The lure of Vietnamese food was too much. When her husband was transferred to Vietnam for work, Cheri was reluctant to follow…at least at first. Then a short trip and discovering banh mi led to a second longer trip diving deeper into local food. The third trip was even longer. “And then I figured I should just move here!” Cheri laughs.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Her professional name is Cheri The Glutton. And reading through her achievements, you understand why. She’s reviewed and written about over 1,500 restaurants in Japan and elsewhere, and in the ten years she’s been here she’s already written about 2,500 places. When she’s not tripping between cafés and restaurants, she’s a consultant for the food business doing marketing, creating recipes, translating content, and even making menus.
And she’s deeply protective of this city and the people who she’s fallen in love with. “Some older guys will sometimes complain that we’re 30 or 40 years behind Japan here, but that’s simply not true. Everything is moving so fast here right now, and there’s this energy epitomized by the young Vietnamese that make this such an incredible era to be a part of,” Cheri muses.
Of course, after ten years, she’s filled with good advice for her compatriots visiting too. “First, I’d say smile and people will smile back at you. People here are so kind and friendly, especially if you make the effort. Next, I’d say the local food is rightly famous, but there’s lots more going on in the foodie scene. These days, you can try food from around the world made by a chef from the same country as the cuisine. Finally, don’t be scared of motorbike horns. They actually make you feel safe and help you to know there are other people around!”
Can you give us a one-day Saigon food and drink itinerary?
I recommend hu tieu in the morning, then a set lunch at a French restaurant and then hot pot for dinner. And in between, explore a few cafés.
So, which are your favorite coffee shops right now?
There’s two. First, Mien Dong Thao. Japan’s too cold to have this type of garden café running all year round – we’d freeze out there! But here it works great, and Mien Dong Thao has a lovely pond in the middle and fountain that adds to the ambience. The coffee is served the traditional way, with the phin, and the food is good too. I recommend going in the morning.
The other coffee shop I recommend is 5 To 9 Coffee & Beer on Xuan Thuy. It’s a new one. I think it opened last year. And while it may not seem anything special, I’m amazed by their attention to detail, even with the ice they serve. The place has a creative vibe, with guitars on the wall and music coming from a record player, perfect for a relaxing coffee break.
Which is your favorite restaurant in Saigon?
It’s a Vietnamese restaurant, but such a unique place. It’s called Nha Tu. The owners are from Phan Rang so the taste differs a bit to the other restaurants I’ve tried. I’ve taken Japanese friends there who don’t usually like Vietnamese cuisine, and they immediately changed their mind! I recommend ordering the oyster hot pot, with lots of oysters bobbing around in a delicious crab soup! It’s the best.
How about your favorite bar in Saigon?
I’m choosing Baron Bar. It’s not especially fancy, but it’s very cozy. And their cocktails are so good. Try the ones they make with Vietnamese coffee.
Which is your favorite place for street food?
Oc is street food, right? If so, then I’m picking Oc Khanh. Oc was one of my biggest discoveries in Saigon. In Japan, we’re no strangers to eating shell fish. But our way of preparing it is more simple. We eat them raw or grilled. But here, there’s so many sauces and recipes. I think these guys could teach the Japanese a thing or two about how to service and enjoy this kind of food!
What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever been?
Visiting Cho Dau Moi Binh Dien at midnight. It’s kind of surreal to see a busy market in the middle of the night. But it’s also great to discover where Saigon’s food comes from.
What’s your favorite date spot in Saigon?
Café Tram. The menu is nothing special, but the vibe is amazing. The decor has all these Asian accents, but with a special sense of mystery. I guess it’s popular amongst local people but so far not for the Japanese. I created a Cheri Map, for subscribers only, and this place features on there.
Where do you go in Saigon to escape the noise?
There’s a place in Thao Dien called ZuZu that instantly transports you to Central Vietnam with its dark wooden walls and carvings. They have a store, and everything for sale is so carefully crafted. It’s just such a peaceful place.
What’s a great place to go to get an amazing view of the city?
I love the view from OMG. You get to look down on Ben Thanh Market and see it from an angle you’ve never seen before. These days, the traffic has decreased, but when the city is buzzing, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the buzz of the city.
In the daytime, TWG Cafe in Takashimaya is nice for its views. You can see the Le Loi and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia crossing out of the window.
Where do you go outside of Saigon for a break?
I usually go to Phu Quoc. But for somewhere closer I go to Binh Duong. There’s a cafe there called Gio Va Nuoc Cafe where you hear crickets chirping, and can listen to the sound of rain while enjoying a Vietnamese coffee laced with rum.
Finally, can you describe Saigon in one sentence?
Saigon is full of joy…and full of amazing food!
Photos of Cheri by Nghia Ngo and translation by David Kaye.