Vietnam, shouldn’t he or she learn the language? Isn’t it a bit rude and presumptuous to assume that you can move to a foreign country and expect the local people to speak your language?

 

The quick answer: no.

 

A more elaborate explanation: no, because that’s the entire point of having an international language. In the days of the Umayyad Caliphate, a traveller could wander from modern-day Portugal down to North Africa, then roam all the way to India, so long as he had a decent grasp of Arabic. Even in the 700s, people recognised the value of a bridge language.

 

Lingua francas exist because they are efficient — by mastering one language, you can suddenly communicate with people from many places. Native English speakers have it easy. They’re inherently adept at the world’s most versatile language.

 

Non-native speakers have to give up a lot to achieve this proficiency: time, energy and money. But the tangible benefits of learning English (higher wages, easier travel, and broader access to global culture) justify this sacrifice of resources.

 

Unless you’re planning to spend a very long time in Vietnam, the opportunity cost of studying Vietnamese is much less favourable. You’re giving up too many of your available non-working/sleeping/eating hours for a skill that loses nearly all its value the moment you leave the country.

 

To illustrate, assume that Gladwell is bad at maths and that you can become fluent in Vietnamese with 1,000 hours of practice.

 

If you studied seven days a week for three hours a day, it would take you about 333 days to hit your target. This isn’t “three hours of half-hearted listening to podcasts or watching subtitled movies”. This is “three hours of gulag work camp, 100 percent vein-popping mental self-torture with expensive tutors and learning materials”. After nearly a year of doing this every day, you’d be able to bargain more effectively for mangos.

 

More realistically, though, it would take you several years to reach this point.

 

Or you could spend a couple of hours learning Vietnamese numbers and interesting things to yell at taxi drivers, then devote yourself to becoming a better painter or tuba player or dessert chef — to doing something that might enrich the world, rather than assuage your societally conditioned guilt. Then you could take a moment to consider where you’d like to watch the next World Cup.

 

The Wordies Awards 2014: The Top Restaurants in Vietnam

As we put together our list of the top restaurants in this country’s two major cities — Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — we decided to keep it simple.

With over 60 judges replying to our questions, we asked them what places in their opinion they thought were the ‘best’. By soliciting a response to such a broad question, it meant that their answers would be based on the whole package — service, décor, cuisine, ambience — rather than judging these facets of restaurants as separate components. This was what we were looking for.

As the votes came in, with a few notable exceptions it became clear that our judges went for international restaurants as opposed to Vietnamese, and restaurants serving up a la carte fare as opposed to those known for their buffets. Except for Square One in Ho Chi Minh City and JW Marriot in Hanoi’s two restaurants — Crystal Jade and French Grill — the hotel restaurants, often known for their buffets, struggled to get votes.

 

Likewise, except for El Gaucho, which managed to finish in the Top 10 for both cities, the chain restaurants found it difficult to get attention. Yet restaurant collaboratives such as the Au Parc / Refinery / Blanchy’s Street group in Ho Chi Minh City, focusing on one-of-a-kind eateries, got the judges’ blessing.

 

So here’s the lowdown on the best places to eat in Vietnam.

 

Ho Chi Minh City

 

 

In the past few years, Ho Chi Minh City’s Pizza 4Ps has achieved something of a cult status. Set down an alleyway off Le Thanh Ton on the other side of the Expat Ghetto, this Japanese-run, homemade-mozzarella joint has long tickled the fancy of its customers. From our judges’ votes, it was very much the number one restaurant in Saigon. In fact, it was the runaway number one, getting 40 percent more votes than the nearest contenders, El Gaucho and The Deck. A bit of an anomaly, really. Who ever heard of a pizza restaurant being the best restaurant in a city of over 10 million?

 

That El Gaucho ran in equal second with The Deck tells you how well this Argentinean-themed restaurant with its taste-like-home steaks, themed décor and international ambience has managed to set itself up in Saigon. With three restaurants already opening their doors to grill-loving customers, so popular is its Bangkok outlet that you have to book in advance to get a table.

 

 

The Deck, too, has managed to carve itself out a niche, one that is not just due to its riverside, District 2 location. Elegant and romantic, and serving up great cocktails to go with its contemporary pan-Asian fusion menu, together with two other Top 10 restaurants in the same area of Saigon — Lubu and Trois Gourmands — it provides quality cuisine outside the city centre.

 

Of the newcomers, Racha Room’s entry into the Top 10 is perhaps the most surprising. Serving up ‘Thai-accented, Pan-Asian cuisine’, this restobar set within the confines of a colonial-era building on Mac Thi Buoi is finding success in a location where past restaurants have failed.

