Ho Chi Minh City, formerly, or currently, known as Saigon, is one of those cities I keep coming back to on a fairly regular basis. I have friends there, but it’s also a city that seems to be undergoing constant development, never looking quite the same as last time I remember it. And then there’s the food… the motorcycles… the coffee shops… more motorcycles… the small alleys… even more motorcycles… and more food. Entire books could and should be written just about what’s happening in the cooking pots. So here’s what my short visit in early 2017 looked like!
Dim Tu Tac
When you’re in Vietnam, it’s really hard not to be amazed (for lack of a better word) by at least one of the dishes that end up right in front of you. This time we’re in Dim Tu Tac, a typical Chinese dim sum restaurant close to the river in District 4. Unless you are taking a date to Elisa, the floating restaurant next door, you are not very likely to end up in this area, but I’d say it’s worth dropping by just for this eatery. Even if it’s only to try their delicious take on kung fu soup (which is basically a chicken feet broth).
Finding a spot to have breakfast is not that hard in Saigon, and today we are in Propaganda. It’s actually a bistro, but in the morning it doubles as a great place to devour a banh mi, or to have some delicious pho ga (seriously, even my Vietnamese friend thought it was phobulous!). Service is swift, and although most people seem to prefer sitting outside on the terrace, I found it more comfy, and much cooler, inside. Conveniently located about a stone’s throw from the Independence Palace, you won’t easily forget Propaganda’s interior, which features some beautiful murals by local artists.
Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room
No matter where you are in the world, you always have a preconceived image of what you can reasonably expect, even if it’s borderline cliché. In Brussels you expect waffles and chocolate in a centuries old building. In Hong Kong you won’t twitch when everybody is having tea and scones with cream and strawberry jam.
Nothing quite prepared me for this place though!
Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room is located in District 2, in a neighbourhood that is admittedly a tad bit upscale (although it may not look to be so at first glance). The size of some of the compound gates is rather impressive, and in most cases directly linked to the value of the mansions behind them. Compared to that, the tea house feels rather subdued on the outside. There’s a small garden path that leads to the entrance, and the little pool on the right makes you wonder if you’re not about to enter someone’s house.
As soon as you enter, however, you are surrounded by old antiques from all over the world, ranging from books to sculptures and paintings. And yes, they are for sale! The chairs and sofas are plush and purple, and it takes about 5 seconds to feel right at home. There is a large selection of teas to choose from, and I recommend you dig into the apple pie with cream as well. I will go back if only for that!
Even in Vietnam, it’s quite alright to long for sushi every now and then. Finding Japanese food in Ho Cho Minh City is really not that hard — there is plenty to choose from, ranging in price from dead cheap to “still not very expensive”. Sorae is in that last category, but compared to what I eat and pay in Europe, it’s rather special.
Situated on the 24th and 25th floor of AB Tower (enter the building on street level, tell the staff downstairs you’re here for Sorae, and they’ll whisk you up to the restaurant), the views are nothing sort of amazing, be it day or night (and quite frankly, better than the ones at the much taller Bitexco). Obviously, chances of you having a window table are slim, so do book in advance if you want to impress your date.
Đông Phố is a Vietnamese restaurant, with a bakery on the side. That may seem like an odd combination, but then again, there’s no denying the lingering French influence on everyday life in Vietnam. That goes from French street names (Pasteur Street), to language (coffee in English → café in French → cà phê in Vietnamese) and cuisine (the yummy banh mi, and the abundance of bakeries and pâtisseries). As is often the case in local restaurants, the choice is rather overwhelming, so just go for the discovery menu and sample some Huế cuisine.
Next stop on our culinary trip around Ho Chi Minh City is Au Parc. In one stroke I make my case for the lingering French influence on Vietnam, and if you could never drag yourself away from the pho in Propaganda, this place is actually just next door’s. The restaurant is billed as “Mediterranean Middle Eastern”, and quite oddly they also serve a Swiss breakfast. Which is why we’re here: breakfast!
You need to be here for your typical non-Vietnamese breakfast, and let’s be honest, we do crave that every now and then. With a choice between 6 different kinds of breakfast, fresh juices, coffee, tea, and the rest of the menu to pick from, it’s quite hard to get away from this place. Add to that the stylish jazz music playing in the background, and the airco set just right, and you’ve got yourself a treat.
Enjoy your food!