Hungry in Ho Chi Minh?
With some exceptions, one can find great food in any country in the world; one just has to look for it. But as American chef Anthony Bourdain said, “You don’t have to go looking for great food in Vietnam. Great food finds you. It’s everywhere.” Eating well is an intrinsic part of travel for many people, and seeking out the best tastes in any destination, not only challenging and exciting, but when that perfect bite dissolves in your mouth, it can be wonderfully rewarding. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with its staggering nine million mouths to feed is not far short of gastronomic heaven. Whether sampling the staggering array of street food, eating where the locals and freshest ingredients go, or exploring the more diverse high-end dining options, foodies will find the city more than adequate in satisfying any palette. Here are a few dining choices for those heading to our near neighbour’s capital city.
• Pho 24 (1)
Vietnam’s McNoodles, Pho 24 is ubiquitous, affordable and delicious. With nearly 100 Pho 24 restaurants dotted around the city (as well as franchises in the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia) there is no excuse not to pop in for a bowl of piping hot traditional Vietnamese noodles which come with a choice of meats (tenderloin, chicken, tripe, strip loin), and crispy fresh vegetables. Dishes cost between 60-100 baht per dish, service is fast, efficient and all shops impeccably clean.
• Square One (2)
Lauded by the Miele Guide as Vietnam’s best restaurant, Square One at MF Park Hyatt hotel offers excitement and drama to any dining experience as diners sit on food bars or in seats interspersed between its five show kitchens. The glitterati of Vietnam can be spotted here on most nights being wowed by the sparkling grill flame, watching the suckling pig being doused by piping hot oil, or seeing waiters swish by with dishes presented to impress. Contemporary cuisine of the highest standards _ the river prawns, slightly disturbingly caught from the tank next to your table, are a house specialty – and at dizzying prices; a meal for two would not be cheaper than 10,000 baht including a decent bottle of wine.
Walking down a narrow side street to Warda is akin to traversing a wee section of Jerusalem’s souks, and once ensconced in the restaurant’s heady Arabian ambiance – cushioned seats under a Bedouin tent, hidden nooks under a Moorish arch – and served up traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, it almost comes as a surprise when the Arab-clad Vietnamese staff appear. Start with the generous mezze selection and don’t miss the fish and pear tajine, but save some room for the decadent chocolate and fig fondant. End the evening lounging back with a Turkish coffee and a billowing plume of apple shisha. Dishes are very reasonable and start from 120 going up to 400 baht each.
• Pacharan Tapas & Bodega
This unpretentious Spanish restaurant sits across the road from Square One and is packed most nights with diners and party goers. Try to book the rooftop bar for the best seats in the house, though the food is equally delicious wherever you sit. Imported Spanish cheeses and Iberian ham steal the show though their paella and tapas dishes are well worth writing home about. Main dishes cost a reasonable 150-450 baht and wines are Spanish all the way.
• Xu (3)
Contemporary Vietnamese cuisine inspired by an infusion of mod Oz, Xu is trendy, stylish and each dish served like a piece of art. The chef plays with his traditional cuisine by simplifying and deconstructing certain dishes, adding modern elements to traditional fare or simply marrying known Vietnamese ingredients with international favourites. Try the Vietnamese herb-infused risotto or tuna spring roll & black sesame seared tuna. On the pricey end, dishes are around 180-550 baht, but the mouth-smackingly satisfying Xu sparkling cocktail and wine from its comprehensive list may drive the price up somewhat.
• The Refinery
Classic French cuisine served bistro-style indoors and outdoors, tucked away in a quiet courtyard far away from the madding motorbike crowds (next to the MF Park Hyatt). Set in an old opium refinery, this chilled bistro is popular with local expats who come for a lazy lunch, pre-dinner drinks or a casual dinner of fine French cuisine coupled with even finer wines. In true bistro style, the coq au vin is the house favourite with dishes costing between 150-450 baht.
• Temple Club
The Temple Club’s setting, art deco which stays faithful to its Indochine locale, is a destination unto itself: Buddhist tapestry, colonial hardwood, gleaming lacquer, swirling fans and antique throw rugs. The food offers diners a gastronomic tour of Vietnam right at their candle-lit tables, combining all the regional favourites such as mi quang soup, yellow noodles in a broth of peanuts, shrimps and rice crackers from Danang, cha cha monkfish from Hanoi or the homemade Hue cake. Prices are eminently reasonable at 120-300 baht per dish.
An ngon nhé!