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SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BEST VEGETARIAN DISHES IN VIETNAM
There are lots of Vegetarian options to choose from in Vietnamese cuisine
If there’s one thing Vietnamese cuisine is known for, it’s the meat. Whether it’s a substantial cơm tấm pork plate for breakfast, a steaming bowl of beef phở for lunch, or a crispy pork belly and fish bún mắm soup for dinner, meat can be found in nearly every dish. Understandably, this can put off many vegetarians from visiting Vietnam, but they shouldn’t be deterred.
There’s an abundance of delicious vegetarian — or “chay” — meals in restaurants and on street corners all across the country, from Hanoi to Hoi An to Saigon.
With so much to choose from, however, it’s easy to miss the highlights. So here’s a list of the top 10 meatless meals you can enjoy in Vietnam.
Bánh mì chay
No trip to Vietnam would be complete without a decent bánh mì — a Viet/French fusion-style baguette sandwich. Finding one that isn’t packed full of pork belly and pâté is a challenge, but vegetarian versions are available. A nice veggie option can include tofu, egg, or mushrooms, stuffed into a freshly baked baguette with fresh chilies, pickles, and herbs and finished with a sprinkling of soy sauce.
Traditional phở soup is a meat-based broth often eaten for breakfast, with phở noodles, beef, and vegetables. For the vegetarian option look out for the word “chay” and you’ll know it is cooked using a vegetarian stock instead. It’ll be served in the same way: with piles of vegetables, herbs, fresh chillies and limes.
Bún chả giò chay
This is a light but satisfying meal made with rice bún noodles and vegetarian spring rolls. You tend to see this sold early in the morning on the side of streets — a quick on-the-go breakfast as people are on their way to work. The noodles are served cold, on top of which sit chopped-up fried veggie spring rolls, a few pickles, cucumber and herbs. It’s served with chilli dipping sauce.
This is a sticky red rice dish, which is often eaten during the Lunar New Year, Tet. It gets its uniquely red and sweet flavour from gac, which is a type of fruit grown primarily in Asia — known also as baby jackfruit. The rice is mixed together with the fruit — which has been pulsed — and, after sitting for a while, is eventually steamed and eaten with either fake meat (savoury option) or desiccated coconut (sweet option).
Bánh ít trần
These traditional bean-filled dumplings can be eaten as a snack or as part of a main meal. The dough, which is made from glutinous rice flour and water, is rolled out and stuffed with a mixture of cooked and mashed mung beans, fried shallots and fresh spring onions. The dumplings are then boiled and served with a chilli dipping sauce and a few pickles.
Cháo đậu xanh chay
Rice porridge is a dish enjoyed all across Asia, and in Vietnam it’s known as “cháo”. Wandering around, you can see a number of people selling bowls of cháo in cafés and on street corners. A nice vegetarian option is made with mung beans, which are combined with rice in a pot and cooked until they become mushy and start to look a lot like porridge. Various bits can be added when the rice is ready to be served up, including chopped spring onions or fried shallots and garlic.
Đậu sốt cà chua
This is a Vietnamese vegetarian favourite. It’s made by frying off some thickly sliced pieces of tofu, which are then added into a simmering garlic and tomato sauce. Once the sauce has reduced down, the tofu is served up with a sprinkling of spring onions and a portion of steamed rice.
This is popular vegetarian street food. Vendors will fry little cubes of rice cake on a fiery hotplate until golden brown. The whisked egg is then added and everything is tossed together until the egg is cooked through. This is usually topped with chopped-up spring onions, a few peanuts and a little soy sauce.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS FINE KOREAN RESTAURANTS IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in September 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
Five restaurants to consider when you seek fine Korean restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City
With almost 100,000 Korean people living in South Vietnam, it’s not surprising that there are numerous Korean restaurants to choose from. At the time this article was written, Foody.vn referenced 655 of them in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Some of them offer high-quality meals that come really close to what you would find in South Korea. In this article, we introduce five restaurants that we consider to offer some of the best Korean restaurants in Saigon.
Navigating the Korean Table in Saigon
The specificity of Korean food lies in the use of various seasonings and flavors, which result in original pairings as well as nutritional intake. Health is praised above all by Korean cooks. In fact, the nutritional value of the food is often even more important than flavor and the presentation of the dish is sometimes not even considered.
The quantity though is very important. The custom is to serve a generous amount of side dishes on a Korean table. It won’t be held against you if you don’t finish it all, don’t worry! However, if you want more, keep in mind that all those side dishes can be refilled for free.
For a true culinary voyage try each of the featured dishes in the following restaurants to truly experience the best Korean restaurants in Saigon.
Kyung Bok Gung
Address: 52 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC / Facebook page
Tel: +84 28 6682 7249 Opening Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Kyung Bok Gung is the name of a 600-year-old royal palace in Seoul. But, it is also a high-class Korean restaurant that you definitely should try. To find it, go up Hai Bà Trưng street from the river and before reaching the Opera House, on your right, you’ll spot a traditional Korean entrance. This basically consists of Korean text carved into the side wall and a pile of crockpots that are usually used to store fermented ingredients like kimchi. With 60 rooms over seven floors, this is one of the biggest Korean restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. The chef, Ms. Kim Jungim, is a specialist in traditional cuisine and offers various authentic Korean dishes.
Kyung Bok Gung restaurant is a great showcase of Korean traditional culture in general. Decorated with traditional objects and paintings, it also hosts a mini-exhibition about Yi Bangja (1901–1989), the last crown princess of Korea and spouse of Yi Un, the last crown prince of Korea. Last but not least, all dishes are served in traditional brasswares called bangjja, which have antibacterial and sterilizing virtues. Kyung Bok Gung is recommended for those who want to enjoy Haute Korean cuisine with family or friends.
BULGOGI BEEF SET LUNCH
Kyung Bok Gung’s set lunches are great because they come with 12 different side dishes. Bulgogi beef is usually very popular among Westerners and also is an emblematic Korean dish that dates back 2000 years. It consists of thin slices of beef and vegetables cooked in a mixture of soy sauce and fruit juice.
Its sweet taste makes it very popular among kids as well. Bulgogi is served along with rice in a hot stone bowl. The first thing to do is to transfer the rice to an empty bowl. Once the stone bowl is emptied, put some water in and cover it. You will then get sungnyung, a savory drink to be enjoyed at the end of the meal.
Bibimbap is perhaps the most popular Korean dish (Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicolas Cage, and Paris Hilton are big fans of it) and is certainly one of the most well-known types of Korean food is available in Saigon. Healthy and tasty, it combines meat, various vegetables, and rice.
The meal is served hot in two layers: rice at the bottom, stir-fried meat, and vegetables at the top. Once you have it served, put a spoonful of spicy sauce and mix it all (the more you mix the tastier it will be). If you are not into spicy, you can also switch to soy sauce (or no sauce at all).
Choi Go Jip
161 Hàm Nghi, Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, HCMC / Facebook
Tel: +84 28 3914 2005 Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
You don’t know anything about Korean BBQ? Then Choi Go Jip is the best place to discover Korean BBQ in Ho Chi Minh City.
First of all, because it is easily accessible. You’ll find it at the top of Hàm Nghi street (near Bến Thành market), and secondly, because it’s one of the best BBQ places in town (all cuisines included). Choi Go Jip is one of the oldest Korean restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a lot of space and private rooms over three floors. Each table is equipped with a grill and a ventilation system to evacuate the smoke, standard in Korean BBQ restaurants.
The strength of Korean BBQ is the healthy and delicious way Korean people enjoy it. One great thing at Choi Go Jip is the quality of its meat, which could be either beef or pork, served raw or seasoned with soy sauce and fruit juice. You are provided with meat to grill, a soybean-based paste that contains chili and garlic (it’s called ssamjang), lettuce leaves, and of course free, refillable side dishes as mentioned above.
Take a lettuce leaf, put in some rice, grilled garlic, ssamjang paste, and grilled meat, wrap it up, and enjoy it in one bite. The ssamjang is the ‘magic ingredient’ that makes Korean BBQ so great; don’t skip it! If you feel like eating pork, Korean people love to serve it with huge chunks of fat, which is refined by the ssamjang sauce.
After the BBQ, Korean people typically order rice served with a soup called doenjang jjigae, a Korean soybean paste soup (less sweet but richer than Japanese miso). Jjigae means soup, doenjang is a soybean paste that needs to be fermented for at least six months or even two or three years for a richer taste (and smell).
Most restaurants prefer to use ‘young’ paste when they prepare their soup. The paste is boiled with vegetables and tofu. Doenjang is reputed to have cancer-fighting and vascular properties.
If you prefer noodles rather than rice, you can also go for a naengmyeon. Naeng stands for “cold”, myeon for “noodle”. Originally from North Korea, it is indeed a cold noodle dish that can be enjoyed in an iced broth or with spicy sauce.
Buckwheat noodles are said to help fight against aging diseases, indigestion, and inflammation. Naengmyeon can also be ordered as a main dish along with dumplings. Portions would then be bigger.
Choi Go Jip is an ideal place to sample some of the best Korean restaurants in Saigon because you can sample so many different flavors as well as cooking styles.
Mi Han Quoc
148, Hà Huy Tập, Phường Tân Phong, District 7, HCMC / Website
Tel: +84 28 3824 2352 Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Mi Han Quoc is a restaurant that serves “bude chige”. This is a spicy soup cooked with kimchi, canned ham, and sausages.
It was invented after the Korean war (1950–1953) in Uijeongbu city. It was difficult to find meat at that time, so the presence of the US army influenced the use of canned ham and sausages as a substitute, turning a field ration into a delicious meal.
It is still very popular nowadays and Uijeongbu keeps holding a bude chige festival. The canned ham itself is a popular and appreciated full-moon or new-year gift. The way it is cooked in Lau Bude Chige is not the original way, however. The restaurant manages to create a great and unique taste using beef brisket and green onion. Picture a soup served as a hot pot on a wok-shaped plate.
The waiter will prepare it for you, just be patient: the longer it cooks, the better it tastes. Don’t hesitate to order extra ham, sausages, and noodles (instant ramen) to make it even better (they only put in a small amount initially).
Of course, you might need more soup after a long time of cooking; ask the waiters, and they will refill it for free. Once you’re done, ask for “bokkeumbap”. The waiter will come back with steamed rice that he will fry in the residue of the wok-shaped plate, resulting in a sort of risotto/fried rice.
Even if the idea of canned ham turns you off, you should give Bude Chige a try as it bears no resemblance to the Spam™ of many an American and European childhood. Once all the ingredients are combined it has a special flavour profile that makes for some delicious Korean food in Saigon.
Seol Hwa Bing Su
28/1 Phạm Văn Nghị, Sky Garden 1, Tân Phong, District 7, HCMC / Facebook
Tel: +84 28 5410 6994. Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Fancy a nice dessert after all these heavy meals? Seol Hwa is a Korean dessert coffee place in the Sky Garden Residence buildings in District 7.
Seol Hwa literally means “snow flower” which refers to its signature dish: the bingsu, a shaved milk, ice-based dessert that Korean people traditionally enjoy during summer. Bingsu has been around since the 14th; century during the Joseon Dynasty. It was originally water ice served with fresh fruits.
Red bean cream began to be added under the influence of Japan during the occupation period (1910–1945). The use of ice cream, cereal, syrup, and the whipped cream comes from Western countries after the Korean War.
Eating bingsu has become a real trend in Vietnam due to Korean café franchises such as Caffe Bene, Paris Baguette, and Tous les Jours (Caffe Bene’s mango bingsu is one of the most popular flavors). Seol Hwa is recommended for those who are looking for a traditional flavor.
For example, this is one of the only places where you can find the injeolmi bingsu described below (the mango bingsu is also very popular). The use of 100% Dalat milk makes it very tasty. You will love it, especially if you just had a spicy meal like tteok-bokki or bude chige.
Milkphat Bingsu and Injeolmi Bingsu
These are the most traditional bingsu. Milkphat bingsu is served along with boiled red beans, and injeolmi designates a glutinous rice cake covered with bean powder. Injeolmi bingsu consists of the injeolmi cake covered with bean powder and sliced almonds. Injeolmi has to be fresh (made on the same day it is served), which explains why only a few places can serve it in Vietnam. They may have run out if you come after 8 p.m.
Korea doesn’t produce mango, but its mass importation has introduced it to various dishes including bingsu. Mango bingsu became very popular in South Korea and nowadays in Vietnam as well, since it’s easier to make it here. Seol Hwa’s mangoes are cultivated in the Mekong delta region. Now that you have an insider’s view into the best Korean food in Saigon, it’s time to delve into all the interesting aromas, flavours, and healthy benefits of Korean cuisine.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS HOW TO EAT GLUTEN FREE IN VIETNAM
The latest “magic pill” in the quest for health is gluten-free gastronomy
In many Western countries, supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes are brimming with these readily available food options. Before taking the bait on grain-less living, let’s look at some nutritional info and discover how to live gluten-free in Vietnam.
People diagnosed with celiac disease are the only ones required to maintain a gluten-free diet. When celiacs consume gluten-containing food, it triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. A slew of other effects may follow, possibly leading to more serious diseases.
Only recently in 2013 did the scientific community agree that some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also suffer side-effects such as bloating, low-energy, “brain fog” etc.
“People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice,” says Dr. Leffler, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “They’ll simply waste their money because these products are expensive.”
Where to Go in Saigon?
Now for the good news! Whether you need to be gluten-free or fall for the “farce”, Vietnam allows gluten-free living relatively easily if you stick to Vietnamese cuisine.
Here is a list of common Vietnamese dishes that are naturally gluten-free: Pho, bun bo, banh trang (rice cakes), banh cuon, rice, all the fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes are fine (make sure there are no soy sauce). Hu tieu, goi cuon, mi quang, com hen (rice with snails), and mien (mung bean noodles) are fine too.
Some sauces such as soy sauce usually have added wheat, so be careful there. Those who wish to avoid gluten or are wheat sensitive generally don’t need to worry about small amounts. Celiacs, however, do. Glutinous (sticky) rice contains no gluten, nor do all plain rice products (white, brown or black).
It is best to avoid fish or meats deep-fried as often they are dipped in flour first. Oils are gluten-free, as are potatoes, but the oils used for French fries may have been used for other deep-fried food dipped in flour. All alcohol is wheat-free except BEER! Oh man, do I miss it! Many micro-breweries abroad have a slew of grain-less swill. A few imported brands are available in Saigon.
Most Western restaurants have yet to adopt specific gluten-free menus, though many Italian restaurants have gluten-free pasta available on request. Some chefs I spoke with are reluctant to display gluten-free options, for risk of cross-contamination. However, it is highly recommended to choose naturally gluten-free foods over the processed gluten-free products, such as gluten-free breads, pastas etc.
Mexican restaurants may be of significant importance for wheat-less warriors.
Saigon has many import stores and Vietnamese and Western supermarkets stocking a long list of gluten-free items including pasta, crisps, bread mixes, pancakes, oats, and cookies. But I suggest going for local options such as banh trang, a readily available large round rice cracker, rather than gluten-free crisp bread, as they are far cheaper and locally produced.