 

Hanoi

 

 

When Dani Himi, the brains behind El Gaucho, was opening his first restaurant in Hanoi, he researched the dining scene in the capital. His opinion was that Da Paolo was the best restaurant in Hanoi. It’s an opinion that was shared by our judges, with the Italian eatery getting the most votes.

 

That El Gaucho came in at a close number two was perhaps no surprise. And other well-known favourites such as Don’s Tay HoFoodshop 45Jackson’s SteakhouseMoose & Roo and Namaste making the Top 10 was expected. What was perhaps less expected was the entry of Cousins — a French-inspired eatery only opened in the summer. Likewise, the fact that Pots ‘n Pans was one of only two Vietnamese eateries making the Top 10 in either city suggests that the concept of mid to top-end Vietnamese fare in an international setting is still in its infancy.

 

 

Also interesting was the lack of classic French restaurants among your favourites, with only La Badiane hitting the spot. The contemporary yet traditional eatery came third in the rankings.

 

A number of other restaurants came close to the Top 10 including 1946, Angelina, Highway 4, Cau Go, Quan An Ngon and interestingly, both the restaurants in the JW Marriott — French Grill and Crystal Jade. Like Cousins, they are new to the dining scene in the capital. And despite location — the JW Marriott is in My Dinh in West Hanoi — they are already getting a reputation.

 

That’s Not A Real S**rt

 

Niko Savvas

Get off Niko Savvas’ lawn. He likes his grass just as it is, thank you very much

 

When your correspondent was a boy, there were four Respectable Sports (note the capital ‘R’ and capital ‘S’): baseball, basketball, American football and hockey*. Any red-blooded youth of a certain age was expected to enjoy at least one. In addition, there were a smattering of Semi-Respectable Sports (note the continued usage of capitals) like tennis, soccer and golf. If you enjoyed one of these, you were weird, but acceptably so.

 

There was also a shadowy underworld of Un-Sports (yup, more capitals) like skateboarding and martial arts, seemingly unrelated disciplines that nevertheless had marvelous penchants for attracting nutjobs. The hierarchy was helpful in many ways. The sports a person enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy, could tell you quite a lot.

 

A person who enjoyed American football was most likely a sociopath, aroused by violent collisions between armoured men in the world’s least-subtle metaphor for tactical ground war. American football fans were maniacally devoted to their teams, from high school to professional. They wore their zealotry on their backs, proudly advertising their allegiance through officially licensed merchandise.

 

It was helpful to have such an easy way to pick out idiots. These days, though, the idiots are better camouflaged. And they’re into way weirder stuff than American football. And we’re not talking about rugby.

 

A Growing Concern

 

The past decade has seen a worrisome diversification of the sporting universe. Blame can be placed at the feet of the usual suspects: the internet, cable TV, computer games etc. Pointing fingers is fun and lucrative, but it does little to stop the spread of this athletic epidemic.

 

Consider the case of Hardcourt Bike Polo. First played in Seattle in the early 2000s, this pseudo-sport quickly swept the globe. Today it has infected more than 300 cities in 30 countries. A contemporary bastardisation of traditional culture, it takes everything awesome about polo — horses, British accents, Ralph Lauren — and replaces it with a plebe-friendly mimesis as tacky as it is inauthentic.

 

While Vietnam is no early adopter of global trends**, it hasn’t been immune to similarly perfidious fads. As always, the problem can be traced to foreign influences. While Vietnamese sportsfolk once were content to slap their shuttlecocks around the alley, today they dabble in darker indulgences from abroad.

 

Broomsticks and Backflips

 

These days, your correspondent can scarcely leave the house without some reckless hoodlum leapfrogging over his back at full tilt, then clambering up a drainage pipe to prance from roof to roof. The kids call it ‘parkour’, though your correspondent knows it by its true name: anarchy. And its adherents are growing in power and influence, threatening to consume the wide world of sports.

 

They are the new urban guerrillas, blurring the lines between athlete and civilian. They wear no uniforms or insignia. They carry no equipment that might betray their intentions. One minute you’re waiting for the bus beside a mild-mannered student — the next, she’s doing cartwheels over parked taxis, spinning around streetlights, and running up walls for no goddamn reason.

 

Parkouristas aren’t the only menace facing the traditional sportosphere, though. Even in Vietnam, you can’t swing a dead cat*** without its mangy tail brushing against a group of weirdos united under the pretense of sport.

