Peter Cuong Franklin

“The dining scene in Saigon has changed dramatically,” insists Peter Cuong Franklin. The Vietnam-born chef developed a passion for cooking from an early age – his mother runs a noodle shop in Central Vietnam – and today champions the country’s vibrant food culture. As well as running street-food inspired restaurant Anan Saigon, the Harper Bazaar’s Vietnam Chef of the Year 2019 works with local charities like STREETS International, helping disadvantaged youths gain experience and employment in the hospitality industry.

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An Introduction To Dining In Saigon

The dining scene in Saigon has changed dramatically since I returned in 2017 to open Anan Saigon. The name means “eat, eat” in Vietnamese. The following year came modern Vietnamese bar, Nhau Nhau – “drink, drink”. I think most people still view Vietnam through the lens of the old colonial charms of Hanoi and Hoi An. No doubt these cities offer centuries-old architecture, a rich culture and good traditional Vietnamese food, but if you want to experience the new Vietnam – go to Saigon. This dynamic city is the culinary capital of Vietnam where you can get anything and everything at any hour of the day from amazing local street food, snail restaurants and barbecue beer joints to international flavours such as traditional French (Restaurant La Villa, Cocotte and Le Corto), Australian Mediterranean wood fire grill (Quince and Stoker), Latin American (Sol Kitchen & Bar), Japanese (Mangetsu, Kiyota Sushi and Sushi Rei) and world-class, single-origin chocolates from Vietnam (Maison Marou Saigon).

A New Generation Of Vietnamese Chefs

Chef Thuan at Esta, Chef Viet Hong at The Monkey Gallery and Chef Thao Na at Atelier Des Rêves are the ones to watch and their restaurants are worth checking out to experience the new dining scene in Saigon. Chef Tung at Tung Dining in Hanoi is also doing interesting things with food inspired by Nordic fine dining.

My Favourite Bowl of Pho

Classic old school pho joints such as Pho Le and Pho Pasteur are perennial favourites for a big bowl of everything in Saigon-style pho. Pho can be a very personal thing and everyone has their preferences and a specific pho shop where they go regularly. My current favourite is Pho Bo Phu Gia, a small shop that opens only for a few hours in the morning. It serves Hanoi-style pho where the beef is sautéed with garlic and then poured on top of the pho bowl and garnished with a massive amount of spring onions. It’s not your usual bowl of pho but it’s flavourful and damn satisfying. Most people go for the beef and often overlook the pho ga (chicken pho) which is also delicious and comforting. Pho Ha is my go-to chicken pho joint, partly because it’s within walking distance from my restaurant, and partly because it’s open late until 4am, so it’s a great place for late-night cravings.

Barbecue And Beer, The Saigon Way

When out-of-town friends visit I like to take them to one of the city’s many large, loud and raucous barbecue and beer joints like 5KU Station – for do it yourself grilled meats and seafood – or an outdoor snail restaurant such as Oc Oanh. It’s a little bit out of the city center in District 8, but it’s worth the journey. Snail restaurants, or quan oc, are one of the quintessential, must-do Saigon dining and drinking experiences. We have a lot of snail restaurants here in Saigon and they’re all named “Oc” something: this is the Vietnamese word for snails and is a broad term encompassing almost any creature with a shell. All offer seafood gathered from Vietnam’s abundant coastlines which can be ordered raw, grilled, steamed and stir-fried. These places offer good times with a lot of eating and drinking with friends in the Vietnamese nhau [Vietnamese term for ‘drinking with friends’] tradition.

World-Class Japanese Cuisine

Due to the large number of Japanese expatriates and the strong cultural connection between Vietnam and Japan, Saigon has a thriving underground Japanese dining and drinking scene. And I love Japanese food. Go to Kiyota Sushi for a reasonably priced omakase. Sushi Rei – related to Sushi Masuda from Tokyo – is worth checking out if you can afford the price tag that comes with quality seafood imported from Japan. For a fun and easy night out I like to go to Mangetsu, a dark basement izakaya for shochu (Japanese spirit) and delicious food cooked simply, or Pizza 4P’s for Japanese fusion pizza with local cheese made in Dalat city, my hometown located 1,500m above sea level in the Central Highlands region. Mutahiro, a 12-seat ramen joint hidden in Japan Town, offers one of the most delicious bowls of noodle soup available anywhere. It’s world-class ramen, right here in Saigon.

Where To Drink

For late-night drinks I usually go to one of the local pubs near our restaurant for the ice-cold beers, friendly staff and meet up with friends and some of the chefs in town who also come to relax after service. Sake Central and Standing Bar in Japan town are good places to discover sake. The Studio Saigon, Summer Experiment and The Cocktail Merchants are cool cocktail bars worth checking out. For the perfect cocktail, I am a fan of Dat Nguyen, the bartender at Yugen Bar. His cocktails are understated, precise and focused in a way that lets you appreciate the individual ingredients with each sip.

Guide last updated January 2020

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