So folks, there you have it. If you are able to digest this highly wheat-sensitive “info-meal”, choose wisely the next time you desire grain-less grub or hear someone asking “is it gluten-free”? Unless a medical professional determines you are celiac or wheat-sensitive, enjoy your durum semolina and embrace your inner gluten gluttony!
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS FINE SUSHI IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in June 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
A Definitive List of Saigon’s Select and Seriously Succulent Sushi.
Japanese cuisine is often quoted as one of the most popular gastronomical cultures in the world from both a Western and Asian perspective. Perhaps rather unsurprisingly, sushi was ranked 4th in CNN’s World’s 50 best foods list earlier this year.
Valued for its simplicity, freshness, and focus on both technique and aesthetics, we completely empathize if you’re going through an unnerving bout of sushi cravings right now.
Finding quality sushi in Southeast Asia can be a chore. To help our readers with that, we did some serious research and taste-testing to name the best places in Ho Chi Minh City to pacify your longing for vinegared rice, maki rolls, and raw fish.
Do note that some places included on our list may possibly not be considered completely authentic if analyzed with a Japanese palate; factors including taste and price-performance ratio received equal weighting.
256 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Thành, District 1 / 149 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, District 3, HCMC, Vietnam / Website
Opening Hours: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily Price: Platters from VND200,000, à la carte sushi from VND50,000
A reputable restaurant chain with 200 outlets hailing from Tokyo, Chiyoda Sushi Saigon debuted its first location in Saigon earlier this year to bring authentic, fresh, and affordable sushi to the Vietnamese masses. Beyond its authentic Japanese food, the proprietors of Chiyoda Sushi also promise a truly Japanese experience in terms of atmosphere and service quality.
Reviews: Tripadvisor 4.5 stars; Google reviews 4.3 stars. Reviewers commented on the high quality of the sushi at very affordable prices.
Kid Friendly: The restaurant is large and should have no issues accommodating families.
Business Lunch: Splendid lunch choices including sushi gozen and rice bowl sets are available daily ranging from ~VND178,000++ to ~VND248,000++
Romantic Dining: We see no reason why this wouldn’t work with the help of delicious sushi, reasonable prices, and comfortable Japanese-style seating and setting.
Large Groups: With a spacious floor plan, we believe that Chiyoda Sushi will have no issues accommodating larger groups. Reserve in advance if you are worried.
Parking: Car parking is available 100 meters away from the restaurant at Han Thuyen street and at 140 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia.
8A/A9 Thái Văn Lung, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily Price: Platters from VND300,000, Lunch sets including both sushi and hot pot from VND250,000.
A gem hidden within alley 8A Thai Van Lung, commonly known as Saigon’s Little Tokyo, Tokitsu Nada serves up delicious sushi and a rare Japanese specialty rarely found beyond its shores: Chanko Nabe (Sumo-wrestler’s Hot Pot).
Tokitsu Nada is a great example of a Japanese restaurant that excels in a wide range of specialties. Numerous set combinations are available where one can enjoy both sushi and hot pot at the same time.
Reviews: Tripadvisor 4 stars; Google reviews 4.5 stars. Many of the reviews found online are translated from Japanese, meaning the restaurant is well-frequented by Japanese people. This alone is a sure sign of quality. In addition to the sushi, reviewers were very impressed by the copious hot pot.
Kid Friendly: The location is not small for Japanese standards nor large for Western standards. So as long as children behave it should be perfectly fine to have them with you.
Business Lunch: Amazing lunch combos are available at Tokitsu Nada—the biggest reason to visit.
Romantic Dining: With a truly Japanese setting that resembles dining right at the heart of Tokyo, we see no reason why this wouldn’t work.
Large Groups: Groups larger than four may find it difficult to share the same table here.
Parking: Motorbike parking is available after the entrance of 8A Thai Van Lung alley (VND10,000).
10E1 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Đa Kao Ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 5.30 p.m. – 10.30 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Price: VND3,000,000 ‘OMAKASE’ special course. You’re paying for quality.
We’d describe this place as premium and definitely at a level that deserves a Michelin star. In fact, Sushi Rei Saigon is a branch of Sushi Masuda, a double Michelin-star sushi restaurant from Tokyo. The chefs at Sushi Rei devote most of their efforts to selecting the best fish that is imported directly from Japan on a regular basis. This means that the menu is seasonal; you’ll get to enjoy the freshest produce every season.
Masters here also take pride in creating great sushi rice, known as syari in Japanese—without great tasting savory vinegared rice, the taste of raw fish would not be adequately accentuated. Reserve in advance to avoid disappointment!
Reviews: Tripadvisor 5 stars; Google reviews 4.5 stars. Reviewers are impressed with the fact that everything, even the water and the staff, come from Japan. The only negative reviews are centred around the restaurant being a bit difficult to find.
Kid Friendly: With a VIP-style setting that accommodates eight people at the sushi counter and six people in a private room, we do not recommend bringing children.
Romantic Dining: You’ll definitely impress a date on a visit to Sushi Rei.
Large Groups: Diners are able to reserve the private room that accommodates six people if the group spends a minimum of VND12,000,000.
Parking: Both car and motorbike parking are available in front of the restaurant.
Kiyota Sushi Sake Restaurant
53 Phạm Viết Chánh, W. 19, Bình Thạnh District, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 5.00 – 11 p.m. daily. Price: Omakase sets at VND500,000, VND700,000 and VND900,000 per pax.
Tucked within Saigon’s second Little Japan in Binh Thanh district, this admirable joint is a good indicator of a burgeoning Japanese ex-pat population in Ho Chi Minh City. Chef Kiyota Koutarou from Miyazaki Prefecture runs the show here and is dedicated to bringing tasty sushi to Japanese ex-pats and locals at a highly competitive price. As the name suggests, the wide range of Japanese liquors is also a draw at Kiyota Sushi Sake Restaurant. We’d also suggest following it on Facebook for a daily dose of raw fish food porn.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.8 stars; 4.9 on Facebook. Kiyota Sushi Sake restaurant gets very high scores for quality, atmosphere and service; however, the overall score is brought down only slightly by location.
Kid Friendly: Kiyota Sushi Sake Restaurant is a typical Japanese-style sushi bar featuring counter seats and may not be suitable for younger children. Teenagers will likely have no problems here.
Romantic Dining: Kiyota Sushi Sake Restaurant offers only bar counter seats which may be a great experience or a deal breaker depending on your date.
Large Groups: The restaurant sports a few non-counter tables and may be able to accommodate groups of four to six.
Parking: Motorbike parking available. The area is very local and may not be suitable for parking cars.
15B/14 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, HCMC / 49B Quốc Hương, Thảo Điền Ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 5.30 – 11 p.m. daily. Price: Omakase sets VND500,000, VND700,000 VND900,000 per pax.
Chef Hung, a young and talented Vietnamese Sushi master, brings his own renditions of omakase to Vietnam after years of training in Japan. Often described by local fans as a Vietnamese version of Sushi Rei and valued by the Japanese ex-pat community for its ‘CP Value’ (Japanese English for the price-performance ratio), Hung has also recently expanded to Thao Dien Ward, so many ex-pats are in luck for great sushi without needing to travel all the way to District 1.
Reviews: Tripadvisor 4.5 stars; Google reviews 4.4 stars. The majority of comments talk about the excellent sushi; however, be aware that if you don’t book in advance, you may be out of luck!
Kid Friendly: We do not recommend children here for similar reasons as at other counter-style sushi bars.
Romantic Dining: If you and/or your other half are Vietnamese, communication will not be a problem since the proprietors of the restaurant are Vietnamese too.
Large Groups: We do not recommend large groups here for the same reasons that apply to any typical counter-style sushi bars.
Parking: Motorbike parking is available after the entrance of 8A alley (VND10,000).
28 Thảo Điền, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11.00 a.m. – 9.30 p.m. Price: Basic rolls at VND55,000. Premium rolls at VND90,000. Supreme rolls at VND130,000.
A relatively new contender in the scene, ROLL’s Japanese proprietors bring a refreshing concept to the sushi scene in Ho Chi Minh City; fresh made-to-order maki rolls featuring exciting flavors such as unagi foie gras, soft shell crab, ginger pork, and an ocean roll filled with salmon tuna and sea bream. Rumour has it that the deep-fried karaage chicken here is to die for.
Reviews: Facebook rate 5 stars; Google reviews 4.8 stars
Kid Friendly: ROLL Thao Dien is located within a family-friend and open-style food court with ample greenery, in our opinion perfect for kids.
Romantic Dining: With plenty of alcohol options in the vicinity, ROLL is perfect for a casual date that will not burn a hole in your wallet.
Large Groups: The food court where ROLL is located can hold large crowds.
Parking: Yes, it is available on the street.
YEN Sushi & Sake Pub
15A Lê Quý Đôn, W.6, District 3, HCMC / 185 Nguyễn Đức Cảnh, Tân Phong, District 7, HCMC / 8 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé ward, District 1. HCMC, Vietnam
Premium Outlet: 123 Bà Huyện Thanh Quan, W. 9, District 3, HCMC / Facebook
Price: Nigiri sushi at VND90,000, Maki rolls at VND130,000
A gastrobar that excels at a wide range of Japanese food including sushi, sashimi, rice bowls, and hot pots, the creative maki rolls offered here, such as the avocado ‘caterpillar’ roll and salmon foie gras rolls, are both delicious and an escape from typical traditional styles. YEN Sushi & Sake Pub has four locations in Ho Chi Minh City, including a location in District 7 as well as a premium outlet that features stunning zen-style Japanese interior design.
Reviews: Tripadvisor 4 stars; Google reviews 4.3 stars. Reviewers were impressed with the fresh oysters on the menu but were less complimentary of the sometimes slow service.
Kid Friendly: Well-behaved kids with a love of raw fish can certainly be included.
Business Lunch: Lunch sets are available at all YEN Sushi & Sake Pub locations.
Romantic Dining: Our reviewers felt that the ambiance at YEN Sushi & Sake Pub locations was visually stunning, very Japanese, and provided a great atmosphere for a date.
Large Groups: YEN Sushi & Sake Pub locations are spacious but it’s still recommended to reserve tables for larger groups, especially for weekend dinners.
Parking: Car parking is available at location 1 and at the Premium outlet.
23 Đông Du, Bến Nghé ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. Price: Platters from VND300,000
Definitely, the most visually special venue on this list, the owner’s eccentricity and his collection of Doraemon figurines and other Japanese manga toys accompany diners over handmade sushi and favorites such as tempura and curry rice. We were also stunned to discover that this particular establishment may possibly be the first sushi restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City—it’s been open since 1998. The sashimi boat and sushi boat here are particularly popular.
Reviews: Tripadvisor 4 stars; Google reviews 4.3 stars. Reviewers love the irreverent atmosphere and the friendly owner.
Kid Friendly: We believe that children will enjoy the Japanese comic character setting of the restaurant.
Business Lunch: Doraemon CaCa does not offer explicit lunch deals but is open throughout the day.
Romantic Dining: It is possible to conduct a casual date at Doraemonkaka.
Large Groups: The restaurant is multi-level and not small by any measure, and should be able to accommodate medium-sized groups.
Parking: There are some car parking locations available on Dong Du street that may be somewhat expensive.
The above is what we consider to represent some of the Best Fine Sushi Places in Saigon as of 2021. As new restaurants open and close often, there might be new gems to uncover, and please let us know if you notice one that is closed or one new that deserves a mention.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BEST INDIAN HALAL DISHES AT TANDOOR SAIGON
At Tandoor Saigon, you’ll find some of the best Indian and halal food in Ho Chi Minh City.
Three of Tandoor’s chefs are Indian Muslims who are highly experienced in Halal culinary techniques and they source the best halal meats and ingredients from the most reputable halal food distributors here in Saigon.
Indian gastronomy is heavily influenced by Islamic culinary traditions, thanks to a colorful history of Muslim emperors and kings. The Taj Mahal, one of the most iconic structures in India, was a mausoleum commissioned by emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Shah Jahan was the fifth emperor of the Islamic Mughal lineage, descended from what is now modern-day Uzbekistan. This complex lineage is also connected to Mongolian and Turkic kings; there is no wonder why Indian gastronomy is so flavourful and boundless!
Enough history, here is a comprehensive list of the best classic, Halal dishes you’ll be able to savour at Tandoor Saigon.
Reshmi Murgh Malai
These tasty chicken kebabs originate from the Mughal Dynasty which draws huge influence from Persian Cuisine.
If you like Tandoori-style chicken, you’re going to adore these! Chicken fillets are first marinated in cheese, cream and lime juice and various spices such as green chillies, coriander leaves and black pepper, then grilled at high heat. These irresistible grilled skewers are best enjoyed with Tandoor Saigon’s authentic Naan flatbreads and Tandoori Paratha.
Lamb Seekh Kebab
Seekh Kebab is amongst the most popular Pakistani and Punjab comfort foods. Minced lamb is blended with onions, chilies, and Chef Khan’s secret blend of spices and then grilled on a skewer.
The texture of Seekh Kebabs should never be too crumbly nor too soft; you’ll find that those found on Tandoor Saigon’s menu are a perfect consistency. Just like the Reshmi Murgh Malai chicken kebabs, Seekh Kebabs are also a perfect match with other classics such as Garlic Butter Naan and Chicken Butter Masala. A worthy contender for the best kebab in Ho Chi Minh City!
We’re pretty sure you’ve tried keema, and we’re very sure you’ve eaten tons of Naan. The name Keema Naan is a hundred percent self-explanatory; spicy minced lamb stuffed in raw unleavened flatbread, grilled in a scorching hot tandoor oven. Chef Khan’s flavourful lamb keema recipe is a good reason to sample this flatbread creation. What could be better than to have two of your favourite things in a perfect hybrid recipe?
Sometimes also spelled Jalfrezi, this cooking style is yet another glorious remnant of the Mughal Dynasty. In essence, mains such as chicken or vegetables are first stir-fried with butter, ginger and garlic, then cooked with spices and a key ingredient; bell peppers. Bell peppers sweetness and a slight tang to Jalfraizi that makes the dish highly appetising.
At Tandoor Saigon, this epic ‘casserole’ also includes beans, carrots, potatoes, green peas and onion.
As the name suggests, the dish is a direct result of Iranian gastronomical influence. Unlike typical kebabs, Chicken Irani is less spicy and focuses on the subtle sweetness of poultry. The secret lies in the application of cashew paste, which is used to marinate chicken thigh with other ingredients such as yoghurt, lime juice and green chillies before grilling.
The fragrance and accentuated nutty sweetness of cashews after cooking is alluring and difficult to describe. Yet another rare dish that can only be found at Tandoor Saigon.
Biryani is one of the most celebrated and recognised Halal foods in the world. Beyond India, it is readily available in places such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Middle East, thanks to its Islamic roots.
The most important ingredient that makes biryani stand out from countless other rice dishes of the world is basmati rice. Long and slender and low in starch, basmati remains nutty and with a delicious bite after cooking, while exuding a floral aroma not unlike jasmine rice.
Biryani can be made using other meats, but we’ve chosen lamb biryani to represent India’s diverse culture; Hindus abstain from beef, making lamb a universally accepted choice of meat for both Hindus and Muslims.
