Ho Chi Minh Food Travelogue

Ho Chi Minh City, also named as Saigon, is often mistaken to be the capital of Vietnam. The largest city in the country, it is named after the first leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. A city notoriously known for its incessant honking and congested roads, a myriad of unique local dishes lies deep within its dark(ok, not that dark) alleys and streets waiting to be discovered.

What I love about this list is that whenever we’re there trying out the food, I noticed the lack of tourists and instead, their own locals eating there as well. It only means one thing: Eating delicious local food without the mark up in prices. (Think Sab x 2 in BKK)

And how did we know our list is good? We showed some of the locals in Ben Thanh Market our list to validate our research and they were surprised. The ladies chattered excitedly among themselves pointing to my list before asking how we got this paper(It was my itinerary btw).


Pho So 1 Hanoi

Thanks to globalisation, I am sure almost every Singaporean has been introduced to one of the most common dishes in Vietnam, the Pho(pronounced as fuh, but who cares actually). But it is a totally different experience eating Pho in its area of origin. Same same but different.

Generous serving of rice noodles, shredded chicken meat, herbs, a halved lime and a simple yet flavourful broth, you would be thinking that it’s practically the same as what you’re queuing for at Nam Nam Noodle Bar. But here in Vietnam, a bowl of Pho comes along with a plate piled with Thai Basil, pickled garlic and chilies. When the staff saw our plate left untouched, he approached us with much amusement and gestured us to put some into our bowl of Pho. So we decided to observe the locals.

First, they plucked off the leaves of the Thai Basil and threw into their bowls. Then, they added at least 4-5 pickled garlic, chilies. Lastly, sauce is added into the soup. This is the local way. To be honest, do not be pressured to eat their way. The magic of Pho lies in its incredibly power-packed broth, so do try out the soup first before you add anything extra. Otherwise, I recommend you to savour its simplicity.

You can find shops selling Pho in every corner of the streets but I did some research prior and this place was recommended.

25 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Dist.1


Bánh Canh Cua

This was the first dish I tried upon landing and boy did it start my holiday right. Ban Canh, simply means soup cake, is a dish that comprises of silver needle noodles(mee tai mak) and crab stock. I’m still not sure which part of the dish is my favourite. The light yet refreshing crab-infused gravy? The variety of ingredients made up by chunks of crabmeat, prawn, crab nugget, pork slices and pig’s blood cube? The plate of dough fritters(you tiao) that you can pair with? Or the part that everything just tastes so good together.

Although the staff are not versed in English, the shop only sells Ban Canh. So simply indicate how many bowls you’re having and you’ll be served.

One of our favourite dishes of the trip, this dish is highly recommended!87 Trần Khắc Chân, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
2 pm – 9:30 pm daily


Ban Xeo

IMG_0354Banh Xeo is a savoury crepe that comprises of fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. The batter is made of rice flour and water, hence resulting in a crispy and thin pancake layer. This makes a good afternoon snack. Be sure to check out their opening hours though. 

46 Đinh Công Tráng, Tân Định, 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam


Bánh Mì Hòa Mã

Best breakfast of our trip. This beats any American or hotel continental breakfast set hands down. Our research claims that this place makes the best Banh Mi Op La. And they were not kidding. Low tables and stools that lined the sides of the road beside – Classic Vietnam style – were filled with locals happily munching on their breakfast. Surprised to see tourists, the staff quickly got us seats and we ordered 2 sets and a cup of iced coffee. Each set comes along with a large roll of freshly baked Banh Mi, a portion of pate and a hotplate of fried egg and mixed meat. Well-seasoned and piping hot from the stove, this dish is breakfast for champions.

53 Cao Thắng, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 7am – 10am or until they sell out, Daily


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Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters @Upper Thomson

Opened in October last year, Pacamara has gained popularity for its instagram-worthy delicious menu. Having gone through a process of repackaging, revamping and relocating, the shop appears to have been “born again”. The interiors are whitewashed and minimalist, just like a clean slate.

