Miss Ba’s Old Saigon Pho

When I first came to Saigon in the early 1990s I found a charming and slow moving little low-rise city whose tallest building was the then 10 storey Caravelle hotel. Clerks in the then few banks spoke French and closed up shop from noon to two for “le dejuner.” But soon the leisurely lady bestirred herself and began to rise. Office and hotel towers shot up like bamboo and sugar... Read More

Jenga

 It was mid afternoon. With my big shades, and my Panama hat pulled down low over my eyes, I slouched into Hien & Bob’s Pub like a private eye working a case. Outside, the tropical sun blazed and glared with painful brightness. But inside the bar its shadowy coolness wrapped around me like a trench coat. There she was, behind the bar. Gorgeous as usual, dressed in one... Read More

Coffee Calm

Back in the States, Canada, Oz, NZ or UK, coffee is something often taken on the fly. Battling traffic on the way to work you pull into the 7-11, or other factory made convenience store. You rush in. You pour a hot brown liquid, that often smells like a dirty ashtray, into a paper cup, slap on a lid, throw ever increasing amounts of small money down on the counter and you’re... Read More

Saigon Rooftop View a la Proust

I saw the most startling thing not long ago. Not long ago I saw a view of Saigon for the first time. Now this was not the Saigon I used to know when she was a callow girl from a far-away province on the far side of the world. No. I saw the new Saigon, and I saw her with new eyes. I saw the ultra-modern, international lady who still wears the Ao Dai and limpet hat of her past. I... Read More

Cha Ca La Vong of Hanoi & Saigon

Do you want to taste history? Do you want to send your senses back more than a hundred years? It’s easy to do. You can do it in Hanoi, or here in Saigon in District 1 or District 3. The oldest restaurant in this country is Cha Ca La Vong of Hanoi. And they have two outlets in Saigon these days. So if you’d like to have exactly the same “businessman’s lunch”... Read More

Sinh To, the Smoothie

There was one bright candle in the dark night of the gastronomic Bad Old Days before the mid 1990s. A little beacon of cool relief that you could count on finding at any given street corner or roadside rest any time of day or night. It was the most beguiling combination of Vietnamese artifice and natural goodness: the fruit smoothie, known here as sinh to. Now I’m not talking... Read More

Clark Gable and Nachos in Vietnam

What in the great wide world could Hollywood heart-throb Clark Gable, nachos, and Vietnam ever have in common? Hey, this is Vietnam. Never be surprised at anything! In 1932, Gable, the then reigning “King of Hollywood,” and Jean Harlow made a flick called Red Dust. Gable played a rubber planter and Harlow a hooker. And the red dust referred to in the title was the soil of southern... Read More

Saigon Says, Hail, Caesar! (salad)

It’s a good life we lead here as expats. “Palm trees grow, rents are low, and the feeling is layback.” Being on the far side of the world, however, there are certain things we must do without. Although, I must say, the situation is improving. Back in the day it was impossible to find super premium gin. The best one could do then was a pint of Gordon’s. That’s... Read More

Gin & Tonic in Saigon

The day was beastly hot, not long ago. I had been stumbling through the narrow alleyways (the hems) of “The Pham” keeping track of all the continuous changes and deciding if they’re good or bad. It’s part of my job as a self-appointed arbiter of taste. I was sweating bullets and much in need of blessed relief. Now if you’ve lived long anywhere in the tropics you know that... Read More

Hot Vit Lon, the Balut

Vietnamese Hot Vit Lon, the Philippine Balut No matter what part of the world you come from, if you travel much in Vietnam, you are going to encounter food that is unusual, strange, maybe even immoral, or just plain weird. Of course “strange” depends upon your point of view. The fiercely omnivorous Vietnamese find nothing strange in eating insects, algea, offal or fish bladders.... Read More