Many recipes and variants of Biryani exist and Tandoor Saigon’s interpretation doesn’t disappoint. Generous chunks of lamb are marinated in a special masala mix featuring nineteen different spices before being sauteed with onions and mint leaves over a low flame.
Once the lamb reaches the desired fragrance and texture, basmati rice is added and slow cooked. The rice soaks up all the deep flavours, while the meat remains juicy and tender.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS A DISH OF VIETNAMESE SPICE HISTORY
Vietnam’s cuisine is unique, partly because of its emphasis on herbs, spices, and strong, salty sauces
Herbs and spices are an everyday staple for any kitchen cupboard, in homes all around the world. Without them the myriad of intricate flavors and aromas that distinguish between cuisines today would be lost, leaving everyone with the same, bland bunch of vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
I love plain vegetables, don’t get me wrong, but pair a humble potato with garlic, salt, and a spot of chili and it suddenly becomes something far more exciting. Herbs and spices elevate and diversify our food, and for that they are completely invaluable.
Different cuisines around the world are defined by the herbs and spices they use, and how they are prepared. Vietnam’s own national cuisine is one of the most unique in the globe, partly because of the way it is eaten, but largely because of its huge emphasis on herbs, spices and strong, salty sauces. In particular fish sauce, which has to be one of the most pungent and yet most delicious acquired tastes out there.
There are a range of factors that have influenced the use of spices and herbs in Vietnamese food, from geography to religion and foreign settlement. But to truly understand it all, we will first go back to the very beginning.
A Brief History of Spices
Spices are an everyday product now – just little bits of dusty plant that sit in our cupboard, on our shelves, and disappear into our pots and pans. But the spice trade was once comparable, in terms of importance, to that of gold or precious stones. Did you know that nutmeg was once worth more in weight than gold?
The spice trade originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. It was initially controlled by Arabic spice merchants, bringing spices back from China and India to the West over land on a route now known by historians as the Silk Road.
This trade road connected Asia with the Mediterranean world, via North Africa and Europe, enabling the development of some of the greatest civilisations in history, from Rome to the ancient Chinese Empire.
At the turn of the European Age of Discovery in about 1500, colonising nations such as Portugal, France and England began to expand the spice trade around the globe, setting up companies and trade centers on Asian coasts. The Portuguese were the first to successfully find their way through Africa to India, and the Spanish, English, Dutch and French followed.
With the rise of the middle class over the Renaissance period came a similar rise in the demand for spices and herbs, and the growing competition among empires to produce and trade these spices sparked bloody conflicts over the control of the spice trade.
Wars over the spice industry lasted for several centuries from 1500 to 1700, and by the time the U.S. entered the industry in 1800 the spice trade was in need of a change. The U.S. began to work directly with Asian growers rather than with European companies, establishing their own businesses around Asia and contributing their own spices – from chili powder to dried onions and garlic.
Eventually, as is the way with any commodity, the supply of spices began to outgrow the demand and with that the value of spices fell. People began trading not only the spices but the spice plants themselves, and these aromatic essentials of any fine dish became not only widely available, but widely used among the top and bottom tiers of society alike. Today, spices are valuable not as a commodity but as an agent to individuality. Without them our food would be very mundane!
How Did the Use of Herbs and Spices Develop in Vietnam?
Vietnamese cuisine is a product of a number of cultural, historical and religious factors, but the country’s nation-wide focus on fresh herbs and vegetables, delicate balance and clean aromas was there from the start. It all comes down to geography.
Both the availability and therefore the use of spices in North Vietnam are limited, due to its colder climate. Northern Vietnamese tend to use black pepper, a locally grown spice, to season their dishes rather than chili which requires a warmer climate. Chili, brought to Asia originally by the Portuguese, is not native to Vietnam but now holds a very significant position in southern Vietnamese cooking.
Central Vietnamese cuisine is notable for its fragrance, and for the abundance of spices that grow in the area due to its mountainous, humid terrain. The warm weather and rich soil in the South allow for an even wider range of crops, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and it is this area of Vietnam that is responsible for Vietnamese curries.
The influence of various cultures on Vietnamese food is also a key factor in the use of spices around the country.
The South of Vietnam is known for being the most widely affected by the spice trade, with its convenient coastal location making it a perfect trading spot, and its warm climate making it perfect for growing key imports such as chili from the Americas and spices from India.
The South is perhaps the most diversified in terms of cuisine given its involvement in trade, and the influence of nearby Cambodian culinary tradition. The middle regions of Vietnam are perhaps the most interesting examples of this, with the royal culinary traditions of the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th Century leaving their mark on the area, with colorful, rich, almost regal foods still around today.
Hue was originally the citadel of the Nguyen Dynasty. It was a cultural hub for the nation, bringing together intellectuals, Confucians and creatives, and it was the area in which the idea of “Royal Food” for Vietnam originates.
Vietnamese food is also heavily influenced by its various periods of foreign settlement, from Chinese settlement in 111 to French colonisation in the mid 1800s. When the Chinese incorporated Vietnam under the Han Empire, they brought both Buddhist and Confucian beliefs and culture into the country.
With this came the idea of yin and yang – the balance of opposites – and the concept of applying this principle to cookery4. The Vietnamese apply the idea of balancing the five elements (metal, wood, earth, fire, water) using colours and spices that correlate to an element.
The colour white represents metal, as does a touch of heat/spiciness; a sour taste and the colour green represents wood; yellow and a sweet taste is for earth; the colour red and bitterness symbolises fire; and salty flavour and black colouring represents water.
It is the balance between these tastes, colours and hence elements that underpins Vietnamese cooking. The North of Vietnam remains the most heavily Chinese-influenced area of the nation, and rich, fried food and ingredients similar to those in Chinese cooking are more common here.
This idea of balance was elaborated and altered by the French when they settled in the nation many centuries later. Bringing their own range of European standards, delicacies and principles to Vietnam, the French left the Vietnamese people with some of their modern staples – banh mi baguettes with pate and cold roast pork, baked croissant-like cakes and the Vietnamese sponge cake. The French also brought some key European products to the region, such as potatoes and asparagus.
How Are Herbs and Spices Used in Vietnamese Food Today?
In the modern world, Vietnamese cuisine is known for its delicate aromas and huge base of fresh vegetables and herbs – it’s like a garden on a plate! As an export, it is gaining a reputation around the globe as the next big healthy but delicious alternative, while Vietnamese cuisine in Vietnam remains just as aromatic and herb-filled as ever.
A number of locally grown herbs and spices are considered staples to the Vietnamese diet, as well as a number of imported elements such as chili and turmeric. Thai basil and Vietnamese mint are some staple examples of this, used in noodle soups and broths such as sour canh chua and sweet canh ngot. Lime leaf is another example, and lemongrass, perilla leaf and black pepper are all staples for a range of Vietnamese foods, from bo kho to the various types of hu tieu.
Vietnam is also now an active member in the spice export trade, adding a range of spices, most prominently black and white pepper, to their already flourishing global trade in arabica and robusta coffee. Before the 1990’s the nation barely made enough pepper to use domestically, but with a stagnant domestic market and a growing international demand, Vietnam pepper exports are through the roof.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BIG MAC VS. BANH MI: THE ECONOMICS OF A MEAL
Do Vietnamese sensitive palates resist globalization processes or not?
When American fast food giant Burger King first arrived in Vietnam in 2012, they set aside an ambitious US$40 million investment plan to open 60 restaurants nationwide, as consumers “were excited to try the famous hamburger from the west.”
However, as of now, the chain has only 15 restaurants: seven in Hanoi and eight in Saigon. Another American fast-food chain, Subway, entered Vietnam in 2011 with a goal of 50 restaurants in Vietnam by 2015. However, at present, there are only six outlets in Ho Chi Minh City.
Other establishments such as McDonald’s, Lotteria, and KFC have also endured slow starts in Vietnam and have missed their initial projections. The question is, how did these chains fare so well in neighboring countries but somehow seem to struggle in Vietnam?
Subway vs. Banh Mi
Vietnam is a country that has a strong food culture and a deep sense of pride in its own cuisine. It’s also a country that has a significant gap between the rich and the poor, and this is evident in the average annual income of Vietnam: US$2,200.
Most Vietnamese get by on less than US$500 a month and things like fast food, with its heavy prices, comes across as more of a luxury, rather than a necessity. After all, why would anyone spend VND120,000 on a sandwich at Subway, when you can easily get a similarly sized banh mi for VND12,000?
Because of this, the idea of fast food restaurants turned into a novelty, a nice place to go “once in a while” instead of an alternative option, which is what these chains had initially intended on becoming.
An Issue of Taste
One of the reasons fast food chains find it tough to break into the Vietnamese market is simply due to their misunderstanding of Vietnamese taste buds. “Western places appeal to families, but the problem is once the novelty has worn off local people would prefer more Asian choices,” Katrin Roscher, a researcher at Decision Lab, said in a Forbes article. “This is because western-style food is seen as bland in comparison to local fare which is heavy on spice and herbs. Not to mention sugar, salt, and MSG,” she added.
According to Nguyen Manh Tu, business development director of Blue Kite Food and Beverage Services Company Limited, the owner of Burger King’s local franchise, “In the short term, hamburgers cannot become a popular choice for Vietnamese consumers. In an exchange with broadcaster VTV, he also added such an initial drawback would require fast-food chains to adjust their menus or strategies.
This is why KFC adopted combo meals with rice and fried chicken, an alien concept in the West. The inclusion of rice was followed by other fast food chains, including McDonald’s, which also started offering banh mi. Filipino fast food brand Jollibee went one step further and incorporated fish sauce in their chicken marinade.
The Asian Connection
Although Western fast-food giants are struggling in Vietnam, Jollibee, considered the biggest restaurant chain in Asia, is doing well in Vietnam, and has opened 80 outlets nationwide since they first arrived in 1996. This growth is further proven as two-thirds of its restaurants have been opened in the last five years, according to numbers from dantri.com.vn.
As far as food goes, their strategy is to appeal to the taste of locals, which is how they gained ground back in the Philippines. A larger part of their success, however, comes down to their business acumen. As they did in countries like The Philippines and China, Jollibee buys already-popular local and international brands with the aim to improve them. At the end of 2016, Jollibee Foods entered a joint venture with Viet Thai International to create SuperFoods Group, which gained ownership of several other brands, such as Highlands Coffee, Pho 24, and Hard Rock Cafe.
South Korea’s Lotteria entered the fray in the late ‘90s. After a slow start, it managed to find its footing and saw a spike in sales only after 2013 and is now the leading chain with over 200 restaurants in more than 30 provinces and cities. For both these chains, affordability worked in their favor. They were expensive, but not as expensive as a Western chain.
The Economics of a Meal
Jollibee, Lotteria, and KFC were the pioneers of fast food in Vietnam. They also all suffered losses in their initial years and did not see any quick growth until 2012, according to Vietnamnet.
The period between 2012 and 2015 was seen as the golden era of fast food in Vietnam when KFC opened 40 new stores and Lotteria opened 70. The market has cooled as the economic cycle dipped, and newer players like McDonald’s and Texas Chicken have been unable to resuscitate it.
As long as a meal at a Western fast food chain sells for four times the price of a plate of cơm tấm, and as long as a street stall is a five minute walk away, the role of fast food restaurants in Vietnam will remain a novelty, playing second fiddle to what Vietnamese people really love: their local cuisine.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BEST BURGERS IN SAIGON
Hamburgers are the quintessential American staple food
Despite popular belief, Americans don’t sit around eating them every day. But, truth be told, most people would be hard-pressed to think of more American food than hamburgers. Although there is a bit of controversy regarding the actual origin of the sandwich (as well as if it should even be regarded as a “sandwich” or not).
That phrase people throw around that goes, “It’s as American as apple pie” needs to be reinvented because burgers are actually the one truly American food that’s enjoyed worldwide. Seriously, if this article were called “Best Places to Eat Apple Pie in Saigon”, you wouldn’t even have read this far!
The Best Burgers in Saigon – Any Way You Like ‘Em
Foodies in Saigon are fortunate in that the city has a variety of burger options with a range of prices, qualities, and overall dining experiences. You can enjoy an old-school, greasy spoon burger from what Americans would lovingly refer to as a “hole in the wall” or enjoy a delectable, fine dining-style burger that will make you wanna hold it with extended pinkies. There is also a range of options between these two extremes, right here in Saigon, Vietnam’s largest city.
CLASSIC AMERICAN BURGERS IN SAIGON
71 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Website
Opening Hours: 10 am – 10 pm. Price: VND90,000 for a standard burger
Chucks have one of the most friendly, low-fi yet comfortable atmospheres you’ll find in all of Saigon. As soon as you walk in, it’s impossible not to notice the walls lined with signatures from customers all raving about the food and wishing Chuck well with his establishment. This evidence of happy customers from times past provides a unique sense of community, comfort, and warmth.
Chuck’s burgers and the dining experience at the restaurant are known to give customers the best bang for their buck. Chuck’s doesn’t mess around with a bunch of bells and whistles, add-ons, or elaborate signature hamburgers. Chuck comes from an American restaurant background having worked at a successful franchise restaurant. He prides himself on his establishment’s personalized service, comfortable atmosphere, and the fact that his burgers are straight-up and satisfying.
At the Pasteur location, the grill is set up in the front of the restaurant so you can watch the cooks making the burgers through the storefront window. It’s a kind of comforting transparency that often brings passersby in off of the street and turns them into long-time customers. As for the burgers, they’re simple and delicious. The menu isn’t bogged down with signature burgers dreamed up by an overly ambitious chef. Conversely, it has a very do-it-yourself aesthetic. Customers make their choices of burgers and toppings utilizing a user-friendly menu and dry-erase marker.
There is a wide selection of free toppings as well as a number of specialty ones. The ingredients are fresh and if you make special requests the chefs are flexible enough to please the most particular of tastes.
Favourite Dish: Your best bet at Chuck’s is to use the old-school KISS method, which means “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, and enjoy Chuck’s classic hamburgers done right.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.4 stars; Tripadvisor 4.5 stars
Kid Friendly: Yes, but the restaurant is small. Kids may have to perch on high stools, which is not the best for the under-five set.
Large Groups: No. But there is always the option to do take-away!.
27 Khu phố Hưng Gia 4, Tân Phong, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11:30 am – 10:30 pm. Price: VND125,000 for a Cheese Burger
Just a few blocks from Pham Ngu Lao, you can find Burger Joint. It’s small, cozy and its atmosphere is friendly and informal. It has an eating area that faces the street for those looking to enjoy a meal whilst people-watching. (It can get a little smoky in the upstairs seating area when all of the grills are burning during peak hours so at these times street-level seating is recommended.)
Because of its central location and proximity to the backpacker district, you’ll often find a lot of visitors to Saigon in the restaurant but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s just for tourists who aren’t ‘in the know.’ The Burger Joint’s offerings are legit.
The establishment doesn’t go off the deep end with an assortment of signature burgers so their offerings are simple and tasty. Saunter towards the grills of the eatery and you can find a huge assortment of ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauces, and other condiments from which to choose to modify your selections to your taste.