Why the name Pacamara? I’m guessing it was derived from their El Salvadorean Pacamara Arabica coffee bean. A standard mocha here would not go wrong. It’s interesting to note that their refrigerator offers a variety of juices, ciders, sodas, ales and stouts that is sure to please everybody. On the other hand, their hot brew tea from The 1872 Clipper Tea collection failed to impress my companions or me. Even with its fancy beaker/flask ware. So how did their food fare?

Truffle Fries: To be honest, what can go wrong with fries? I’m not that picky but I get turned off easily by oily fries. So oily that they leave behind pools of oil on your thumb and index finger. BUT thankfully, Pacamara serves awesome non-oily truffle fries. A little less on the salt would be perfect 🙂
Sweet Potato Fries: Seriously, I think we will come to a point when everything can be made into elongated fries. Well, if they are delicious, why not? These alternatives are a delight to your palette. Mildly sweet, they almost make you forget that you’re eating something fried and unhealthy. Be sure to order this to share with at least 3-4 people as it gets a little ‘je lak’ after the 5th one.
Ocean Mac & Cheese: This dish was simply heavenly. Oven baked gometi pasta with crabmeat and prawn, topped with smoked salmon. Every component of this dish was stellar and yet, interdependent. I loved how little seasoning was needed as the savoury cheese and sweet seafood chunks were sufficient to make one swoon with every bite. Once you feel that it’s getting too overwhelming, just pair the next spoonful with a bit of smoked salmon. Your sense of taste comes back to life. Truffle Benedict(Discontinued): Another of my favourite dish in Pacamara, but a shame that it was discontinued when a new menu was introduced 2 weeks ago. Firstly, it was the champion of weekend brunch shots. Taking over Instagram by storm, their eggs benny were photogenic and never failed to garner top likes. Besides its good looks, the eggs benny are actually delicious. Ranked second on my favourite eggs benny list, the truffle-infused hollandaise sauce was a home run. Breakfast Platter: For SGD22, the plate is packed with everything that you can ask for. Multi grain toast, smoked salmon, avocado, hash, thick cuts of streaky bacon, mushroom, tomato, greens and choice of eggs(poached, sunny side up or scrambled) Though the greens look lacklustre and could do with more effort or at least some dressing, the rest of the plate did not disappoint. As always, the breakfast platter makes a safe and reliable choice.

Before I found out that the eggs benny was discontinued, I was constantly craving for it. And now, I’m craving for their Mac & Cheese. If a cafe could serve food that is so impressionable and unforgettable, you know its a place worth visiting again and again.

Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters (Singapore)
185 Upper Thomson Road
Singapore 574333

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-11pm
*No reservations

The Coffee Daily @Serangoon Gardens

I have a love-hate relationship with cafes situated in ulu and inaccessible locations. Without a car, it is a pain to travel there but yet, these places are usually less crowded and ideal for coffee chats.  The best thing about The Coffee Daily is their free WIFI and availability of power sockets. I may sound like a hobo but I’m sure you understand how we need to drag ourselves out the house to do some work. Be it having a project meeting, mugging for the exams or even setting exam papers, the cafe is the perfect working place(at least for the weekdays).The Coffee Daily serves pretty decent coffee. Creamy, rich and sweet, just how I like my coffee. Rarely do cafe goers order nacho chips at cafes. They reserve their tummy for the rich and heavy stuff. Unfortunately, their Truffle Fries were sold out on that day and we really needed something to munch on. Smoked Salmon: Ever been in a situation where you have to portion each bite of smoked salmon with your croissant carefully because you do not want to be left with a single piece of carbo? Well, you do not have to worry about that here. They serve a generous portion of smoked salmon that goes mighty fine with the creamy scrambled eggs and fragrant croissant. All Day Breakfast: Nothing can go wrong with a cafe brunch staple like this. Every component is prepared with passion and served fresh. And if you need to celebrate a happy occasion, go ahead and order their speciality waffles. They will be more than happy to provide you candles and some extra service.

