PHOnomenal Eats in Ho Chi Minh City
January 15, 2019
by Shannon Donaghy
If you’re anything like me, food is the first thing you think about when considering what makes any culture unique. As an American, one of the only ways in which our “melting pot” culture obtains individuality is through food. That being said, I am always eager to try new foods, no matter where I travel. Even with my love of food, pushing myself to try new cuisine can be a step outside of my comfort zone.
This past spring, I had the privilege of traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I got to explore the incredible atmosphere and culture of the city for six whole days. One of the first things we did was grab some unforgettable food. In all honesty, I am itching to go back to Vietnam, and one of the main reasons is the incredible cuisine.
Katinat Saigon Kafe
Crazy for Coffee
I am a shameless coffee addict, so as soon as I learned I would be traveling to Vietnam, I knew I had to get my hands on some coffee, one of the many food/drinks Vietnam is known for. I spent the better part of one of my days in Ho Chi Minh City cafe hopping, trying as much coffee as my blood pressure would allow. One of the cafes I stumbled into was Katinat Saigon Kafe.
Located in the Bến Nghé district of Ho Chi Minh City, Katinat didn’t look like much from the outside. Tucked neatly into the corner of a random city block, it all but disappeared unless you stopped to look around for a bit. There wasn’t much room to do anything but order your coffee downstairs, but once you went upstairs, that’s where Katinat’s charm really shined through. They have a small balcony where you can sit and sip your coffee while watching Vietnamese traffic rush and honk down below and it is absolutely fascinating. If you don’t know, Vietnam is famous for its extreme traffic situations; it can be very intense and intimidating as a pedestrian on the street, especially when traffic is bad and you find yourself pinned against a traffic light pole in an attempt to protect yourself from the mopeds that have begun pouring onto the sidewalk. With that in mind, watching the chaotic traffic patterns in Ho Chi was absolutely incredible from the very removed vantage point Katinat provided. I was so fascinated by watching the traffic that I spent nearly two hours here and even went back the next day.
What the Pho?
One of the must-eat dishes when traveling to Vietnam is Pho. And one of the best places to try it is very close to the Ho Chi Minh city center, a small bistro called Propaganda. I enjoyed some lovely spring rolls, followed by delicious Pho and some amazing craft beers, exclusive to the restaurant itself. I am not one to particularly enjoy beer, so you can trust me when I tell you it is worth trying. Vietnam is also known for a special brand of beer called Tiger, which is also delicious, though if you’re going to Propaganda, definitely give their craft beer a try first.
Splashed with vibrant murals and washed in a very aesthetically pleasing low, ambient light, Propaganda was by far one of the highlights of my trip. The restaurant is only a short walk from the War Remnants Museum, which is also definitely worth a visit, especially if you are American. Known for its PHOnomenal Pho, Propaganda delivered on all fronts. I also went back to Propaganda after falling in love with it the first time.
Emphasis on “Secret”
This destination was by far the most breathtaking experience I had in Vietnam. One of the things I loved most about the Secret Garden (pictured above) was the experience of finding it. If you are having trouble locating the Secret Garden, you are probably going in the right direction. My friends and I ended up betting an Uber to make our search a little more precise, and still, we ended up going against all of our instincts as travelers to find this place. Also in the Bến Nghé district, you’ll know you’re close to Secret Garden when you spot the tiniest sign bearing the restaurant’s name next to a very forboding open gate. Through the gate, you’ll wander past moped upon moped until you find a little hole in the wall with a set of stairs. The building is deceptively tall, but once you climb more stairs than you signed up for, you will reach a very strange, insignificant looking doorway. Through there will be the Secret Garden. They aren’t kidding when they call it “secret.”
I enjoyed some amazing spring rolls here, along with a very refreshing glass of white wine, some surprisingly appetizing stuffed snails, and the breathtaking view. Perched on a rooftop, this open-air restaurant is littered with string lights, lanterns, beautiful views, and a hysterical number of stray cats. With its delicious cuisine and unbeatable views and atmosphere, Secret Garden is a must-see if you’re traveling to Ho Chi Minh City.
All in all, if you’re looking for spectacular dining in your travels, you cannot go wrong with Ho Chi Minh City. Because of the exchange rate, almost everything in Vietnam is cheaper than you’d expect, so it is an excellent destination for treating yourself and trying out some new and fancy foods. Be careful to learn the proper name of everything you’re ordering, however. Pho is pronounced like “fuh,” not “fo,” which is a common misconception by foreigners. If you pronounce Pho with a long “o” sound, you won’t be asking for a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup, but rather a streetwalker. Always be respectful and mindful of the culture you are exploring, and try to see language barriers as a form of comedy as opposed to a true barrier. Try some delicious food, and be safe and mindful while doing it.