Favorite Dish: The Saigon Burger is Burger Joint’s most popular signature dish. It’s simply a bacon burger made with the restaurant’s signature sauce, which along with fresh ingredients is something that the Burger Joint prides itself on.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.6 stars; Tripadvisor 4.5 stars
Kid Friendly: Sit downstairs if you’re with little ones so that they aren’t breathing in the smoke upstairs.
Large Groups: The key word here is cosy but large groups are possible if you don’t mind sitting at several tables.
CREATIVE TAKES ON BURGERS IN SAIGON
Marcel Gourmet Burger
132 Calmette, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 12 am – 10 pm. Price: VND160,000 for Le Classic Burger
On the flip side (pun intended) of the burger spectrum in Saigon, you’ll find Marcel Gourmet Burger. Now for those of you wanting Cliff’s notes review: It’s a GOURMET FRENCH HAMBURGER.
Now if you’re still reading, we’ll explain. Marcel takes an attentive, French gourmet approach to this classic culinary delight. Burgers are generally not hot-sellers amongst Vietnamese folks so the original concept sought to draw in locals who are discriminating against foreign cuisine, knowing that if locals liked them, the ex-pats would follow suit.
Marcel’s limits its deliveries to Districts 1, 4, and 7 as a means of exercising quality control; they don’t want the freshness of their cuisine compromised by extended delivery times. Also, to get the best of their menu, it’s advised that you show up early and beat the lunchtime rush because the daily specials sell out quickly and once they’re gone, they’re gone!
The French are well known for their baking expertise. (France’s former presence in Vietnam can still be experienced in Vietnam with every bite of a banh mi.) Marcel utilizes this prowess, providing freshly-baked brioche buns on the daily.
Many of the sauces are created especially for the establishment’s signature burgers and the chips are also made fresh every day. The chefs pay close attention to the delicate balance between saltiness and sweetness. The signature burgers are ambitious, while still maintaining subtlety and the portions are also decidedly modest so you won’t find yourself in a food coma after the meal!
Favorite Dish: We recommend trying something off the restaurant’s rotating menu. Some special items make their way onto this list (like truffle mayonnaise) so adventurous eaters will never be bored by Marcel’s selections.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.7 stars; Tripadvisor 5 stars
Kid Friendly: Definitely. Start your kids off young appreciating things like bleu cheese on burgers and artisanal ketchup.
Large Groups: A group of six can just fit but you will need to reserve in advance.
4 Phan Bội Châu, Bến Thành, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11:30 am – 10 pm. Price: VND210,000 to VND375,000 for one of their Big Show burgers
Nestled up a flight of stairs in an almost hidden alley across from the iconic Ben Thanh Market in D1, you’ll find Soul Burger. Of all of the hamburger joints in Saigon, Soul Burger has the strongest theme and the most ambitious burgers.
Walking into the restaurant is like entering a time capsule that’s solely dedicated to preserving the memories of some of Rhythm and Blues and Soul music’s most prolific artists. Portraits of American legends like Little Richard, Ray Charles, and James “The Godfather of Soul” Brown line the walls and are even represented in the menu, which contains a decent-sized selection of signature burgers. Bring a hearty appetite, because some of them are MASSIVE.
Soul Burger does its own butchering, making char-grilled burgers from cuts of USDA beef that they pride themselves on containing what they claim to be the perfect ratios of meat and fat. Each signature burger is cleverly-named, paying homage to some of history’s great Soul Music artists.
Favourite Dishes: Some standout examples are the “Little Richard”, which is made with caramelised onion, cheddar cheese, bacon and egg or the appropriately dubbed “Al Green”, which has avocado, salsa verde, and cilantro. (See what they did there? Everything on it is ALL GREEN.) The “Soul Burger” is a larger version of the “Little Richard” made with not one but TWO 200g patties. Even the heartiest of eaters will have to bring their A-games.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.2 stars; Tripadvisor 4.5 stars
Kid Friendly: Even the pickiest of eaters will find something to love on Soul Burgers menu, just don’t expect them to finish these massive burgers alone!
Large Groups: With their small terrace and easily moveable tables, we think it’s possible to have a group gathering here if you give a good amount of notice to Soul Burger before.
Relish and Sons
2 Đ. Đặng Hữu Phổ, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm. Price: VND170,000 for a classic burger
For the past 6 years, Relish and Sons have been a Saigon mainstay for people hankering for hamburgers. Along with Chuck’s, they were one of the first specialty, burger restaurants in town. The fact that they’ve been around for so long says something. Relish and Sons’ Australian chef has been in the burger business for over 20 years and is rightfully proud of the quality of their gourmet selection.
Relish and Sons has a steady selection of 15 burgers made from 100 percent Australian grass-fed beef and has something new and innovative on the grill on a monthly basis. Some of the specialty hamburgers that were brought around for these occasions have gone on to occupy permanent spots on the menu.
Ambitious offerings like the com tam burger and even the pho burger have stuck around and become favorites, especially for local folks who love hamburgers with a taste of Vietnamese authenticity. Relish and Sons also offer salads and appetizers but strives to keep the balance between expanding the menu to bring in a variety of customers and staying true to their concept, a place that offers damn good gourmet hamburgers.
Favorite Dishes: The Blue Vein – Probably the worst name for one of the best burgers with bleu cheese you’re going to ever get to eat. The combination of high-quality beef, bleu cheese and rocket makes this one a standout favorite. Bring a healthy appetite because the portions are substantial.
Reviews: Google reviews 4.3 stars; Tripadvisor 4.5 stars
Kid Friendly: Relish and Sons have a Kids Combo for 100 VND, which consists of one mini slider, chips, onion rings or hash browns, and a soda. Finish things off with a milkshake and you’ll be your kids’ hero.
Large Groups: Possible for eight people or so.
Moto or Car Parking: Free for scooters. No car parking.
FURTHER SUGGESTIONS FOR BURGERS IN SAIGON
Con Bo Map
171 Calmette, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 8 am – 10 pm. Price: VND120,000 – 210,000
Con Bo Map, otherwise known as The Fat Cow in English, is a bit hard to find if you aren’t looking carefully. Down a small hem off of Pasteur street you’ll find small restaurant with some casual picnic tables set up on a terrace. The restaurant keeps things simple but when it comes to burgers that means simply delicious. The menu ranges from a classic juicy cheeseburger to an Aussie burger, which will either delight you or terrify you with its combo of beetroot, bacon, grilled pineapple and fried egg atop a thick beef patty.
Quan Ut Ut
168 Võ Văn Kiệt, Cầu Ông Lãnh Ward, District 1, HCMC / 47 Xuân Thủy, P, Thu Duc City, Vietanm / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11 am – 10:45 pm. Price: VND180,000 – VND250,000
With a name roughly translating to the ‘Oink Oink Eatery’, Quan Ut Ut celebrates everything porcine with an American-style BBQ spin. Known for their huge streetside grills, great ribs, spicy sausages, and pork belly, not everyone knows that their burgers are also a hit. Fancy a classic American-style cheeseburger but you’re too much of a foody to accept anything less than wagyu beef? Quan Ut Ut has you covered with their 250g wagyu beef patties available on the classic, black and blue, and bacon burgers.
Pullman Saigon Centre Pop-Up Burger Bar
148 Trần Hưng Đạo Street, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 11 am – Onwards. Price: VND200,000 – 250,000
The Pullman Saigon Centre has come up with a novel way to keep abreast of evolving food trends in Vietnam—a pop-up style burger bar that serves up top-quality burgers at reasonable prices. The concept came about in recognition of the need for high-end hotels to move on from “the old historical cliche” of offering just club sandwiches and afternoon tea. Hurry before this pop-up moves on to the next foody sensation!
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BEST TROPICAL FRUITS TO TRY IN VIETNAM
Vietnam is one of the planet’s tropical fruit meccas
The sheer variety of juicy, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, but always healthy natural goodness that you’ll find in pretty much any food market at bargain prices is impressive. Coming mostly from Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’, the Mekong Delta, these delicious snacks are also sold by a plethora of street vendors.
It’s worth tasting all of them, as the exotic flavors and textures are something you simply won’t find back at home. In order to guide you through the wonders of Vietnamese fruits, we’ve put together this top five ranking of the most delicious fruits any Vietnam traveler seriously must try, along with helpful information about health facts, prices, and seasons.
Fifth Place: Star Apple (Vú Sữa)
No, not star fruit, star apple. Cut this tennis-ball-sized fruit in half horizontally and you’ll know why it’s called that. The segments form a star-like structure. Its Vietnamese name, however, is much more accurate: vú sữa literally means “milk breast”. A bit odd, I know… However, this is the color and texture of the juice you should expect. Vietnamese actually just cut in a hole and suck the nectar out!
Don’t worry, you can halve it and use a spoon, or cut the fruit in wedges and enjoy it like a tiny watermelon. The fun lies in both the taste and texture. There’s a sticky sweetness to it which, combined with the thick, milky juices that you simply must taste in order to appreciate.
Vietnamese legend has it that at the witching hour, you can see the ghost of a mother feeding her baby roaming around its trees. Spooky, huh? So better let somebody else do the harvesting! You can buy a bagful from a street market when it’s in season in the late autumn and early winter months. It’s easy to spot with its round, mostly purple skin. Some are green though, but this doesn’t mean they’re not ripe yet. Do softly squeeze it before enjoying the star apple to set free all the juicy goodness, and bring a wet tissue as your fingers are sure to be sticky after eating it!
Health Facts: Star apples can aid digestion, contribute to weight loss, are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and strengthen your bones.
Season: From October to December.
Street Price: Around VND 30,000-40,000 per kilogram.
Where Does It Grow: It’s a tropical fruit, so it likes the heat in Southern Vietnam. The most famous varieties come from the Mekong Delta: Can Tho and Vinh Kim Commune in Tien Giang Province.
Fourth Place: Rambutan (Chôm Chôm)
The Vietnamese name is cute, right? It gets even cuter when you know what it means: messy hair! However, there is also a smaller kind with shorter hair which is called chôm chôm nhãn in Vietnamese and tastes a little sweeter. The golf-ball-sized rambutan is a relative of the lychee, though the flesh is slightly more jelly-like. There’s also more of it! You might come across some sour specimens, but rambutan is generally sweet and extremely pleasant to eat. What’s more, it is also a convenient fruit!.
You can use your finger to open and peel off the skin, but the most elegant way to do it is to cut the skin in half and pull off one hemisphere while holding on to the other. You can now slip them into your mouth as a whole without getting your fingers sticky. There is a seed though—don’t choke, please! You’ll find them fresh from June to September on any street market. Alternatively, stop at one of the many vendors cruising around the cities on their bicycles. These vendors, however, tend to mark up some compared to the market prices as you’re likely never to see them again. Time to bargain!
Health Facts: Rambutan are great for weight loss, good for your skin and hair and have a lot of vitamin C. They also strengthen your immune system, prevent cancer and—allegedly—are even said to improve sperm quality.
Season: The rambutan is a summer fruit that gets ripe during the rainy season. Harvest is from May to September.
Street Price: Around VND 20,000-30,000 per kilogram.
Where Does It Grow: The most well-known yields are at Binh Hoa Phuoc Village in the Southern Vinh Long Region. Yes, this is the Mekong Delta again. The area around Phan Thiet on the south central coast is also famous for delicious rambutan.
Third Place: Mango (Xoài)
All right, this doesn’t come as a surprise. But isn’t it true that the imported mangoes you get in non-tropical countries are not even close to being as delightful as the ones in which they’re grown? Vietnam is no exception. On the street, you’ll mostly find green, unripe mangoes cut into sticks and sold with chilli salt, to a point that many tourists come back home saying that mangoes in Vietnam are terribly sour and unenjoyable! They couldn’t be more wrong.
The Vietnamese soil is so fertile that it produces an incredible number of mango fruits. You just can’t wait for them to be ripe or you’ll leave half of them rotting because, as good as they are, five per day are at least two too many. So the Vietnamese have found ways to process them while they’re still green. Do not miss out on Vietnamese mango salad with fresh shrimp! It exemplifies the genius of Southeast Asian cuisine (you’ll find similar creations in Thailand).
Once ripe and light yellow in colour, Vietnamese mangoes are delightfully sweet and full-bodied. The texture of the ideal mango is only slightly firm to the bite and so flavour-bursting that you won’t want to stop eating them!. As tempting as an American-football-sized mango might be, it’s usually better to pick the smaller but fragrant ones. While on the market, take them in your hand to test if they have a slight softness to them. If so, and if they’re not too green, you’re likely to have found one you can eat right away.
As they have a massive pit, use a knife to cut off one slice on each side of it. You can then either make them into sticks or into cubes (the trick here is not to cut through the skin).
Health Facts: Mangoes may help to prevent cancer, lower your cholesterol, are beneficial to skin and eyes and boost the immune system.
Season: Mangoes grow from October to July, but taste best in the early summer months.
Street Price: Around VND 15,000-25,000 per fruit.
Where Does It Grow: Mangoes are mostly grown in the Mekong Delta. There are several kinds, the most famous of which is the Hoa Loc mango from the commune formerly called that, located in Tien Giang Province.
Second Place: Langsat (Bòn Bon)
Unlike other fruits (think: dragon fruit), langsat are neither world-famous nor appealing at first glance. They actually look like little potatoes. However, we’ve ranked them second-best. Why? Open one and you’ll know!
Another member of the same family as the rambutan, the flesh of this small fruit (roughly the size of a large quail egg) is translucent and soft, with several segments carrying a seed. You can chew and swallow the smaller seeds to avoid spitting out every two seconds. It won’t spoil the taste, promise!. What taste is that? As sweet and succulent as its Vietnamese name (bòn bon) announces, with a subtle hint of sourness that reminds one of a grapefruit. It’s also called dâu da đất in the North, but it’s nothing like a strawberry (dâu)—more like a juicier, more intensely flavoured lychee.
You won’t be able to avoid using your hands to peel it, which will leave them so sticky only several hand-washings will help. Better not let it touch your clothes! You’ll usually buy them on branches. Make sure not to confuse them with longan, which are also great, but not as great. Longan are round while langsat look more like a drop of water.
Health Facts: Langsat help reduce weight, prevent cancer and improve digestion. They are also a source of carbohydrates. You can also dry the peel and burn it to repel mosquitoes!
Season: Harvest time is in late summer, between July and October.
Street Price: Around VND 40,000 per kilogramme.
Where Does It Grow: In Quang Nam Province, the south central coast region that is also home to Hoi An.
First Place: Mangosteen (Măng Cụt)
Hands down, this is the best fruit in Vietnam, and perhaps in the world. Back in the good old feudal days, it was famed as a noble fruit in Vietnam and offered to the royal family—and for a reason! It doesn’t show its greatness at first sight. You have to cut it along the equator of its dark red rind to unveil the milky-white, segmented core. It is said the more segments and the less seeds a mangosteen has the better the taste is. And what a taste that is!.
The tangy flesh perfectly balances sweet and sour to first surprise, then delight you. Imagine biting in a strawberry, a peach and a clementine at once. Its juices give it an unheard-of freshness that just makes you want more and more. You’ll have to indulge within the borders of the country, though, as there are restrictions on imports and exports of mangosteens.
And there’s another downside to it: as the Vietnamese say, buying mangosteens is like buying a lottery ticket—you can never be sure what you’ll get. Often, more than half of the purchased fruits are discarded as you shouldn’t eat them when they’re interspersed with yellow or purple fibres. But that should definitely not keep you from taking your chances.