The Coffee Daily
75 Brighton Crescent
Singapore 559216

Opening Hours:
Mon to Thu: 12pm–10.30pm
Fri: 12am–11.30pm
Sat: 9.30am–11.30pm
Sun: 9.30am–10.30pm
Tel: +65 6284 8894

Old Hen Coffee Bar

Famous for their cold brew and waffles, Old Hen is no stranger to the cafe scene. A speciality coffee shop, the interior has an simplistic industrial design. The people of Old Hen are very passionate about the quality of the coffee they serve.

IMG_1080You may have seen this familiar picture repeatedly on every social media platform. Their cold brew has received positive reviews and is a must-try for all. For non-coffee lovers, go for their Valrhona Dark Cocoa. Both bottles are priced $6.50. Perfect for our hot tropical weather, diners never fail to order a bottle or two to cool off. In addition, don’t be surprised to see customers leaving with bottles in tow.
Smoked Salmon and Apple Toast: The combination of apples, raisins, cucumber and cream cheese make a great contrast to the savoury taste of the smoked salmon. Simply out-of-the-box and yet “delish”. Chicken Cheese Burrito: Shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, melted cheese and homemade honey mustard all mixed up and wrapped up snuggly in a burrito. A hearty dish that promises to give you a satisfying and tasty meal. My companion really liked the dish but I was hoping for a more complex taste profile. I found it a little flat and sweet.

Croque Monsieur: Honey baked ham, bechamel(a rich white sauce made with milk infused with herbs and other flavourings) and melted cheese. Not the best I’ve tried but I love how unpretentious and cosy the dish is. Each bite guarantees you with a decadent mix of ham and cheese.

Never mind that “old hen” is a queer choice of name for a cafe, it is pretty smart to be honest. Despite its “ulu” location at Rangoon Road, the one-year-old cafe is easily crowded on a weekday late morning. The next time I’m back, I’m definitely giving their famed waffles a try!

Old Hen Coffee Bar
88 Rangoon Road
#01-03 Singapore 218374

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 12pm-10pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Sat: 10am-6.30pm
Sun: 10am-10pm

Jamie’s Italian Singapore @Vivo City

Reputably known as the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver is a household name for his cookbooks and his campaign towards serving school children healthy and nutritious food. When Jamie Oliver opened his first restaurant on our sunny island in 2013, it was the first of its kind in Asia. (We seem to really like being first for everything!) For 2 years, there have been mixed reviews of Jamie’s Italian and sightings of long queues outside the restaurant. Even before dusk, the place is already half filled with eager diners. I love their family-friendly concept. Children are presented with a colouring paper and a tin of crayons to doodle on while waiting for food to arrive. Red booth seats, wooden tables and metal shelvings, the interior gives a warm and finished feeling.The kitchen expeditor, I assume, was hard at work. Ensuring that dishes were served punctually and of quality, I’ve witnessed how he tasted and returned dishes back to the kitchen that were not of standard. Crispy Squid: Lightly battered squid, deep fried, tossed in fresh chilli and garlic with homemade mayonnaise dusted with paprika. I really enjoyed this dish. Perfect starter of a meal.Prawn Linguine: Fried garlicky prawns, shaved fennel, tomatoes, chilli & rocket. Fresh ingredients do make a difference. Fresh homemade pasta and prawn, tossed well in a tangy tomato sauce, the dish does not disappoint. There are two sizes that you can order from, the small portion can be finished within a few mouthfuls. 30-day Matured Prime Sirloin: 280g chargrilled steak cooked to your liking & served with wild mushrooms, peppery endives & funky chips. The steak could do a bit more seasoning. I guess I was expecting too much, so I got pretty disappointed when it could not be compared to the likes of Morton’s and Bedrock. The service at Jamie’s Italian was commendable. Friendly, alert and efficient, they created a memorable dining experience. Want more of Jamie’s Italian? A little birdie told me a new branch is opening in Orchard.

