Vidu Is Mayu’s Lip-Smacking One-Dish Chicken Curry Shop For A Cause

It’s a strange thing, how curry catapulted its way into the hearts (and mouths) of Japanese – people like Mayu who, at her hole-in-the-wall Japan Town restaurant, serves only one dish, her chicken curry. “If you come back on Sunday,” she suggests excitedly, “I’ll let you try my new prawn curry!”

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

She called the restaurant, which doesn’t have a menu – why would it when there’s only one dish – Vidu, meaning ‘example,’ “just because it sounds nice in Vietnamese.”

“My space in this alley is tiny so I’d rather focus on the quality than the variety,” Mayu smiles. 

Things are simple that way around here. Entering the front door, open for just two and a half hours at lunch, is like a portal into Mayu’s world. You sit down, get served a glass or water, and wait. Then the curry arrives.

Mayu and her unique curry
Mayu works in silence. There’s the occasional sizzle of sauce in the pan, or clatter of pots, but that’s all. 

Then The Curry Arrives… 

For a cuisine that traditionally focuses on fresh ingredients, expressed naturally, thick, rich curries are the antithesis of most Japanese food. But still, they love curry. Only, in this incarnation, it’s not the same as intense, spicy Indian curries – it’s usually sweeter and often the spiciness is barely detectable. 

The best guess is that around 70 years ago, during the country’s Meiji era, curry became popular in Japan as it rapidly modernized. It might have been the British who brought it over. And, like most things, the Japanese kept evolving it, till it became ubiquitous even outside of the country. Today, the Japanese curry chain CoCo Ichibanya has around 1,304 branches in Japan and over 170 international outlets. 

Mayu’s curry is a bit different. At Vidu she makes a version that’s neither Japanese-style nor Indian-style. “It is an original curry.  I sautée the onions slowly over time, and combine them with garlic, ginger and spices to create my original curry roux,” she tells us proudly and without giving too much away. 

Hand-drawn note
The hand-drawn note on the window creates some curiosity.

What are they selling?”

It’s usually a point of interest for people passing by. What’s happening in this sunken room with its small counter and window seating, with just Mayu and one helper in the tiny open kitchen.

“What are they selling?” a tourist asks her friend, poking their heads in the door and glancing around at the room full of hungry customers. “Chicken curry, I think?” her friend replies. 

That’s all you have to go on really. Because, besides that, there’s just a hand-drawn note in the window with this week’s opening times. And, usually, a little cartoon to accompany it. 

Bowls and dishes used in Vidu Curry
Piles of Vietnamese ceramic bowls and dishes are neatly displayed on the kitchen counter.

When Fate Intervenes

All this was never in Mayu’s plans anyway. She’s lived in Saigon for some time now. “Let me think…” she wonders aloud. “I arrived back in 1997. And, I never had an intention to open up a restaurant. Maybe it’s fate?”

And so, in the shadows of the high-rise office buildings in this part of downtown District 1, in the maze of little Japanese alleys off Thai Van Lung street, Vidu Curry shelters itself from the hustle and bustle of Saigon. 

There are, of course, several Japanese restaurants here, so to stand out, Mayu chose to create a space that felt a little different – a small space that felt like an old Vietnamese diner.

Entering the restaurant, there’s a row of authentic Vietnamese ceramic bowls and dishes on the counter, colorful polka dot cups and a couple of Hanoi-style beer glasses. 

There are only four seats at the dining counter and three seats near the window. So, if you have a group of more than four people they’ll often have to wait on the bench outside, and linger in the alley, while Mayu makes space. 

It feels meditative inside, despite the location. Mayu works in silence. There’s the occasional sizzle of sauce in the pan, or clatter of pots, but that’s all. 

Vidu's chicken curry
Mayu’s Vidu chicken curry is a feast for the eyes, and its taste is unique, somewhere between a Japanese and an Indian curry.

Chicken Curry With A Cause

Although she never envisaged running a restaurant – even one this small – Mayu did once run a coffee shop, on Tu Xuong Street in District 3. And there’s another Vidu in Thao Dien. She’ll divide her time between that one and this one – so the sign in the window that’s updated every week is especially useful. 

When it arrives, the curry comes in a rustic Song Be ceramic bowl. There’s a soft chicken drumstick and a fried egg with a shimmering yolk on a layer of fluffy white rice. And, on top of that, Mayu pours her signature curry sauce and a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots. 

“Customers tell me that it doesn’t taste like anything they’ve had before,” Mayu smiles. 

And so, little by little, her Vidu and the one-dish-menu curry has become well-known through word of mouth. “That’s true,” she agrees. “Most of the customers know my restaurant thanks to their friends.”

Satisfied customers filing out often drop their tip into the piggy bank by the door. Mayu uses the money to help local orphans. “Usually, I will bake the children cakes, or buy them goods to support their life”, Mayu smiles, hugging the little piggy bank in her arms. 

Mayu's piggy bank for disadvantaged children
Mayu’s piggy bank.

Some of those customers will come two or three times a week. “But don’t forget to come back Sunday,” Mayu reminds us. “I might even make you my oyster curry!” And with that, she closes the doors for another day.


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