Mangosteens are very popular in Vietnam and can be found pretty much anywhere from the grocery store around the corner to the major street markets or a legion of street vendors on bicycles. Note that, perhaps due to their royal past, mangosteens are a bit more expensive than other fruits.
Health Facts: Mangosteens have a lot of antioxidants and vitamin C, reduce cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory and have an anti-ageing effect.
Season: The mangosteen season is short, just about two to three months from May to August.
Price: Around VND60,000-70,000 per kilogramme.
Where Does It Grow: Lai Thieu mangosteens from a little town in Binh Duong Province north of Ho Chi Minh City are said to be the best of the best.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS HOW ORGANIC IS VIETNAM?
Shall you trust organic food to really be organic or not in Vietnam?
Becoming certified organic is riddled with bureaucratic processes and requires dropping money every step of the way, no matter what part of the world we’re talking about. But in Vietnam, where certifications are viewed as more of a hassle than a stamp of confidence, are they really necessary?
For my investigation, I made a trip to Dalat. On a spectacularly sunny spring afternoon there, I came upon what is known as “Plastic City”; an expanse of greenhouses as far as the eye can see, rivaling the agricultural behemoths of central California or the farmlands of Holland.
Growing inside are millions of hectares of tomatoes, salad greens, artichokes, strawberries, flowers and bookended by tea and coffee. It’s impressive, but there’s a looming haze over the entire region. It was a combination of dust, heat, and something else: pesticides. The vapor-like substance seemed to ooze out of many of the greenhouses and I wanted to run into the green hills. So I did, and I soon found my way walking through Golden Garden Produce.
It was a combination of dust, heat, and something else: pesticides
Family-owned, Bob Allen and his wife Hue have run their five-hectare farmland for about 23 years. They sell their organic and hydroponic produce to resorts and restaurants in Hanoi, Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, Danang, and Saigon. You may be familiar with the taste of their cut, as they own Veggy’s supermarket in D1. They grew sustainably, buying their land from 20 families; now encircled by what seems to be another 20. It was an impressive setup, using bore wells for water and growing on raised or hydroponic beds. However, they are not certified organic. Is that important? Not normally, but in a land where consumers are wary of believing Vietnamese testament it may be important to have that extra seal of approval.
Here in Vietnam there are four certifications available: two from the EU, EC 834/2007 and EC 889/2008; one from USA, National Organic Program (NOP); and Vietnam’s own PGS. The first two must be certified by a third party agency, such as SGS, while the third is a Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) certification committee. There is not, unfortunately, a centralised database of all of Vietnam’s certified organic farms.
When I toured Organik’s farm, also in Dalat, I left imparted with the knowledge that they are the only certified farm in the country. Only two weeks later at a farmer’s market I spoke to someone from Organica who was quick to show me copies of his certifications (both USA and EU). Since Organica started producing in 2013, perhaps Organik was simply as ignorant as I or finding it just as difficult to keep current on the subject.
In a land where consumers are wary of believing Vietnamese testament it may be important to have that extra seal of approval.
With no shortage of access to domestic produce, you may ask why I go through all the trouble to find and buy certified organic? Again, it’s not the necessity of a certification. When eating local it is, however, a necessity to eat produce which you know was grown organically. Plenty of small farmers (such as K’Ho Coffee) are raising their crops as such without certification. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay also raises several hectares of fruits and vegetables for their guests using traditional companion planting and chilli oil spray to keep pests at bay.
As we (should) remember from remedial Biology, plants not only absorb water and toxins through their leaves, but through their roots. So even if a farm claims not to use pesticides, it’s important they also use raised beds with imported soil or manure. Pediatrician Dr. Jonathan Halevy at Family Medical Practice cited a 2015 study in which “All [109 surveyed Vietnamese] children had high blood lead levels.”
In some parts of the world Spinach is grown to clear hazardous material from soil, which must then be disposed of. Here in Vietnam, it’s one of the most cultivated greens.
“Heavy metals in the soil are of concern here. (By the way, the accepted level of lead in the system is basically zero.) We focus more on this because we can’t necessarily test for exposure to toxins. Bloodwork would only show accumulation, so we can’t associate that with pesticide poisoning,” Dr. Halevy continued.
What does this all mean? Consider spinach, which in some parts of the world, is grown to clear lead and other hazardous material from soil which must then be disposed of as hazardous waste. Here in Vietnam, it is one of the most cultivated greens. If you want to treat your body as the temple that it is, do yourself a favour and ensure you know how your produce is grown. Better yet, buy a bag of organic coco peat and grow your own.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS MEET THE EXPERT: VO TIEN CUONG ON OYSTERS
Nothing says special occasion quite like oysters, even in Vietnam!
As we approach the festive season we decided to track down an expert who could provide us with the information that will both inform and assist us in what we should look for when eating these delicious fruits of the sea. We met with Vo Tien Cuong at his La Maison Wine Grill Bar here in the city. He is an expert in the care, preparation service, and eating of oysters. He also distributes oysters throughout Ho Chi Minh City.
You are a distributor of oysters here in Ho Chi Minh City. Can you let us know more about what you do?
I am the proprietor of La Maison Restaurant but I also distribute oysters. My brother is an oyster farmer in Nha Trang, he introduced Fin De Claire oysters from France a few years ago. These normally live in cold water but are thriving very well in the warmer waters of Vietnam. They have a superb fresh flavor, with a good healthy seawater taste.
So, you are an oyster distributor as well as a restaurateur in Ho Chi Minh City?
Yes, as well as selling in the restaurant we have built up a good distribution network. I serve them in my restaurant at VND15,000 per oyster, if anyone wishes to buy to serve themselves at home then about VND8,000 – 10,000, so long as they buy 30 oysters. We can deliver all over Ho Chi Minh City. We have a hotline at 09 0893 0888 or people can order through our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lamaisonSG. We need at least two hours’ notice. If they buy 100 pieces they receive a free knife.
How many restaurants do you supply in HCMC?
Many, they are becoming very popular. It is no longer just the five star restaurants that are selling top quality oysters. Small restaurant too are enjoying serving them to their customers. We are getting enquiries from other places these days. Sometimes I even deliver to Hanoi, but it is harder to keep them fresh.
How do you serve them here in your restaurant and which type do your Vietnamese diners prefer?
We have two ways: the first is as in France; raw with proper lemon, onions and vinegar and the second way is baked with cheese. The Vietnamese prefer them raw. They have really taken to Fin de Claire, because they are smaller, they don’t over-face people.
Do other places apart from Nha Trang produce oysters in Vietnam?
Yes, in the North oysters are grown in Hanoi, but I think Nha Trang are of a higher quality and of course it is closer to us here. Some Vietnamese prefer the smaller ones like we do but many go for the bigger varieties, it all really depends on the farmer, on how long he allows the oyster to mature. Oyster farming in Khanh Hoa Province is a huge industry now, there are 35,000 oyster cages in the area, it is a US$100 million business.
Before you came here were Vietnamese people already used to eating oysters?
Yes, but Vietnamese oysters are different, they are bigger and the Vietnamese traditionally didn’t eat in the French way. These were wild oysters rather than farmed, they put them in clean water for a few days to clean them. Then they ate them in two ways. They either added onions, oil and peanuts and baked them in an oven or they cooked them Singapore style, where they put just the flesh in a rice soup. But slowly they are taking to the French style.
What is the process used to cultivate the new Fin De Claire oysters in Nha Trang?
They have large bamboo rafts that are tethered loosely, so these can rise and fall with the tide. Oysters are cultivated to the point at which they attach themselves to surfaces. They put them in baskets or cages and fix these to the raft in the sea, they then grow up naturally. The baskets hang underneath. They have no standard method, each farmer will have his own small differences. In many ways the farmed oysters are superior, these creatures don’t eat as we do, they just filter nutrients from the sea. The sea in Nha Trang is very good, so they grow in a very healthy environment. They are also protected from predators like crabs and starfish.
How do you ensure freshness when delivering from Nha Trang?
They are harvested in Nha Trang in the afternoon, placed flat to retain the water, in coolers set to 5ºC and transported immediately overnight arriving here early in the morning, perfectly fresh. It is very easy to tell if an oyster is fresh. If they are not fresh they start to open. You don’t need to use a knife, any that are like this we just throw away. If people buy from us, they must keep them in the refrigerator and they will last for 3 days.
Do you have any wishes for the future of oysters in Vietnam?
I wish we could see more types of French oysters here, I wish someone could import Marene D’Oleron or Normandie and more kinds of oysters. When in France we have such a choice, it would be exciting to be able to present these to Vietnam.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS START YOUR DAY RIGHT WITH THE BEST BREAKFASTS IN SAIGON
Start your day with a great breakfast, to have a good day
• A classic fry up
• Parisien Pastries
• Caffeine Boost
With party season fast approaching, it’s time to give some thought to the morning after the night before! Luckily, Saigon is teeming with great spots to pick up a beautiful breakfast that will get you back on your feet and ready to face the day in no time! Here we round up some of the best breakfast destinations across the city.
28 Ngo Quang Huy, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
With cute, comfortable stylish décor, a varied menu of classic breakfast dishes, and small enough to make sure it’s not too noisy if you’re feeling a little delicate, Café Marcel is a popular choice for Thu Duc City residents.
With a selection of smoothies and homemade juices, made from specially selected, quality suppliers, Café Marcel offers you the opportunity to kick start a next-day detox, but it’ll take some serious willpower to pass up on the French Toast & Raspberries or Mac & Cheese and Bacon! Café Marcel also offers a 100k vnd Breakfast combo for any pasty + tea/ coffee.
For the latest delivery/opening information and to place an order visit Cafes Marcel’s, Facebook Page.
The Hungry Pig
40/24 Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Currently only providing a selection of sandwiches for delivery, The Hungry Pig has long been a favorite destination for ex-pats in Saigon who need their bacon fix at breakfast time. Openly admitting that they are a café that takes bacon very seriously’, The Hungry Pig may not be the most veggie-friendly option in the city, but for bacon lovers, it certainly ticks all the boxes.
The ‘Create Your Own Option’ is a total lifesaver when indecision makes ordering difficult, and is located in District 4 means that even those of you not located in Thao Dien don’t have to wait too long for a delicious bacon breakfast to be delivered right to your door!
For the latest delivery/opening information and to place an order visit The Hungry Pig’s, Facebook Page.
Union Jack’s Fish and Chips
10 Nguyen Ba Lan, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Website
Once upon a time, Union Jack’s was primarily known for its authentic British Fish & Chips, (complete with lashing of malt vinegar and newspaper-inspired delivery packaging). These days, the menu has more of a ‘Best of British’ feel, with all manner of British dishes being faithfully recreated (think Bangers and Mash with gravy, Cottage Pie, Sausage Rolls, etc).
With the recent addition of Full English, Irish and Scottish Breakfasts, plus a variety of breakfast baguettes, baps, and lighter breakfast ‘stacks’, perfect if you can’t manage the ‘full’ whopping plate full of bacon, sausages, hash browns, eggs, black pudding, and white pudding, Union Jack’s is working hard to become one of the best destinations for breakfasts in Saigon.
For more details on breakfast at Union Jack’s visit their Facebook Page.
Godmother Bake and Brunch
Level 3, 2-4-6 Dong Khoi, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Despite having ‘Brunch’ in the name, Godmother, as it is affectionately known to many, is open from 9 am, so most definitely fits into the ‘breakfast’ category, in my opinion. Stylishly decorated in a very ‘Instagrammable’ retro-diner style, Godmother Bake and Brunch is a popular choice amongst foreign and Vietnamese residents of Saigon alike. Offering a varied selection of sweet and savory options, there should be something for everything to tuck into here.
In addition to the typical brunch must-haves (Smashed Avocado and Salmon, Godmother Big Brekkie, Pancake Stacks, etc), guests can order a ‘Hair of the Dog – Wake Up Shot’ or a Candied Bacon Bloody Mary, which may just give Godmother the lead when it comes to considering where to get the best ‘post party’ breakfast in Saigon. That, and the fact that some of the dishes make up an ‘all-day breakfast menu, means you can party as hard as you like without missing out.
For more details on the Breakfast and Bruch menus at Godmother Bake and Bruch visit the Facebook Page.
Eden Coffee House
R3- 85 Khu Pho, Hung Phuoc 1, Phu My Hung, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Whilst District 1 and District 2 tend to be the stomping ground of most international eateries, District 7 has a couple of options to consider if you find yourself in that part of town. Eden Coffee House ‘takes its coffee seriously’ so if you’re struggling to get yourself in gear after a night of celebrating, it is certainly worth a visit.
If you need more than a caffeine boost, Eden also offers a varied all-day breakfast menu which includes sweet and savory crepes, eggs benedict, the option of an Aussie breakfast (steak, sausages, fried eggs, chips, and baked beans), plus a ‘Build your own Breakfast’ option which should satisfy even the pickiest of breakfast buddies. If you hang around long enough, (or arrive late enough) the rooftop space opens for dinner which allows a nice relaxing space to continue your recovery.
For full details on Eden Coffee House’s menu visit their Facebook Page
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS FOOD WASTE A GROWING ISSUE IN SAIGON
Can we reduce substantially the food waste in Ho Chi Minh City?
For a street food vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, the most convenient way to discharge trash from her sidewalk stall is to put it in plastic bags and wait for sanitation workers to pick it up. The trash usually contains leftover food, tissue paper, single-use chopsticks, plastic bags and plastic cups. All kinds of food are dumped together with other types of food-related trash. And it happens in most Vietnamese homes too.
According to VnExpress, food waste is posing a challenge for the city’s solid waste management as it accounts for the largest share of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) volume.
A recent report on solid waste management in HCMC shows that the main component of MSW is organic waste, which takes up to 65 percent of the total MSW volume; about 25 percent of MSW are recyclables such as plastic, paper, and metal. About 0.12 percent of hazardous waste is also being mixed into the general municipal waste.
As Vietnamese people mostly cook with unprocessed, fresh ingredients, preparing a meal typically generates a massive amount of food waste. If a food shopper mistakenly buys too much of a vegetable or a cut of meat, chances are much of it will be thrown away, adding to the city’s waste.
The same can be said for wet market and street food vendors, who routinely throw away any leftover food that hasn’t sold. We see food waste from nearly all stages of the supply chain, from processing to preservation to consumption.
Pressure is put on the HCMC people and its government
Mr. Nguyen Toan Thang, director of HCMC Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said in a recent meeting that the city is under huge pressure due to three environmental problems: the waste of water, which amounts to around 1.8 billion liters per day; the toxic emissions from 7.9 million vehicles and other industrial emission sources; and the presence of around 8,300 tons of solid waste per day.
Phuoc Hiep and Da Phuoc Solid Waste Treatment Complexes used to be the main waste managers in HCMC. They consisted of several landfills and a composting plant with a capacity of 700 tons/day. Currently, up to 76 percent of 8,300 tons of daily solid waste in the city ends up getting buried, according to Mr. Thang.
Da Phuoc landfill in Binh Chanh District was criticized last September after the city government identified it as the culprit behind a stench that had plagued the city’s southern suburbs for months. A large number of residents in Binh Chanh, Nha Be and District 7, including those in the affluent Phu My Hung urban area, filed complaints as the smell became unbearable, especially overnight and during the rainy season between July and September.
