They say that British colonizers left their former ‘assets’ with railways, while the French left bread and coffee. The quip is intended to be derisive, pointing to superior British planning and nation-building. But Ho Chi Minh City’s foodies may well disagree.
This city of seven or so million is thankful for the culinary tradition the French left. Along with the one million or so Chinese immigrants, the southern spicier take on Vietnamese food and the multitude of cuisines that have sprung up around the city over the last decade of rampant economic growth, Ho Chi Minh City has become a Mecca for lovers of fine food.
Among the most popular streets for food lovers in the southern melting pot are the small, narrow and quiet streets of Ngo Van Nam, Le Thanh Ton, Suong Nguyet Anh in District 1 and Nguyen Thi Dieu, Le Ngo Cat and Le Quy Don in District 3.
The secret of their success could well lie in the three features they share, Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Sai Gon Marketing) newspaper reported.
They are all located near downtown but with less traffic and a wide variety of local and international dishes available at countless roadside restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
Le Quy Don is among the latest destinations to enter the list of popular food streets in the southern hub.
Within the last 12 months, countless restaurants, bars and café have been sprung up on the quiet street, luring customers from across the country to the small area for a change of scenery and new dinning experiences.
Opened in 1992, Cay Tre (Bamboo) Restaurant charms customers as a throwback Vietnamese garden villa.
The humble eatery which can serve up to 100 guests a time offers a wide range of traditional Vietnamese food ranging from simple, inexpensive daily treats to fancier dishes like chicken cooked in clay pots and hot pot made from seafood and flowers.
Seafood lovers can also head for Ngoc Suong Restaurant for some of its renowned specialties of fish salad, seafood spring rolls and raw oysters.
“Le Quy Don was a quiet street with little light and few people passing by,” Ngoc Cuong, marketing director of the restaurant, said when recalling when Ngoc Suong first opened its doors in 1996.
Pricey Au Manoir De Khai also found a place in an old villa at the corner of Le Quy Don and Dien Bien Phu Street and serves up well-to-do locals with a premium French dining experience.
Residents living on the street soon found their homes surrounded with a bevy of dinning options, from the most luxurious dishes to bizarre delicacies of ethnic minorities.
More menu options at the street’s eateries also mean new clientele.
A few years ago, most restaurants only attracted businessmen and expats but the venues nowadays are packed with office workers and young, hip locals.
The high concentration eateries and coffee shops on the small streets has also motivated the business owners to look for more menu options, services, new targeted customers and improve the venues’ designs to compete with their next-door rivals.
Nha Toi (My House) Restaurant takes pride in its barbecue dishes while Red Tile Restaurant lures diners with its collection of rare delicacies from rural areas of Cambodia such as mouse and dried fish and catfish from Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.
The increasing number of food streets like Le Quy Don is, after all, a part of HCMC’s booming food industry where people are know for their love of food and their willingness to spend to prove it.