I loved sitting there on the kerb and just watching all the locals go by on what looked like millions of motorbikes.
The Australian celebrity chef and new Global Cuisine Ambassador for Vietnam Airlines gives us the lowdown on his second home…
What was your first impression of Ho Chi Minh?
I went to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time when I was 18 years old. When I arrived I was so amazed at the energy of the place – it was busy, it was bustling, it was loud… I really enjoyed the fast-pace of the city. I had street food for the very first time and it was incredible. I loved sitting there on the kerb and just watching all the locals go by on what looked like millions of motorbikes. I had never been there before, but I felt like I arrived home.
What are your three favourite restaurants to visit in Ho Chi Minh?
My first restaurant would have to be one called Oc Oanh – they serve a lot of snails and grilled seafood. I like it because they serve everything fresh. You can see everything being grilled in front of you. The atmosphere is very exciting. Big groups of people eating, chatting, drinking beer and enjoying the culture. My second would have to be Vietnam House, which is my own. It’s one of the best fine-dining restaurants in the city. What we do is what I’ve been doing Vietnam Airlines – elevating Vietnamese dishes. And my third would have to be no one particular place – I love to eat banh xeo or pho from any of the street food places.
Where is the best place to have a cocktail?
XU bar – I’ve been going there for over 20 years now. I believe they have the best cocktails because they use the best ingredients and they have a really good balance of flavours. And QUI Lounge – I love their Negroni cocktail.
Where is the best place to buy coffee?
Shin Coffee – you can find it in District 1 and District 2. They use Vietnamese coffee beans of course, from the highland area. They do different blends of coffee depending on what you like. I buy my coffee from there because I like to try coffee beans from different areas of Vietnam.
Best place to shop for ingredients?
I love to go to Chợ Cũ Market, which is an old market on Ton That Dam. It always fresh – it’s one small street and has been there for many, many years now. Great butcher, very fresh herbs and vegetables and fruit. It also has all the dry goods, noodles and sauces you need. You don’t need to walk around a big market, you can get it here all in one street.
Best place to shop for kitchen buys?
Chợ Lớn in district 5 (China town). I would buy woks, knives, sharpening stones, ladles, chopsticks, bowls there and they are all very affordable. It’s fun to go to District 5.
What souvenirs should you take home from Ho Chi Minh?
I always tell people to buy a local coffee. Take that back to your country and that will always remind you of Vietnam. We are one of the biggest coffee producers in the world and have a big coffee culture.
Follow Luke Nguyen on his travels