Authorities said that the landfill was overloaded after it had to take an additional 2,000 tons of daily solid waste from Phuoc Hiep, which was closed in March 2015 due to environmental violations. Now Da Phuoc is accountable for 70 percent of the city’s solid waste.
In June, Vietnam’s environment ministry fined Da Phuoc more than VND1.5 billion (US$66,100) for illegal disposal of sewage. Its developer, Vietnam Waste Solutions, Inc. had failed to build proper sewage treatment facilities and had discharged sewage that exceeded safety limits, authorities said.
The Impacts on HCMC
U.S. researchers said decomposing food waste emits greenhouse gases, methane, and carbon dioxide. Burying waste pollutes the environment, and with increasing property prices, HCMC is running out of land to bury trash, according to VnExpress. City authorities plan to move the waste disposal facility out of the inner city to a new site that is still under construction in Long An Province, about 60 kilometers away, which means waste treatment costs may increase.
Unethical Recycling occurs in HCMC
In Vietnam, some restaurants put food waste in large containers and sell them to cattle breeders who then mix food waste with animal feed. Even worse, local media has reported many cases in which the police seized rotten meat that was soaked in chemicals to look fresh and then sold to butcher shops. In 2013, the news website Vietnamnet reported that a ring of traders collected rotten vegetables discarded by vegetable shops in Thu Duc Market and then sold them to food suppliers.
These food suppliers then used the rotten vegetables to make canned pickles or cooked them for workers under contracts with their companies. This may explain the number of massive food poisoning incidents in industrial zones.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS Fine ICE CREAM IN SAIGON
Where to find great Ice cream in Ho Chi Minh City?
If the inner child inside you has been yelling out loud for sugary redemption, City Pass Guide has you covered! Apart from the celebrated chains available in Ho Chi Minh City such as Haagen-Dazs, Swensens, and Baskin Robbins which require no further introduction, where else can you find great ice cream in Saigon?
To help you with that, we spent nearly 20 man-hours binging on sugary treats at countless locations to bring you a list of the best ice cream, gelato and soft serve locations in HCMC. We hope you’re mentally prepared because we’re pretty sure you’ll need to hit the gym after this feature!
Ralf’s Artisan Gelato
17 Đường Lê Văn Miến P, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Website
Opening Hours: 1 p.m. – 10 p.m. on weekdays. 11.30 a.m. – 10 p.m. on weekends. Closed on Mondays.
Named after German native Ralf Ehresmann who moved to Vietnam in 2016 to share his passion for authentic gelato with foreigners and Vietnamese alike. Ralf’s Artisan Gelato focuses on authentic Italian-style gelato that is made from scratch using state-of-the-art equipment, and natural ingredients and without semi-finished starters which are common in the gelato industry.
True to his German vibes, Ralf is meticulous about quality. A walk in his self-described ‘gelato laboratory’ was a mildly life-changing experience. “I micronize everything!” Ralf said. Micronization refers to industrial-level blending that reduces solids to extremely fine particles, critical for creating smooth gelato. Ralf uses the best possible ingredients available to create his artisanal desserts: Alphonso mangoes, MAROU chocolate, and pure pistachio paste… you name it!
Some of his creations are near mind-boggling yet surprisingly delicious. For example, adventurous eaters can sample the bacon gelato made with Quan Ut Ut‘s smoked bacon, Winking Seal’s craft beer, virgin-pressed Phú Quốc fish sauce… and even a phở gelato made out of two bowls of phở đặc biệt. Vegans will love Ralf’s creations too since his sorbets are ridiculously smooth and velvety, nearly the same sensation as a milk gelato without the guilt!
Bottomline: The ultra-smooth texture of Ralf’s gelato and his dedication to high-quality ingredients is impressive; worth every dong at VND60,000 a scoop. Seasonal items such as mangosteen and cantaloupe make Ralf’s Artisan Gelato worth many return visits.
Ralf’s Artisan Gelato might also be the only place in Ho Chi Minh City where one can sample the decadent German-style eis kaffee, which is basically a whipped-cream garnished coffee beverage topped with generous amounts of vanilla ice cream.
Our favorite flavors: amarena cherry, raspberry sorbet, Phú Quốc fish sauce (reminiscent of sea-salt caramel), and nếp cẩm, fermented Vietnamese purple rice.
Puppy & Cesar
35 Tống Hữu Định, Thảo Điền ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily
Located in Thảo Điền, this quaint and homely gelato store has been making Italian-style gelato since 2013 and is the brainchild of a dog-loving couple who learned gelato-making in Italy. “Julius Cesar is the Roman emperor and Cesar Millan is the Dog Whisperer!” Thao (co-founder) exclaimed. What a stroke of genius! “Pupper & Cesar focuses on creating unique flavors, which are special, and delicious yet not too weird,” Thao said.
Flavors such as cheesecake, salted caramel cookie, and chocolate orange sorbet, filled with candied orange peel, are gelato creations beloved by millions of people. Vegans will fall in love with Puppy & Cesar‘s black sesame gelato with Korean brown rice milk, a flavor that resembles a hearty bowl of Hong Kong-style black sesame dessert, albeit nice and cold. With a traditional Vietnamese twist, flavors such as cốm green rice kernels and salted kumquat are interesting pairings that work surprisingly well alongside western flavors.
Bottomline: At VND25,000 per scoop, the quality of gelato at Puppy & Cesar drastically exceeds it’s price which makes them one of the most popular places for ice cream or gelato in District 2. A perfect place for weekends!
Our favorite flavors: Apple pie, made with home-pressed apple juice and speculoos cookies, leads as the most unique flavor we tried during our high-sugar binge to complete this article. We also loved their tiramisu gelato made with real mascarpone cheese and matcha made with top-quality green tea powder that is ground from leaves harvested in Kyoto during the springtime.
Osterberg Ice Cream
94 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 2 p.m. – 10 p.m. on weekdays. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on weekends.
An excellent ice cream shop all the way from Denmark. The Osterberg family was in the fresh fruits business long before venturing into ice cream; a very tempting reason to journey to District 2 for a taste of Osterberg’s fruit-based sorbets!
At Osterberg, all milk-based ice cream such as Tahiti and bourbon vanilla are made with Danish milk while unique vegan flavors such as avocado and date sorbet, and peanut butter steal the limelight. We also sampled a carrot and orange ice cream-like creation that is made with no milk or sugar, an excellent choice for health-conscious folks!
Staying true to its Danish roots, the elderflower sorbet here is a dessert adaptation of Hyldeblomst Saft, a lemonade-like beverage commonly made using elderflower heads, lemons, and sugar, floral and summery…simply a must-try!
Bottomline: Many ex-pats adore Osterberg for its dense ice cream and fruit sorbets as well as its rotational selection of vegan choices. Guests can also create their own ice cream cakes using any ice cream and sorbets available on the menu.
Our favorite flavors: piña colada made with white rum, strawberry, and the vegan chocolate sorbet made with MAROU‘s locally grown dark chocolate. This is possibly our favorite chocolate indulgence that we chanced upon while creating this list.
48 Nguyễn Cừ, Thảo Điền ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 12.30 p.m. – 11 p.m. daily except Mondays
Another authentic gelato maker, Dolce Vita is a hidden gem in the heart of Thảo Điền, District 2. Leonardo, born in Sicily, quit his job as a shoe designer for brands such as Coach and Geox to start a gelato business with his partner Nga, leveraging on his knowledge gained from working six years in a gelateria during his college days.
“We create many custom flavors for more than 20 restaurants in Saigon!” Leo, as he prefers to be addressed, said proudly. Pendolasco, an excellent Italian restaurant also located in Thảo Điền, sources their gelato directly from Dolce Vita.
Leo’s dual gelato chiller is able to hold 24 flavors, which often run out in a matter of days or even hours, especially on busy weekends. Amazing flavors such as Te Te craft beer, Italian yogurt, white chocolate, spicy chocolate, lemon, and basil are unique combos not easily found elsewhere. He also gets inspiration from his daily routines.
“I made an orange and ginger flavor because I have that every day for breakfast. Give me 15 minutes and I can make any flavor for you!” Leo said laughing. Before making his gelatos, Leo pasteurizes premium milk that comes straight from Dalat, right in the heart of his lab.
For coffee lovers, don’t miss out on Dolce Vita’s coffee-flavored gelato made with Lavazza espresso, or enjoy that same cup of espresso as an affogato, which is served with either traditional vanilla or stracciatella gelato filled with chocolate chip shavings.
Bottomline: The dense and full-bodied sensation we encountered when indulging in Leo’s cold creations definitely impressed us. City Pass Guide is convinced that anything creamy or rich gets a further boost when Leo puts it into gelato-perspective. No wonder Dolce Vita’s durian gelato, made with the best local Ri6 durians, sells out so quickly!
Our favorite flavors: The ca phe sua da gelato that other reviewers sampled was definitely the most ca phe sua da tasting item that was not an actual ca phe sua da. We were convinced that this flavor could actually spark a craze on social media if handled well. The After Eight flavor at Dolce Vitawas is also so similar to the real deal that our reviewers were stunned that it contains no actual After Eights.
131 Vạn Kiếp, Ward 3, Bình Thạnh, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. daily
Founded by Kory Nguyen and his business partner Bao Chau Nguyen, The Coconut is simply, true to it’s name, a coconut ice cream-based dessert shop that impresses with a minimalist menu featuring six unique coconutty items. Each item is derived from Kory’s 20 years of experience living in the United States, along with his desire to use local Vietnamese produce to create delicious desserts at a truly local price.
“Our pineapple-coconut ice cream is just like piña colada without alcohol!” Kory explained. Topped with both fresh and candied pineapples, this was definitely an interesting first for our reviewers at City Pass Guide!
Kory insists on using top-grade avocados, mangos, and fresh coconuts. If having a single dose of coconut isn’t sufficient to please your palate, The Coconut’s coconut ice cream with coconut milk-infused pandan sticky rice, served in an actual coconut and topped with roasted coconut chips and peanuts, just might. Gosh, did we use the word ‘coconut’ five times in the previous sentence?
Other coconutty items include coconut ice cream coffee (pretty much a Vietnamese affogato) and coconut-mango ice cream which is served with premium Cát Hòa Lộc mangoes from the Mekong Delta region, renowned for their sweetness and pleasing chewiness.
Bottomline: All items at The Coconut are priced at VND28,000, making this place an excellent casual dessert spot after dinner. This spot definitely strikes a perfect balance between price, quality, and quantity!
Level 2 Q.industries building, Lô DVTM 9, Đường Số 7, Tân Thuận Đông ward, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., 6 p.m. – 10.30 p.m. daily
Q.itchen Factory is a European and Asian-inspired restaurant helmed by talented Malaysian chef Adrian Chong Yen who developed his career in Singapore and spent time in the Spanish resort town of San Sebastian to bring his understanding of Spanish culinary tradition to another level. As a result, Q.itchen’s creative menu is a flawless combination of east and west.
“Our open kitchen restaurant emphasizes the locavore concept, where we use locally grown and sourced ingredients as much as possible”, Adrian Chong Yen shared with City Pass Guide. Apart from their delicious and aesthetically pleasing mains such as Q.kitchen Factory’s famed crispy pork belly dressed with a creative Vietnamese-inspired lime-chili sauce alongside pickled jalapeños, the ice cream desserts are the real reason why Q.itchen is featured on our ultimate list.
For starters, there is the super-satisfying dark chocolate sauce-filled molten cake, which is served with a nice scoop of in-house vanilla egg custard-based chocolate chip ice cream and covered with meticulously chopped strawberries and crushed walnuts. If you are into warm and cold combinations, Chef Adrian’s crème brûlée topped with banana ice cream is definitely a must-try.
Bottomline: Q.itchen Factory is a great example of a high-quality, affordable, and awe-inspiring restaurant gem that doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to the three essentials of a well-rounded dining experience: starters, mains, and dessert! For ex-pats living in District 7, this place is a no-brainer for family weekends when you’re too lazy to cook.
Our favorite item: There are only two items containing ice cream on Q.itchen Factory’s menu. City Pass Guide is convinced that this is a good example of ‘less is more’. The chocolate molten cake at Q.itchen Factory stole our hearts like a swift arrow from cupid’s bow. There was simply no contention if one judged ice cream based on both taste and presentation.
97a, Thảo Điền St., Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 9 a.m. – 9.30 p.m. daily (We used this venue for our review. Both Japanese mains and desserts are offered here.)
B2 Takashimaya Saigon Centre, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 9.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m. daily
Azabu Sabo hails from Kyoto, Japan, and focuses on green-tea ice cream and soft serve served plain or presented in every imaginable Japanese manner. Matcha milkshakes, matcha float topped with cream, mango shaved ice topped with mango sauce and mango ice cream, anmitsu (kanten/agar jelly) dessert bowls served with matcha ice cream, fruits, chocolate, and a huge strawberry parfait; the list goes on.
Bottomline: Attention to detail such as homemade red bean paste, President cream, and al-dente mochi balls will satisfy anyone with a penchant for caloric indulgence. Come for Japanese mains such as beef curry rice, tempura bento, or katsudon, and stay for the second round of sugary indulgence. Best sundae (or Sunday) ever.
Our favorite item: Our reviewers at City Pass Guide found it marginally impossible to give flavor recommendations at Azabu Sabo because the experience was exemplified by the countless possibilities that could be created by everything sweet found in Japanese gastronomy. However, the Abekawa warm mochi served with kuromitsu black sugar syrup, homemade red bean paste, and matcha ice cream definitely won our hearts.
Khu Food Creative, Bitexco Financial Tower, 02 Hải Triều, Tầng 4, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Diamond Plaza, 34 Đ. Lê Duẩn, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Estella Place, Tầng 4, 88 Song Hành, An Phú, Thu Duc City, Vietnam
L5 Vincom Mega Mall, 161 Xa lộ Hà Nội, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 10.00 a.m. – 9.30 p.m. daily. Facebook
Founded by Mr. Ly Huy Sang, the eldest son of Minh Long I Co. Ltd, which is renowned for its high-quality porcelain kitchenware. Greenie Scoop shares Mr. Ly Huy Sang’s love of gelato by sourcing high-quality tropical fruits from farms in Lai Thieu, Binh Duong province. Greenie Scoop’s cold treats, like many others featured on this list, are made with no artificial flavorings, colorings or preservatives. To realize his dream, Mr. Ly Huy Sang visited a long list of renowned ice cream shops and gelaterias in more than 40 countries to understand the secret of creating the cold treat.
Perhaps an acquired taste for some, the popular durian gelato offered at Greenie Scoop is created using a tasty variety of durian from Lai Thieu that is allowed to ripen naturally without the use of ethylene or calcium carbide, which are known to be toxic to humans but very common in Asia. Naturally ripened durian offers better creaminess and lingering aftertaste, immediately noticeable when trying Greenie Scoop’s signature durian gelato!
Bottomline: The authentic fruit flavors and not-so-sweet quality of Greenie Scoop’s gelato together with convenient locations in District 1 make it a great choice for visitors.
