Having lived (and entertained) in Vietnam since 2010, I am always on the lookout for a great meal set amongst authentic yet real surroundings. As a traveller and executive advisor for all things ‘experiential’ with my role, it’s a pleasure I share with you my ‘director’s cut’ of the greatest places to dine while in Vietnam.
Vietnamese food is a balanced and light, palatable cuisine which varies with each diverse area from south to north. My recommendations here are inclusive of soul-rich Vietnamese food but also of some amazing western and fusion mixes for those who genuinely want to enjoy the best of gastronomy when travelling through this beautiful country.
While in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), yearning for my mother’s home cooked style meals, the choice is Cuc Gach Quan – an eclectic design serving up country style Vietnamese food. My mother, who imparted me my food and entertaining prowess, affirms this is the top choice for traditional and palatable Vietnamese food when in town – and so do a certain famous Hollywood family (when in town with their brew of kids).
(EATING THROUGH VIETNAM)
(A cosy corner for high tea at Villa Royale Treasures HCM City)
(Flaming beef cubes from LA Canh Nha Trang)
(Ancient Faifo, Hoi An)
(Bun Cha from Hanoi)
(Mi Quang from Hoi An)
Gaining a fix for fusion is also on offer in Vietnam’s commercial capital with 4P’s pizza – a perfect combination of ingredients to create Japanese themed Italian meals by a Japanese chef/owner Yasuke Masuko who was Italian trained. For the perfect Saigon sun downers, travellers can’t go wrong with a sunset cocktail and dinner at The Deck in the quaint and charming expat village of Thao Dien. Another way to escape the hustle and bustle of District 1 is to enjoy a couple of hours (easily) with high tea amongst the antiques and tea room of Villa Royale (also in Thao Dien).
Travelling north to the beaches of Nha Trang, I always include a barbeque meal at Lac Canh Restaurant – amazing marinated meats with a true local flair. The ambience is local and rustic and the recipe and family have operated this restaurant since forever! Top it off with cocktails and dance till dawn at the Sailing Club. Further to central Vietnam, the fusion continues in the UNESCO Heritage listed town of Hoi An with Ancient Faifo – a restaurant that celebrates the historic melting pot of Chinese, Vietnamese and Western influences that runs through the river of this town as its lifeblood since the 1600’s. Daily lunches in Hoi An town include the dumpling ‘White Rose’ and ‘Mi Quang’ which is evident throughout any of the fine local houses.
A scenic drive north is the ancient capital of Hue where you find the food imperialistically served and fashioned for a king. Delicate garnishing of fruit and vegetables mixed with rice based steam morsels are perfect even for the gluten free traveller. My choice in Hue is a local home hosted meal at the former home of Princess Ngoc Son (private reservations only).
For the perfect Saigon sun downers, travellers can’t go wrong with a sunset cocktail and dinner at The Deck in the quaint and charming expat village of Thao Dien
Moving onto the capital city of Hanoi where like HCM City, you find delectable street eats along with the finest of fusion and international cuisine. Top choices for lunch include ‘Bun Cha’ and a must-visit is the restaurant Dac Kim (since 1966). The safest way to try street food is to be escorted on a private street food tour who will connect you with a local foodie allowing a walking tour through the markets sampling foods along the way – a perfectly balanced way of exercise while indulging your taste buds. To balance out the local Vietnamese food, I indulge my western palate with a fix at El Gaucho – an Argentinian steakhouse that serves the best imported meats in town.
Linh Le is Global Director of Sales and Marketing for Trails of Indochina – a luxury tour operator through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. All restaurants listed have been tried and tested by the author and are available for reservations along with full travel itineraries inclusive of accommodation, private touring and transport planned by his team of artisanal travel designers. Trailsofindochina.com
© This article was first published in Nov/Dec 2015 edition of World Travel Magazine.