“It wasn’t always like this,” Gocchi remembers. Ten years ago, there were barely any Japanese restaurants. “Now I can get everything from monojyaki, to curry just like back home, to udon…” she adds as she prepares to take us on a Japanese food tour of Saigon.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
It’s probably because of her sister that she’s here. And then there was a gradual feeling that office live back in Japan wasn’t fulfilling enough. “I just began to have this urge to travel,” Gocchi tells us, “even short breaks overseas felt inspiring.” Then her sister was accepted onto a study abroad program here and Gocchi came over too. “Actually, I arrived even before my sister,” she laughs.
It didn’t take long to acclimatize. “Vietnam is far more developed than people think back home, and there’s this youthful buzz, and businesses popping up everywhere. In fact, I’m from the countryside in Japan. Young people move to the cities, so there’s lots of old people…it’s not the most exciting place to be.”
She’s been running a website full of insights into Saigon – featuring everything from travel to beauty, food, and education. “Basically, I have no secrets!” she shrugs, “Everything I know and love is already online for everyone to discover.”
Lately, her channels’ audiences have been diversifying. “Right up until last year, my main focus was writing articles for Japanese readers living here, or travelers planning a trip over from Japan. But recently, there’s been an upsurge in Vietnamese and non-Japanese expats following my foodie content especially on Instagram.”
There’s more to write about than ever. There’s countless more Japanese restaurants than when she arrived in 2010 “and there’s so many wonderful locally-owned restaurants too…”
There’s one omission in her content, though. “Just don’t ask me about bars,” she advises, “I’m a mom now, so I don’t get the chance to discover places to drink much these days.”
Describe your Saigon in one sentence…
Easy. Full of energy!
Where would you take us on a one-day Japanese food tour of Saigon?
One thing missing here is a great place for a Japanese breakfast. You can probably only get one at a Japanese hotel. So, let’s skip straight to lunch. For lunch, let’s go to Sandaime Kamura Specialty Of Tuna. And for dinner, Yazawa Saigon.
What’s the most unusual Japanese food you’ve found here?
It’s the monjayaki at Miyakoya. I’d describe it as something similar to okonomiyaki, but it’s far runnier and you eat it with a small spatula. With okonomiyaki, you have a sauce. But monjayaki doesn’t require a sauce because it’s already flavored with dashi broth that contains kelp, bonito flakes and water.
Where do you go for an authentic taste of Japan?
This might surprise you. But it’s Coco Ichibanya. Normally here, restaurants might try to localize their flavors, but Coco Ichibanya keep it authentically Japanese, and so it tastes just the same as it does back home.
Right now, which is your favorite Japanese restaurant of all?
Actually, this place has been my favorite since shortly I arrived, when it opened. I’ve been a regular at Ebisu ever since. And every visit is as delicious as the last. They do lots of things well, but I usually order their udon.
And which izakaya the best?
It’s been a while, but Mangestu has always been my favorite. I used to go all the time. Their small plates of izakaya food are all super tasty, and they have a wide range of shochu.
After all that, where should we go for dessert?
Go to Trung. The Vietnamese owner does this wonderful flan, a crème caramel. There’s always new items on the menu if you feel like a change. And they’re all delicious – I get a sense that the owner is always pushing to make her dishes even better…
Photos by Nghia Ngo.