Our favorite flavors: Our top pick is their coconut gelato due to its hybrid texture which encompasses both the richness of coconut milk and the refreshing taste of coconut juice. The full-bodied passion fruit sorbet is for anyone who loves a sweet yet robustly sour treat—perfect for summer days.
Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart
65 Đ. Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
1A Đường Số 17A, Bình Trị Đông B, Bình Tân, HCMC, Vietnam
256 Phan Xích Long, Phường 7, Phú Nhuận, HCMC, Vietnam
169 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily at most locations. Facebook
Known internationally for their luscious baked cheese tarts filled with smooth Japanese-style cream cheese, Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart created an unexpected cult following with locals who queue for hours just to sample their cheese soft serve. Apart from the cheese tarts and cheese soft serve, other sinful and tasty items are available such as their chocolate almond cheese tart. Interestingly, these tarts also taste greatly chilled or frozen.
Bottomline: At VND29,000 per cone of cheese soft serve, the delicate, rich yet not-so-sweet taste of Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart’s cheese soft serve is an indulgence that will not burn a hole in your wallet. We definitely recommend first-timers opt for the VND60,000 combo which includes both a cheese tart and a soft serve!
Our favorite item: Apart from the cheese soft serve, the recently introduced durian soft serve was also exceptional at VND39,000. It did not torture our nostrils while preserving the richness of the king of fruits. Definitely a great item for people who are trying durian for the first time.
Kem Nhãn Chú Tám
2 Trương Hán Siêu, Đa Kao ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: Approx. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily
A no frills, no nonsense place run by a Vietnamese family who achieved widespread popularity with locals for their famed longan ice cream. The ice cream contains real fruit (sometimes two per scoop, and if you’re lucky, three!). Over the years, Kem Nhan Chu Tam has also expanded their menu to include increasingly popular variations such as green tea, rum, coconut, soursop and banana, all flavours that would typically be popular with Saigonese students.
The texture of the ice cream here is also eerily close to American ice cream and one wonders about the secrets that lie within. Our local experts at City Pass Guide suggest that a generous amount of condensed milk is used to achieve this!
Ice cream here is enjoyed with salted peanuts and an essential cup of trà đá (iced tea). Guests are assigned seats in less than five seconds upon arrival, while the nimble crew at Kem Nhãn Chú Tám swing tiny plastic chairs and tables around the sidewalk and shop like pieces on a checkerboard…a truly Vietnamese experience not to be missed! Classic Vietnamese after-school snacks such as deep-fried fish balls and dumplings are also sold here so don’t forget to invite a Vietnamese friend along for a maximum dose of nostalgia.
Bottomline: At a mere VND15,000 a scoop, Kem Nhãn Chú Tám, meaning Uncle Eight’s Longan Ice cream, may very well be the quickest and cheapest way to get a quality ice cream fix in District 1. Kem Nhãn Chú Tám also sells their homemade Vietnamese-style ice cream by the kilogram (VND190,000) and are able to handle deliveries to other districts for a small surcharge.
Our favourite flavours: Apart for their semi-legendary longan ice cream, the green tea flavour here is also surprisingly good.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS BEST HALAL FOOD IN SAIGON
Saigon’s small Muslim population finds it hard to find Halal food
Most Muslims would rely on preparing their own meals at home but what if you’re in a rush, or ran out of ingredients? Fortunately for the Muslims in Saigon, there is a wide variety of Halal food options available, ranging from modified local dishes such as pho to cuisines of nearby muslim communities from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia to authentic Arabic cuisine. It’s only a matter of which ones are the best for you.
After scouring the city, and speaking to two muslims living in Saigon; a Scottish expat, Karrar Al Hili, and a local Muslim, here are some of their recommendations.
Vietnamese Muslim Cuisine
Vietnamese cuisine is something you should try if you’re in Vietnam for its sheer quality and taste but most Vietnamese dishes are either pork-based or contain some form of pork. To bridge this gap, there is a place that sells top-quality halal pho. This unassuming restaurant, aptly named “Pho Muslim” is located just a two-minute walk away from the Jamiul Islamiyah mosque, also known locally as Nancy Mosque, at Hem 505 Tran Hung Dao Street.
Open only in the morning for pho, and after 4:00 p.m. for bun bo hue, their signature dishes are reasonably priced and are a huge hit among both Muslims and non-muslims. Noodle dishes aren’t the only available options. The Daun Restaurant located at 132 Bis, Ky Con Street, D.1, right next to Ben Thanh Market, has a menu that includes Vietnamese specialties such as bo xao nam (stir-fried beef with mushrooms) and banh xeo (savory fried crispy pancakes).
Halal @ Saigon located at 31 Dong Du Street, D.1 is a very popular, albeit slightly pricier option if you’re looking for halal local dishes in a comfortable dining experience. From goi dua tom (coconut milk and shrimp salad) to ngheu kho to (claypot baby clams) to goi cuon tom (fresh shrimp spring rolls), there is also something for you if you’re both a halal eater AND a vegetarian.
Another notable establishment is Saigon Green House at 52 Truong Dinh Street, D.3 known for its canh chua ca (sour soup with fish).
Malay Cuisine in Saigon
Neighbours Malaysia is a Muslim country and its cuisine, which bears semblance to the cuisines in Indonesia and Singapore can be found across the other countries in Southeast Asia too, including Vietnam. There are a handful of restaurants opened in Saigon by Malaysians and Singaporeans with Malay and Indian Muslim specialty dishes ranging from Nasi Goreng Kampung(Fried Rice), Mee Goreng Mamak (Indian Fried Noodles) to Nasi Lemak (Coconut Milk Rice).
If you like your food spicy and rich, then you’re looking at Malay cuisine. Probably the most well-known Malay restaurant in Saigon, Kampung Pandan Restaurant at 53 Thu Khoa Huan Street, D.1 serves up an excellent array of Malaysian and Singaporean dishes such as Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai (Grilled Flat Bread), Red Tilapia Sambal and Rendang (Meat in spicy paste).
The best part of this restaurant is its authenticity and you know they are doing something right when plenty of Malays make this their restaurant of choice. Another restaurant worth checking out is D’Nyonya Restaurant located at 56 Dong Du Street, D.1. The establishment serves Peranakan cuisine which is popular in Penang and Malacca in Malaysia, and Singapore.
If you like your food sweet and sour with some spice, the Assam Laksa (Noodles with mackerel in tamarind soup) is highly recommended. Other dishes worth trying are the kueh pie-tee (savoury tart shell) and otak-otak (grilled fish paste with chili). Other than Halal Vietnamese food, Saigon Green House also serves authentic Malay and Indian Muslim street food dishes commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore such as Nasi Goreng Kampung and Mee Goreng Mamak.
Middle-Eastern Cuisine in Saigon
Another delicious aspect of Halal food is Middle-Eastern cuisine and the good news is, there’s plenty of them in Saigon. From Turkish, Lebanese to Syrian, the restaurants in Saigon that serve them are as authentic as they can be. Zeytun Restaurant located at 185 Bui Vien, D.1 has a menu filled with mouth-watering delights like Pide Pizza Beef, Doner Kebabs, Shawarmas and Baba Ganoush alongside pizzas and Vietnamese specialities like Pho and spring rolls. It’s certainly a place to go to if you really hungry but have no idea what you feel like having.
Al Sham Saigon at 300 Vo Van Kiet, D.1 is another high quality option with a menu that may not be as diverse, but still packed with authentic goodness from the Middle-East. From Arabic Salads to Shakshuka with Eggs and Shawarma Sandwiches, the restaurant serves Syrian cuisine and has a growing reputation among both locals and expats here.
From Biryanis to Butter Chicken, to Indian Muslim options mentioned earlier, Indian Cuisine is huge in Saigon and the city is home to a handful of high-quality Indian restaurants serving authentic dishes. At Tandoor Saigon, you’ll find some of the best Indian and halal food in Ho Chi Minh City. Three of Tandoor’s chefs are Indian Muslims who are highly experienced in Halal culinary techniques and they source the best halal meats and ingredients from the most reputable halal food distributors here in Saigon.
Baba’s Kitchen at 274 Bui Vien, D.1 is home to a wonderful array of curries, and tandoori and they are also really popular for their butter chicken, which goes pretty well with their garlic naan.
Making Your Own
If you prefer to cook your own meals, there are several halal meat shops in Saigon. Halal Meat Shop Saigon at Alley 265/8, No Trang Long, Binh Thanh District is one. Other trusted sources include Hanafi at 111/33 Huynh Van Banh, Phu Nhuan District.
Beef imported from Australia and New Zealand is halal and can be bought at GoodFood at 194 Ung Van Khiem, Binh Thanh District. FoodsCom at 15 Le Thanh Ton, D.1 is a source for imported halal sheep.
Due to the significant Muslim population in District 8, you can find plenty of butchers and shops there specializing in halal meats and food products.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS TOP 5 CHÈ – SWEET SOUPS MUST TRY IN SAIGON
Desserts in Vietnam are generally different than most western desserts.
Granted, you will find the occasional French-baked item taken straight from the patisserie and made Vietnamese here. However, one set of desserts is inherently Vietnamese: chè. There’s nothing more enjoyable on a hot summer day than eating this chilly, sweet treat.
No, it’s not the famous beret-clad revolutionary whose face is plastered on shirts all over Pham Ngu Lao. It’s a dessert. In fact, it’s a family of desserts. Chè may be served hot or cold, in bowls, glasses, or over ice. There’s a wide range of flavors and might contain any amount of different ingredients: beans, tapioca, jellies, glutinous rice, and fruit just to start.
The options are nearly endless and it is almost impossible to produce a complete list. But we took a poll around the City Pass Guide offices. The result: this list of best chè dishes in Saigon.
Chè thập cẩm – Mixed sweet soup
Chè thập cẩm is the smorgasbord of the chè family, the absolute perfect choice for someone who wants a little bit of everything. This glass of chè has it all: beans, jelly, tapioca, steamed green rice flakes, mashed mung bean, coconut milk, and sweet syrup on top. Everything is served in layers and then mixed up when eaten, making a sweet and savory treat for a light and refreshing snack.
Price: VND 10,000 to 22,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Kỳ Đồng
16C Ky Dong, D3, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Phone: 090 895 41 66
Chè Kỳ Đồng is one of the most popular mixed sweet soup shops in Saigon. It’s located on Ky Dong street, a spot it’s held for more than 34 years. The menu is updated every year with more new options for chè lovers, but the soul of this shop will always be mixed sweet soup. Everything is super affordable and the quality of their chè thập cẩm is high. Not too sweet, not too bland, creamy or chewy. All you need to do is to mix everything and enjoy.
Sâm bổ lượng (Ching bo leung Sweet Soup)
If you don’t want coconut milk in your sweet soup, you better check out sâm bổ lượng. This chè is a revered herbal remedy as well as a dessert. A glass of sâm bổ lượng generally contains dried red jujube, dried longan, peanuts, lotus seeds, one to two slices of lotus roots and thinly shredded seaweed with sugar syrup, and crushed ice. Some of the ingredients are believed to aid the cardiovascular system and help the body function better. There’s nothing more enjoyable on a hot summer day than eating this chilly, savory treat.
Price: VND10,000 to 33,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Sâm Bổ Lượng
339/14 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Chè Thái (Thai Sweet soup)
If you don’t mind durian, have yourself a flavourful glass of chè Thái. A version of Thailand’s tub tim grob, the Vietnamese version is less sweet and uses a variety of fruits. You can actually find a rainbow in Thai sweet soup: the yellow of jackfruit, the red of faux pomegranate seeds, the green of Vietnamese jellos and the white of lychees and longans. All are served in a tall glass with condensed milk and a scoop of durian.
Price: VND 18,000 to 33,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Thái Ý Phương
380 Nguyen Tri Phuong, D10, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
There are not only one or two chè shops in District 10’s Nguyen Tri Phuong Street – it’s an entire Thai sweet soup street! Around 7 p.m., the whole area featuring Thai sweet soup is lit up with neon lights, making you feel as if you are on a busy central street in Hong Kong. Customers, from teenagers to college students, from young couples to families with kids, sit on plastic chairs and tables overlooking the busy street and wait for their desserts to be served. You can jump into any shop you like, but we highly recommend Chè Thái Ý Phương, a nearly 20-year-old dessert shop. You won’t be disappointed.
Chè Khúc bạch (Khuc Bach sweet gruel)
“Chè khúc bạch” is very familiar to the Southern variety but it first originated in Hanoi. Its perfect balance of lychee, creamy jelly, and almonds gives street food lovers a taste of summer. It was introduced to Saigon long ago, but chè khúc bạch became a hit with Saigon youngsters in 2013. The original Khuc Bach sweet soup contains cheese jelly, lychee jelly, roasted shredded almond seeds, and sugar syrup. “Simple” and “savory” are the two words that best describe the flavor of this dessert.
Price: VND 20,000 to 33,000
Chè khúc bạch is best served with some shaved ice. It’s a great option for anytime of the day.
Where to eat:
Chè Khúc Bạch Thanh
68/210 Tran Quang Khai St, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 PM
Chè Mâm (Sweet soup “buffet”)
If you can’t decide which Vietnamese sweet soup to try, order a bit of everything. In Saigon, varieties of sweet soups are served in small portions on a tray (“mâm” in Vietnamese); up to 16 options are available. This way, you can curate your own perfect selection of Vietnamese sweet desserts – from chè đậu xanh (mung bean sweet soup) to chè bà ba (a heavy, starchy combination of sweet potato, cassava and taro in a rich coconut milk soup) and so on. This is always a good option if you’re eating with a group of four or more.
Price: VND 5,000 to 30,000
Where to eat:
Chè Mâm Khánh Vy
242B Su Van Hanh St., D10, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Besides local flavors, Saigon chè also includes sweet soups brought over from other countries in the region. Regional flavors are added, making them culturally unique.
Chè Campuchia – Cambodian Style Sweet Soup
Cambodian-style chè is made with shaved ice, coconut milk served with durian sauce, strands of egg noodles, palm fruit, salted egg, mung bean paste and baby tamarind. The key ingredient that gives this treat its special flavour, however, is the pumpkin flan, a delicacy made from egg custard cooked in a hollowed-out pumpkin. These pumpkins are usually imported from Cambodia, which gives the custard a sweeter flavour than pumpkins in Vietnam. Make sure you don’t eat the rind!.
Price: VND10,000 to 22,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Cô Huôi – Chợ Hồ Thị Kỷ
57/21A Ho Thi Ky St, D10, HCMC, Vietnam. (in Ho Thi Ky Market)
Opening hours: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.PM Phone: 090 991 87 07
Chè Đài Loan Meet Fresh – Taiwan Sweet Soup Meet Fresh
Meet Fresh is a Taiwan-based chain, popular for its herbal jelly, widely adored by Vietnamese youths. A bowl of Meet Fresh contains a combination of herbal grass jelly and taro balls. Some of the common toppings include beans, nuts, and fruit, depending on your preference. This Taiwanese Sweet soup is finished off with brown sugar, coconut milk, and sugar syrup. For anyone unfamiliar with these ingredients, grass jelly is an Asian dessert, made from the leaves of mesona chinensis, a member of the mint family. Taro balls, the chewy, mochi-like balls, similar to the Chinese sticky rice balls, are made out of taro.