Jamie’s Italian Singapore, Vivo City
Vivo City, 1 HarbourFront Walk
#01 165-167
Singapore (098585)

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thurs: 12pm-10pm
Fri: 12pm-11pm
Sat: 9.30am-11pm
Sun: 9.30am-10pm
Tel: +65 67335500

Kko Kko Nara @Tanjong Pagar

Tanjong Pagar road has turned into an enclave of popular Korean restaurants. Most of them serve various renditions of Korean fried chicken and watermelon soju. Kko Kko Nara is a typical family-style Korean restaurant which offers typical Korean fare and a variety of Korean fried chicken. Owner Ms Eon Lee, is a self-taught Korean cook who spent 6 months perfecting her fried chicken recipe before opening the restaurant in 2008.

Bu Dae Jji Gae: Reputably known as the Army Stew or Kimchi Stew, this hotpot consists of spam, sausages, mushroom, Korean rice cake, tofu, kimchi and a mixture of vegetables. The dish was created as a cheap solution to warm the body and fill the tummy on cold winter months. The flavours are contrastingly spicy, salty and tangy, keeps you wanting more. Garlic Chicken Wings: Chicken wings marinated with garlic and soya sauce, they were surprisingly tasty and well-cooked. The skin is crispy and glazed, while the meat is tender and well-seasoned. One of the best fried chicken wings I’ve had so far!Mini Fishcake soup:  Tasty rectangular fish cakes in soya sauce soup, constantly kept warm. Steaming hot soup is the perfect solution to a chilly weather.

During my research for this restaurant, I came across several negative reviews by several bloggers. It made me realise that we should always be open-minded when reading food reviews. Take a look at the publish date and keep in mind that standards can drop or get better over time. Chefs have their off-days too. In the end, always give the place a try yourself before making the judgement.

Kko Kko Na Ra Chicken & Food
68 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088489

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 12pm-3pm, 6pm-3am
Sun: 6pm-3am

Pince & Pints Lobster Restaurant & Bar @Duxton

The famous lobster bar rolled into our shores almost a year ago last July but I’ve only managed to paid them a visit recently. Technically my second time because I got turned back by the long waiting time. But this time, my perseverance paid off and I managed to snag counter seats almost immediately. Not taking any reservations, the restaurant attracts long queue that can go beyond an hour every weekend. I appreciate and love how the restaurant is focused on what they are doing and only has 3 dishes on their food menu. The lobster roll, whole live lobster (either grilled or steam) and chili lobster with mantouPhoto 2-5-15 6 49 35 pmThe Lobster Roll: Indeed, it is THE lobster roll. The bread roll is pan-fried and yet not too oily. Soft and warm on the inside, aromatic and a little crisp on the outside. Then you find yourself staring at the chunks of lobster meat spilling from the center of the roll. By the way, all of the lobster meat in that one roll comes from one single lobster. Tossed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, the lobster meat is fresh, sweet and savoury at the same time. Do not forget to add a squeeze of lemon for an extra boost.
Photo 2-5-15 6 49 16 pmGrilled Whole Lobster: Pince and Pints are dedicated to serving the best. Their lobsters are imported from Boston, Maine and Canada, so it is no wonder that their live whole lobsters are juicy and fresh. For the more adventurous, dip your lobster meat into the herbed butter sauce for an elevated taste.

The lobster roll from Pince & Pints is truly impressionable and has definitely set a high benchmark for its competitors. They have aced every component of the lobster roll, including their straight cut fries. Despite a limited menu, this place will keep people coming back for more. And that includes me.

