Last week was one of those rare weeks where I found myself at a bit of a loss of things to do. Consequently, I spent a lot of time enjoying some of Saigon’s millions of cafés, whiling away the hours with coffee and snacks. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to review some of my favourite mid-afternoon hideouts.
1) For the Working Lunch
ID Café, 61B Tu Xuong Street, District 3, HCMC (http://www.idcafe.net/)
This café is hidden away down a small alleyway off Tu Xuong Street. When you enter the main gates, you are greeted by a gorgeous rainforest-style patio. Heading up to the second floor, it is clear that this place is popular with the locals, more specifically, young professionals; I imagine the free Wifi keeps them coming back for more. The reason I keep returning to this wonderful café though is for their ‘bún chả giò’ (deep fried spring rolls on a bed of Vermicelli noodles, covered in a blend of fish sauce and peanuts). It sounds strange to the untrained eye, I know, but it’s actually considered one of the more ‘boring’ Vietnamese lunch dishes. For me though, it hits all the right spots; carbs, tick! Greasy goodness, tick! Nuts, tick! What’s not to like? Similarly, their fruit smoothies are to die for. I usually opt for either the coconut or passionfruit but the menu is well and truly endless.
2) The Guilty Pleasure
Kesera Café Bar, 26/1 Le Thanh Ton, District 1, HCMC (http://www.keserakesera.com/)
This is another ‘back-alley delight’ and is my (not-so-secret) guilty pleasure. Cheesecake is the culprit here. I have never, in my entire 25 years of living, ever tasted such divine cheesecake as I have in this café; a New York style baked cheesecake with lightly whipped cream cheese and a perfectly crunchy biscuit base. I usually order this along with a hot Italian coffee (very rare in Saigon!) because it is served in the cutest ceramic cup and saucer with a tiny wooden stirring spoon and a minute piece of shortbread on the side; the perfect size for my Hobbit stomach. This is the place I go to when I need to escape Asia for a moment and indulge in some home comforts. All that’s missing is the cosy fire and the slippers!
3) For Value for Money:
Cuc Gach Café, 79 Phan Kế Bính, Đa kao, District 1, HCMC (http://www.cucgachcafe.com.vn/)
This is actually part of a chain of ‘countryside’ restaurants; there are 3 dotted around the city. I regularly go to the restaurant on Dang Tat Street (District 1) for dinner, but have only recently been introduced to the lunchtime hang out in the same District. The set up is the same as the restaurant; an old converted Vietnamese house, with antique furniture and a homely vibe. I come here mainly for their set lunches which they have every Friday. For just 80,000vnd (£2.50) you receive a 5 course lunch consisting, usually, of 2 types of fish, 1 type of meat and 2 vegetable dishes. Accompanying all this, you also get a huge bowl of rice, a light soup/broth and unlimited green tea, what a bargain! Also, on the first day of each lunar month, they offer a vegetarian version for the same price, with equally as delicious food; the garlic mushrooms and the fried tofu are my particular highlights.
4) For a Taste of Europe
Une Journee a Paris, 234 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, HCMC
I think I spoke too soon when labelling Kesera as my ‘Guilty Pleasure’. This small French patisserie offers some of the most delightful pastries, baguettes and cakes in Saigon. We’re talking buttered croissants, lemon meringues, macaroons, croque monsieurs, melted brie and camembert on a variety of freshly baked loaves and some wonderful fresh salmon; my mouth waters just at the thought of it. I imagine this café offers the perfect setting for a continental breakfast, however I only ever really venture there for a late afternoon snack. The decor is light and airy, plenty of bright colours and simplistic furniture; it’s an extremely peaceful atmosphere which is very necessary, as just outside, you are thrown back into the chaos of Ben Thanh Market. It’s definitely worth battling the hyperactivity for though, if not for the food, then for the very attractive French owners!
5) For Something Unique
Bazaar, 175 Vo Thi Sau, Ward 7, District 3, HCMC (https://www.facebook.com/BazaarCoffeeShop)
This has fast become my favourite afternoon hideout. I actually only stumbled across this cafe about a month ago, which is surprising as it is directly next door to CEFALT. Embedded into a crumbling wall and battling with a huge tree directly outside its main windows, it’s not hard to see how I’ve missed it previously. It is the quaintest little place though; split across 2 floors, there’s a small shop on the ground floor and a coffee lounge area on the second. However, by Western standards, the entire building is the total height of just one floor. Even as a 5ft1 woman, I struggled to negotiate my way up the minute winding staircase to the lounge. But this just adds to the charm of the place. The decor just screams vintage, the moment you enter you just know you are about to overload Instagram with snaps. There are brightly coloured shutters, along with a curtain made purely of coffee mugs, a painted brick wall where people can leave notes and the smallest wooden chairs and benches. It’s a pure Hobbit heaven; I’d say a maximum of 5 Western-sized individuals could squeeze into this place. Caution: Any visitors over 5ft should probably be wary of low hanging lights, door frames, shelves and bird cages!