Price: VND 90.000 to 150.000
Where to eat it:
Meet Fresh Ngô Đức Kế
50 Ngo Duc Ke St, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / Website
Opening hours: 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Ho Thi Ky Market, located on the borders of District 10 and District 1, is well known as Ho Chi Minh City’s largest flower market, as well as Saigon’s unofficial Cambodia Town. You can find various Cambodian dishes here, and sweet soup is one of them.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS best BAKERIES IN SAIGON
Finding quality bread that doesn’t taste like it’s fated for a banh mi can be a real chore in Saigon
We wholeheartedly agree that fluffy and crispy banh mi loaves are great as a filling snack with jambon, pate, and op la but what if your cravings lean more towards a dense rye loaf, hand-rolled bagel, or crispy butter croissant?
City Pass Guide has compiled a definitive list of excellent bakeries that are bound to brighten up a somewhat reluctant morning. Read on if, like us, you are all about the comfort-inducing qualities of gluten.
33 Tống Hữu Định, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Daily
St Honore is a local French-owned authentic French boulangerie and patisserie that currently has more than ten locations in central Hanoi and two in Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll find more than 25 types of bread made daily including St Honore’s signature crispy pointed blondinette baguettes, healthy chia bread as well as gluten-free breads alongside a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries, cakes and classic French sweet treats such as chocolate eclairs and tarts.
L2-21 Saigon Centre, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. on Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday to Saturday
Ubiquitous in over 27 countries, PAUL is a 130-year-old bakery and cafe chain that hails from France and is revered for bringing authentic French boulangerie culture to Asia, including numerous mega-cities such as Bangkok, Tokyo, and Singapore.
Conveniently located in Saigon Centre, exciting offerings from PAUL Bakery include their signature viennoiseries such as croissants, brioche, and flaky palmiers as well as a heap of healthier options including olive fougasse and flax seed bread, which are baked three times a day so customers are always sure to get a fresh option.
Apart from bread, PAUL Bakery is also popular for its fleur de lys, a French-style dark chocolate mousse cake, and their luscious earl grey mille-feuille, known as the Napoleon to most English speakers, made with alternating layers of puff pastry and custard.
Some impressive trivia: PAUL’s signature line of flûte Paul, flûte sesame, and flûte grain bread may look indistinguishable from typical baguettes but fret not, PAUL Bakery is committed to traditional recipes and details. A French-style flûte is 200g while a standard baguette is exactly 250g!
37 Thảo Điền, Thảo Điền Ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily
Located conveniently for many ex-pats in central Thảo Điền, Voelker Bakery does serious justice to a slogan printed on their walls:
“All sorrows are less with bread.” - Miguel de Cervantes.
Highly popular for their reasonably priced and authentic croissants, pain au chocolat, crusty French-style baguettes, and French pastries, Voelker Bakery is a tested and proven French-style bakery that produces high-quality baked goods that won’t break the bank. Apart from typical French offerings, Voelker also offers an expanding series of healthier choices including a peculiarly rare Nordlander bread, European dark rye, and multi-cereal bread filled with pine nuts.
Voelker Bakery’s bread is also available fresh daily at the downstair Supermarket in Crescent Mall, District 7.
38 Nguyễn Cừ, Thảo Điền Ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Possibly one of the only places to acquire chewy artisanal New York-style bagels in Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon Bagel is a relatively new yet solid addition to the bread scene here. At Saigon Bagel, bagels are hand-rolled on a daily basis and left to rest overnight before boiling and baking. This results in authentic chewy, dense, and old-fashioned bagels one might have found in an authentic Jewish-American bakery in the 1950s.
Apart from takeaways from their delicious plain and flavored bagels, be sure to dine in to enjoy their bagel sandwiches. Our favorites include homemade salmon gravlax served with cream cheese, tomatoes, and capers as well as Saigon Bagel’s most popular menu item, a decadent breakfast bagel sandwich filled with scrambled eggs, butter, bacon, and cheese.
Apart from bagels, Saigon Bagel also bakes authentic Italian cannolis—deep-fried tubes of pastry dough stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese—a perfect pairing with their equally amazing espresso and coffee drinks made from 100 percent Dak Lak arabica beans. Saigon Bagel also serves craft beer and plans to expand into a full-fledged deli in the near future.
23 Hàn Thuyên, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Daily
One of the oldest Mediterranean restaurants in downtown Saigon, City Pass Guide is aware that Au Parc’s appearance in our list may surprise oldtimers. But it is worth noting that the owners of Au Parc have a dedicated baking workshop that produces fresh bread on a daily basis, which is also supplied to their two other highly revered restaurants: Propaganda Bistro and The Refinery.
Au Parc’s French Breakfast set includes toast, sourdough rye, brioche, whole wheat baguette and standard French baguette served alongside homemade jams and (surprise!) homemade Nutella with chunky bits of hazelnut. Au Parc’s Mediterranean lavash flat bread and breadsticks are also splendid. Enjoy them with their homemade hummus, dips, and kebabs.
Although Au Parc’s bread and wheat-based products are mostly produced for dine-in customers, they’re more than happy to take customers’ orders. So call in advance if you need Au Parc’s fabulous baked treats in the comfort of your own home.
B1-K1, Vincom Mega Mall Thảo Điền, 159-161 Xa Lộ Hà Nội, Thảo Điền Ward, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Hailing from Fukuoka City, Ryoyu Bakery brings the essence of quality Japanese-style baking to Vietnam. Helmed by veteran baker Mr. Tokushi Mochinaga and his team of motivated Japanese-trained bakers, the wide range of buns, baguettes, sandwich loaves, and various pastries offered here are made with imported Japanese flour and share the same recipe as products found at the headquarters of Fukuoka.
Creativity and adaptability are common traits found in Japanese cooking and Ryoyu Bakery’s bread is not exempt from this phenomenon. Mr. Mochinaga’s “Paris Morning” is a croissant-like viennoiserie made with soft baguette dough.
It is both light and enjoyable while sporting a slightly chewy consistency. Trying it might test your impression of what makes a typical croissant delicious. Other unique breads here include deep-fried Japanese donuts filled with coconut curry, mini croissants, and chocolate custard stick bread. The perfect snacks for kids and adults alike.
49 Đường số 14, KDC Ven Sông, P. Tân Phong, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam / Facebook
Opening Hours: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily
Haubis is a new and unique experience for bread lovers in Ho Chi Minh City. An Austrian bakery with more than 100 years of experience and family tradition, Haubis brings authentic and fresh baked treats to Southeast Asia with the help of state-of-the-art flash-freezing techniques that retains texture and nutrition.
Flash-freezing means the bread tastes perfectly fresh right out of the oven. Enjoying authentic European bread in the comfort of your home and your kitchen has never been easier.
Haubis’ range of bread is all-encompassing; there’s bound to be something for everyone. Ranging from favorites such as the organic multigrain baguette to a wide range of wheat and rye loaves that feature ingredients such as sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame, and other wholesome additions. Staying true to their family roots, Haubis’ organic Kaiser rolls are a testimony to centuries of Austrian gourmet traditions.
Tasty and naturally sweet crown-shaped rolls made with both wheat and malt, Kaiser rolls, meaning emperor rolls in the Austrian and German languages, were named in honor of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
People struggling with gluten intolerance have also not been forgotten—Haubis’ impressive range of gluten-free bread is made in wheat-free production facilities to prevent cross-contamination. Ms. Tram, who manages Haubis in Ho Chi Minh City also vows to share her love of Austrian and German classic cuisine with both locals and ex-pats. Be sure to savor her homemade currywurst, Austrian wiener schnitzel, and herb butter. This is true enjoyment when paired with Haubis’ famous pretzels!
While the following list did not make it to our Best Bread in Saigon top selections, it may be useful to know where else it is possible to buy decent bread in HCMC.
Pate’ a Chou
135 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam / Website / Facebook
Opening Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. every day
Tous les Jours
Click here to see the 7 locations in HCMC
Opening Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. every day
More than six Tous les Jours locations around the city but the only one we recommend is the branch on Hai Ba Trung, which offers more selections, more seating as well as a small menu of made-to-order breakfast items.
More than 13 BreadTalk locations around the city.
Opening Hours: Opening hours depend on the location but most locations close at 10 p.m.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS FOUR FEMALE CHEFS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT IN VIETNAM
Women Chefs on the rise in Vietnam
Most of us have an image of professional kitchens as being something of a male-dominated boy’s club, despite women traditionally doing most of the cooking in private homes for centuries. Whilst women still account for a relatively low portion of professional chefs globally, there are more women enrolling for training and a number of female chefs rank among the best in the world, earning major accolades and awards.
As Vietnam’s foodie landscape grows and evolves, more international and Vietnamese restaurants are opening and drawing in big talents, both local and foreign. Among these rising stars are several talented female chefs who are shaking up Vietnam’s culinary scene with their unique take on Vietnamese and international cuisines, often drawing influence from their diverse geographical backgrounds.
Here are four of the best female chefs in Vietnam right now, and where to eat their food.
Tam Le – Saigonita Concept Restaurant in Saigon
Tam Le’s Saigonita is a concept restaurant that reinterprets Mexican cuisine through the lens of Vietnamese ingredients and dishes. The creator and chef host her intimate pop-up dinners on select evenings every month. Already, Saigonita is storming the foodie scene in Saigon, with Tam’s dinners booked out two months in advance.
Tam has had an unconventional route to Saigonita. She was raised in Texas before leaving to work in branding in New York, where she recalls beginning to make her own tortillas after discovering that she could only buy them imported and mass-produced in New York, unlike the fresh tortillas available in grocery stores across Texas. As a Texas-born Vietnamese, she grew up eating both Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines and says, “to combine them was only natural to me”.
After moving to Vietnam, Tam started to make the Saigonita vision a reality, creating her exciting Vietnamese-Mexican food with encouragement from her friends. As the concept was being developed, Tam Le spent her evenings and weekends experimenting to bring her new dishes to life. Now that her dinners have gained momentum, she is dedicating herself to Saigonita full-time.
The Saigonita menu changes depending on what’s in season and the chef’s mood. Tam describes her Huế-vos Rancheros as a current crowd favourite; a tostada with a fried home-made tortilla base, a layer of refried black beans, beef braised in the style of bún bò Huế, a fried quail egg, finely chopped shallots, and herbs, and finished off with a squeeze of calamansi.
Tam doesn’t consider her gender to be challenged in Vietnam’s culinary world. She explains, “I see so many opportunities in Vietnam”, although she acknowledges that the industry is very male-dominated. As her unique concept becomes increasingly popular, she describes her goal as, “to figure out how to allow everyone who wants to try Saigonita to be able to experience it”.
Nikki Tran – Cau Ba Quan and Cau Ba Noodles Restaurants in Saigon
Famous for her appearance on the Netflix hit series Ugly Delicious, Nikki Tran is dishing up her brand of ‘Viejun’ (Vietnamese-Cajun) food in her two modern Vietnamese seafood restaurants; Cau Ba Quan and Cau Ba Noodles in Ho Chi Minh City.
A Saigon native who has spent time in Houston, Texas – where the Viet-Cajun trend began – Nikki describes her cooking as a collaboration between Vietnamese culture and other cultures but is adamant that her food isn’t branded as ‘fusion’.
Nikki never trained as a professional chef, nor did she have any aspirations to cook, but she was thrown into the kitchen when the chef didn’t show up on the opening night. Now she loves to create new dishes and her aspiration is to bring modern Vietnamese food to the mainstream, showing the cuisine from a different angle.
Nikki acknowledges the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry, describing how gaining authority in the kitchen can be difficult for women working in a traditionally patriarchal society such as Vietnam. She added that even in the US, it isn’t easy to command respect from the other chefs in a professional kitchen. She also expressed her belief that the conventional female roles within a family in Vietnam can limit their ability to work long hours.
Nevertheless, Nikki feels that there are a lot of opportunities out there for aspiring female chefs to be noticed, stating, “the creativity brought by women is highly anticipated and appreciated”. She advises women to be tough in the kitchen and to have confidence that female chefs can do whatever male chefs can do, whether it’s scaling a fish or butchering a whole cow.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng Huệ – Stoker Restaurant in Saigon
Stoker has been making waves in Saigon’s culinary scene for some time now, and its Junior Sous Chef, Nguyễn Thị Hồng Huệ, is one of the restaurant’s rising stars. Stoker’s specialty is cooking meats using various techniques involving fire, perhaps making the presence of a strong female chef even more unusual.
After studying finance, Hue embarked on her chef’s training and gained experience in a number of professional kitchens before joining Stoker in May 2017. She worked in the cold kitchen and In pastry before being promoted to Junior Sous Chef.
Working with Stoker’s Executive Chef, George Bloomfield, Hue has created new signature dishes for the popular steakhouse, including Smoked Milk Panna Cotta and Woodfired Basque Cheesecake.
Hue explains that she finds Ho Chi Minh City “one of the best places to explore local and international food”, with its eclectic range of restaurants and diverse food scene. Hue highlighted that this environment creates lots of opportunities for female chefs to develop their careers. She says that, “women, in general, are well-known for being careful, resourceful and tidy; which are good values for a chef”.
Her advice to aspiring female chefs is to “follow your passion”, acknowledging that things can be difficult at the beginning but these challenges can be overcome. Hue’s goal is to eventually gain experience and learn about Northern Vietnamese cuisine by spending time working in Hanoi.
Summer Le – Nen Restaurant in Danang
Now an unofficial global ambassador for Central Vietnamese cuisine, Chef Summer Le has been expressing her passion for the food of her home region at her acclaimed restaurant, Nen, since August 2017. The ethos of Nen – a spice specific to Central Vietnam – is to push the boundaries of Vietnamese cuisine whilst retaining its core values.
Before opening her Danang restaurant, she was a food blogger and has been featured on several cooking shows including the Asia Food Channel’s ‘Home-cooked Vietnam’. Despite Nen being a reasonably young restaurant, it has received wide attention, being visited by the Prime Minister of New Zealand and three Michelin star Chef Dominique Crenn from the US.
Summer Le explains her food philosophy as, “utilising local ingredients and making them the star of the dishes” in order to create her modern Vietnamese dishes. She aims to keep the taste profiles essentially Vietnamese, while using some foreign techniques and presentation. She describes her food as, “a reflection of myself” creative, intellectual, with great attention to detail”. She explains that she especially loves to experiment with elevating often overlooked ingredients in Vietnamese cuisines, such as duck, certain fruits, and fermented sauces.
Nen’s New Vietnamese multi-course tasting menu is a collection of Summer Le’s signature dishes, including a pan-seared duck breast with mango gel and Viet satay chili paste with cashew nuts and dried mango.
Summer Le feels Vietnam is open-minded when it comes to women in the workplace in comparison with some of its neighboring countries. She points out that the industry is heavily male-dominated, but cites the physical requirements of the job as one of the reasons for this. At Nen, she hires both male and female chefs on her team, explaining that, “they have their own strengths”. She details, “attention to detail, deftness and discipline” as qualities she often finds in her female chefs and which are particularly relevant in a fine-dining restaurant. Her advice to aspiring female chefs is to, “find your unique strength as a chef and pursue it”.