As you travel down Tran Hung Dao into District 5, the growing Chinese influence becomes evident with shop signs beginning to display Chinese calligraphy. Following the one way system at Nguyen Tri Phuong you arrive at Cat Tuong’s (105 Tran Hung Dao) impressive imperial archway.
It’s always refreshing when you’re walking down the same street you walk down each and every day and something new crops up, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a testament to this evolving metropolis. On the corner of Nguyen Cu Trinh and Tran Hung Dao is a welcoming and newly set up quan nhau — Nuong 5KU An Phe.
In its central location just behind the Bitexco Tower, Ham Nghi serves as a pertinent place to host the plethora of food outlets that line the street. From the all day market that has bubbling tubs of fresh fish to the mini-marts specialising in western brands, it’s a street with something for everyone. But it is at 66–68 Ham Nghi that the biggest name of all, Nhu Lan, presides over the competition. Open 24 hours and standing as a delicatessen, bakery, butcher, roadside barbecue and Vietnamese street food restaurant all in one, this corner property has been here for over 40 years.
Framed sepia-toned pictures of the ‘old country’ adorn the walls of this quaint and surprisingly lengthy restaurant. The concave ceiling made up of exposed brick is strangely reminiscent of the London Underground’s Baker Street tube station and a pre-20th century European wine cellar. It’s comforting and wholly conducive to the relaxing yet chatty ambience.
Located inside a recently restored Indochina-French (possibly what the IF stands for?) colonial villa just off Ha Bai Trung, the restaurant has been tastefully decked out to evoke memories of the 1920s. Limestone plastered walls, antique ceramic titled flooring and original furnishings such as louvered window shutters and oak swinging doors replete with authentic Chinese-made hinges are the important details that help separate Café IF from the competition.
Living here makes it easy to forget that there are noodles not made from rice. One popular variety is the ramen noodle from Japan. Most of us were probably introduced to ramen noodles in college. It wasn’t until afterwards, when we came across the real thing, that we discovered that ramen noodles in plastic packaging with a seasoning packet for about VND2,000 weren’t very good.
The atmosphere in Tokyo BBQ is pleasant enough, with dark wood furnishings accented by rich colours, and music that provides a soothing, but not overbearing, ambience. The cooking style is similar to bulgogi, which is a Korean form of cooking over hot coals right at the table. The Japanese adopted this and styled it to their tastes. The menu combines elements from both cultures. It feels authentic, but alas, you can’t eat the atmosphere. Aesthetics aside, my dining experience at Tokyo BBQ can be best described as ‘A Tale of Two Meals’.
With the countless selection of eateries Ho Chi Minh City has to offer sometimes one craves the comfortable rather than the chic, the exotic or street food. And what whispers ‘comfy’ as confidently as a British-style pub? With its warm, pastel red walls, dark wood tables and high tops, and a generous helping of football banners (we’re talking soccer, here), The Tavern fits the bill.