Saigonita Le Minh Tam Serves Up Her Side Of Saigon

Le Minh Tam lit up the city with her Saigonita project. As part of Saigon’s foodie fabric, we asked the chef to share her side of the city – from best date spots to the greatest gifts to take home.

Minh Tam is to many a true creationista. An artist of flavour, she has been serving up bold Mexican-Vietnamese creations to the people Saigon. They’re two food types with surprisingly lots in common, most obviously a sprig of coriander here and a squeeze of lime there.

Born and raised in Texas, her love of Mexicana inspired that Saigonita private kitchen venture. More recently a combined desire to dig beneath the surface of Vietnamese cuisine and to trace her heritage led to an epic road trip and YouTube show. With plans to return to the States soon, we wanted to grab a precious moment with one of Saigon’s foodie favourites to get her insider’s guide to the city. This is Minh Tam’s Saigon.

“Saigon? It’s a city of hot chaos. It’s loud and bright.”

Minh Tam, can you describe Saigon to us in a few sentences?

A city of hot chaos. It’s loud and bright. There are a million sights and smells.

Saigon is as crazy and chaotic as New York is, if not more so – every second on the streets is a conscious effort to not get run over by a motorbike! But the people here are as entrepreneurial as anywhere else in the world – I think we give people in the Bay Area a run for their money, not only because of our skills but because we’re a quarter of the price too! 

Where should we go to feel good?

Massages are a must in Saigon. Miu Miu is one of my favourites. They have five locations and counting, but be sure to book at least 24 hours in advance – they’re popular spots!

Where should we go for street food?

I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian but I love Pho Chay Nhu for their vegan versions of phở and mì quảng, a Central Vietnamese noodle soup dish.

Where should we take a date?

Cooku’s Nest in District 3. Hands down. It’s a small, candlelit place with a live singer accompanied by a guitarist and a violinist. The songs are usually in English, Vietnamese, and French, and they build the right atmosphere for a date. Your special someone will love it.

Le Minh Tam at Blank Lounge in the Landmark 81 building.

Where should we go for lunch or brunch?

For lunch, I suggest Padma de Fleur. It’s a flower shop-cum-restaurant serving homely Vietnamese comfort food beautifully plated. Don’t be deceived, this is far more than simply a flower shop.

However, if you’re looking to brunch (something I prefer to do at weekends!) Café Marcel is where to go. A beautiful space inspired by the beach towns of Southern France, the chefs serve some of the best French toast I’ve ever tasted. It’s impossibly crunchy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. 

Both of these places will guarantee double taps on your Instagram posts. 

Which district is best to hang out in?

I actually do most of my living in District 1. Does that make me lame or predictable? It just has some of the best businesses in town! 

Where should I go to meet new people?

Tinder. No, really those dating apps are filled with tourists hoping to get a free local guide and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. 

I run a street photography tour on Airbnb Experiences but so many people are hoping to get information from me for free. My advice is to respect people’s time and knowledge and try paying for an Airbnb Experience. You’ll meet both locals and tourists that way, and you’ll be supporting the local economy – it’s a win-win situation. 

The chef’s Saigonita project drew guests to her private kitchen to test out uniquely Mexican-Vietnamese flavours.

Where’s the best coffee?

I’ve never been a big coffee drinker – I have a huge sweet tooth when it comes to drinks. Saying that, I do really like Cong Caphe‘s coconut coffee. It’s like an icy coconut milkshake with a shot of coffee – sweet and full of energy, just the way I like it. 

Which place can be our little secret?

Unlock. Shh.

Where should I go on a Friday night?

Blank Lounge on the 75th floor of Landmark 81. I would never normally suggest the tallest building of a city as a good Friday night venue (they’re usually geared towards tourists), but this place is actually tastefully designed and…yours truly helped work on the food menu so you know it’s going to be good. A little self-promotion is okay, right? 

What should I take home as a gift?

Go to Le Saigonais or Vietcetera Cafe for some cool local brands. I really like the notebooks from Tired City because they depict traditional images in a contemporary way. There’s one notebook I have with an image of a young woman in an áo dài (traditional Vietnamese dress) skateboarding. 

I’d also recommend Odjects. It’s a homegrown brand selling unique jewellery pieces at a reasonable price. I can tell from little things, like the backing of their earrings, that their jewellery is of the highest quality.

Le Minh Tam just returned from a trip around Vietnam, discovering new flavours and catching up with family.

Which tourist destination is worth our time?

The War Remnants Museum is important. We cannot forget what mankind can do to each other…. 

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