 

Perhaps the best example of this is Saigon’s burgeoning Quidditch scene. Every week, hordes of grown-ass adults gather to run around with broomsticks between their legs, playing an imaginary game for imaginary wizard-spawn in an imaginary boarding school. It’s madness, but madness is the new normal. The league has 47,000 likes on Facebook.

 

Yet these wannabe witches and warlocks are surprisingly hard to distinguish from normal people, once they leave the pitch. They trade their capes for Crocs and their wands for WhatsApp, and nobody’s the wiser. Your spouse could be a Quidditch player and you’d never even know.

 

Standing Athwart History, Yelling ‘Meh’

 

In this paradoxical age of ever-increasing individuality and concatenation, can our favourite sports still say anything about who we are? Do the old taxonomies even apply? Is an American football fan still a brute, and are grown-up kickball players still nerds?

 

Yes.

 

Trends pass with the seasons, but some truths are eternal. Basketball will always be cool, because dunking a ball through a 10-foot hoop is dope as f***. Conversely, buzkashi will never be cool, because fondling the carcass of a headless goat is gross.

 

We should remember the true purpose of sports — to keep nerds in their place, and to give people with nice asses an excuse to wear spandex. Someday we will return to our collective senses, and the dark days of competitive bog snorkeling will be forgotten.

 

You can’t spell ‘fade’ without ‘fad’, and doesn’t that say it all?

 

July Food Promos

Promotions of the month

 

Daewoo Dishes Out the Summer Deals

 

Hanoi Daewoo Hotel is keeping things sizzling throughout the month of July with hot deals on top-notch culinary delights. Café Promenade invites patrons to enjoy their delicious buffet options — including BBQ, premium meat and seafood, and homemade ice cream — while kicking back by the poolside, with their swim n’dine buffet promotion. Groups of three to 20 guests are welcome to enjoy the largest swimming pool in Hanoi with their reservation, not to mention the fantastic food.

 

Hanoi Daewoo Hotel is located at 360 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh. Find them online at daewoohotel.com

 

Fortuna Celebrates Summer

 

Fortuna Hotel is celebrating the celestial tradition of mooncake crafting with their stunning selection of mooncake delights, available in the hotel lobby from Jul. 11. The cakes will showcase the most unique tastes of Asia, including lotus seed, yam, green tea and red bean, and will feature a time-honoured tradition of mooncake making during the summer months.

 

Mooncakes are priced at VND650,000 per box — with 20 percent discounts on those purchased before Aug. Fortuna Hotel Hanoi is located at 6B Lang Ha, Ba Dinh

 

Fruity Summer Treats

 

Hotel de L’Opera invites you to enjoy the sweet tastes of summer in Hanoi with a month of their favourite fruity indulgence — lychee. Satine Restaurant will feature roasted duck braised with lychee dressing, alongside a portion of lychee sorbet. Two and three-course menus are available at VND250,000++ and VND350,000++ respectively.

 

Hotel de L’Opera is located at 29 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem

 

The Press Club Celebrates French Flavour

 

From Jul. 21 to Jul. 27 The Press Club Hanoi is hosting French Food week. The week-long event features an exclusive a la carte menu of much-loved recipes from the French countryside, including Bouillabaise fisherman soup with garlic toast, ‘Coq au vin’ marinated chicken, and Provencal grilled lamb chops with thyme. With every main dish comes a glass of Chateau Bouteilley, compliments of The Warehouse.

 

The Press Club Hanoi is located at 59A Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem. Get more information by visiting hanoi-pressclub.com

 

Sheraton’s Tasty Month of July

 

Sheraton Hanoi Hotel is celebrating the flavours of red, white and blue this month, with exclusive deals on American cuisine from Jul. 1 to Jul. 27 at Oven D’or Restaurant. Enjoy delectable BBQ ribs, pork and beef alongside fruit pies and ice cream for VND620,000++ per person for lunch, and VND990,000++ per person for dinner.

 

Try something different at Hemispheres Restaurant with their deals from Jul. 1 to Jul. 30 on grilled delicacies, as well a seafood exclusive — Nha Trang lobster. Throughout the month of July, enjoy special deals on all ribs, for VND180,000++ per person.

 

Sheraton Hanoi Hotel is located at K5 Nghi Tam, 11 Xuan Dieu

 

Ming Restaurant’s Summer Makeover

 

Ming Restaurant, the Chinese culinary jewel of Sofitel Plaza Hanoi, is celebrating the warmer months of summer with a new menu of over 30 dishes designed to compliment the season with light, luscious tastes. Signature dishes on the new menu include sautéed fish maw with caviar, double-boiled black chicken with conpoy and oriental lamb chop with Mongolian sauce, among many others.