Pince & Pints 
32 Duxton Rd
Singapore 089496

Opening hours:
Mon-Sat: 5pm-11pm
Sun: Closed

Arteastiq @Mandarin Gallery

There is something very alluring about Arteastiq: a linguistic play between Artistic, and tea. Interior designs are somewhat whimsical; a partition is created by hanging bird cages. Windows face the streets of Orchard, offering a view of Singapore’s most popular shopping district. Besides the view, Arteastiq is mainly known for 2 things: Their tea blends and its art jamming concept. For just $48, you can pretend to be Picasso for 3 hours and paint to your hearts content. Do check out their weekday promotion prices too. Photo 29-12-14 3 01 38 pmIced Lycée Tea: One of the drinks that caught my attention was their iced lychee tea. Refreshing and addictive, it is the perfect drink to cool our hot tropical afternoon. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetHot Ginger Tea: Ginger Tea has an acquired taste and not many can appreciate it. But it is known for its numerous health benefits and cure for common illness. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetGreen Tea Latte and Chocolate Coffee: The green tea latte was unimpressionable, and in fact a little too milky. However, the chocolate coffee was jaw-dropping. Deep, dark chocolate Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetViva Duck: One of my favourite dishes at Arteastiq, smoked duck goes extremely well with the wraps.
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetPrime Dawn: Pan-fried potato-brocoli medallion, scrambled eggs and cheesy roasted tomato with sausage. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAnte Meridiem: Cheesy potato gratin with salmon, topped with rockets. As usual, it is hard to find a place who can produce a perfectly seared salmon fillet.

There are many reasons to take a trip down to Arteastiq. Be it to paint or to grab an afternoon tea,  one visit would never be enough to try the menu that they have to offer. To date, I’ve been here three times.

Arteastiq
Mandarin Gallery, #04-14/15
333 Orchard Road, Singapore 238867

Opening Hours:
Weekday: 11am – 10:30pm
Weekend: 10am – 10:30pm
Tel: 6235 8370

Nara Thai @Ion Orchard

IMG_8324

Nara Thai is an upscale Thai Restaurant that took over Burger King’s spot at the basement of Ion Orchard. Originally founded in Thailand in 2003 by a group of female entrepreneurs, their dishes draw inspirations from authentic recipes that have been reinvented and modernised. Classy and contemporary interior settings, polished and warm service, the dining experience at Nara Thai definitely leaves a lasting impression and a trail of dust for its competitors to pick up. IMG_8325Pandan Chicken: I have always been obsessed with ordering this dish whenever I’m having Thai food. I think it’s a habit from young I guess. Or maybe it’s just fascinating to unravel the chicken meat from its tightly woven pandan leaf. I am always one to enjoy fried chicken that is seasoned well(marinade goes far beyond the skin) but I thought it would be better if they could retain more moisture. Nobody loves a dry chicken. IMG_8326Green Curry with Chicken: This was the only dish we ordered that was not recommended on their menu. And sad to say, they were right. As a fan of green curry, I was really disappointed. It was too sweet and milky for my liking.IMG_8327Thai Fish Cakes: Glistening under the light, these fish cakes have been given the proper oiling treatment. But ignore the fact that it was deep fried and you will enjoy your meal much better. The fish cakes were a delight. Addictive, tasty and properly spiced, they bore resemblance to our “otah”. Please do not hesitate to use the dipping sauce that comes along. You will not regret it. IMG_8334Stir Fried Soft shall Crab: I vaguely remember having something similar at Thai Express but of course, the only resemblance remains in the taste profile. Otherwise, Nara Thai did it much better. A notch above its competitors. This dish may appear to be just a plate of yellow mess but looks can be deceiving. The highlight of my meal, the soft-shell crab in yellow curry was divine. The lightly battered crab was crunchy and tasty while the yellow curry was rich in flavours and spice, a great companion to a bowl of jasmine white rice. A speciality of the restaurant, the dish was cooked and seasoned perfectly.

It never really occur to me that Thai dishes were generally lacking in aesthetics. Well, not until I started to take a good look of my pictures. (Maybe it is just my mediocre photography skills.) But nonetheless, the Thai cuisine is a reminder to not judge a book by its cover. Beneath their matted appearance are flavours that are wondrously contradictory. Refined yet hearty, traditional yet innovative. Nara Thai maybe more pricey than your usual Thai food joint but it is worth a try, especially for its signature dishes.

Nara Thai
2 Orchard Turn
#B3-21
ION Orchard
Singapore 238801

Opening Hours:
11.30am-10.pm
Tel: 6634 5787

It was love at first bite.