It’s hard to determine if the city is a place for foodies quite like a Michelin Guide. And in June, the first edition dedicated to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam was released.
The guide lists more than 103 eateries, including four with one Michelin star and 29 with Bib Gourmand suggestions for great value.
Prior to this, it was the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who put numerous restaurants in Vietnam onto the map – the most well-known is Bun Cha Huong Lien, located in Hanoi.
The humble noodle store gained fame after Anthony Bourdain was a guest along with Barack Obama – the then president of the United States – in 2016. The table at which they ate the bun cha (grilled meat along with rice noodles) and enjoyed cold beers was preserved in a glass case, much like an exhibit at a museum.
Anthony Bourdain (right) and then US president Barack Obama enjoy noodles and beer at the famous Bun Cha Huong Lien in Hanoi.
The introduction of the Michelin Guide and the Star Awards mark the beginning of a new era in the dining scene of Vietnam and suggests there’s much more than noodles or banh mi sandwiches.
Chef from Vietnam Peter Cuong Franklin Peter Cuong Franklin, who was previously employed as a chef in Hong Kong, leading restaurants Viet Kitchen and Chom Chom, returned to Vietnam in 2017 to launch Anan Saigon. The restaurant was among four that were awarded the Michelin’s top spot in its initial guidebook to Vietnam.
Chef from Vietnam, Peter Cuong Franklin, previously of Hong Kong’s Viet Kitchen and Chom Chom, returned to his native nation in the year 2017 and decided to launch Anan Saigon.
Franklin claims he’s witnessed an evolution of Ho Chi Minh’s restaurant scene during the last few years.
“When I returned to Vietnam, the dining scene was still very stuck in the Bourdain world view with street food and local eateries as the main draw,” the author states. “But I think the recognition from 50 Best and Michelin is starting to change the dynamics and old perceptions.”
Franklin believes that Vietnam’s food scene is at a historic transitional point, with the country evolving towards a vibrant, sustainable, long-term future that may see it compete with the dining experiences offered by Asian destinations like Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Vietnam is a magical and mystical place. I want everyone to be able to taste the culinary possibilities that I have seen in Vietnam.
Sam Aisbett of contemporary Vietnamese restaurant Akuna located situated in Ho Chi Minh City
In light of the country’s French colonial time, French cuisine tends to be the dominant choice at the table when it comes to dining out. However, even Franklin believes that is changing.
“French cuisine remains important but the dining scene in Vietnam is becoming more global and more diverse, with restaurants such as Dim Tu Tac for dim sum and Da Vittorio Saigon for Italian,” He says.
The branch was opened in October 2022. It is Da Vittorio’s 2nd branch outside Italy, with the other located in Shanghai.
Da Vittorio Saigon, in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tuna spaghetti served with bagna cauda and pistachio from Da Vittorio Saigon.
Executive chef of Da Vittorio Saigon Matteo Fontana, who was recently in Hong Kong for a four-hands collaboration with Testina’s executive chef Marco Xodo, says that when the restaurant was first launched in 2004, the fine-dining scene of Ho Chi Minh City was at its beginnings.
“When we opened Da Vittorio Saigon eight months ago, we were the first Italian fine- dining restaurant in the city,” the chef states.
“Except [for] a handful of other French restaurants and Vietnamese modern dining, the rest were basically casual concepts.”
Chef Matteo Fontana of Da Vittorio Saigon.
The first restaurant that was of this type in the city had difficulties in the beginning and it took Fontana about four to five months to locate reliable suppliers. “It would be easier to source your ingredients if you’re a French restaurant, but produce such as preserved tomatoes, anchovies and certain types of pasta I had to get from Italy,” the chef says.
Da Vittorio Saigon serves classic Italian dishes that remain in the tradition of its origins in Brusaporto in northern Italy. The words we enjoyed the most at the collaboration evening held in Hong Kong included raw tuna spaghetti with bagna cauda sauce and pistachio crumbs and egg A La Egg with Oscietra caviar.
Recently, Sam Aisbett, the Australian chef who was awarded the Michelin star for his Whitegrass restaurant located in Singapore, moved to Vietnam. He opened Akuna Modern, a restaurant featuring Vietnamese products, found at the Le Meridien Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
Foodie Sam Aisbett, previously of Whitegrass in Singapore, located in Ho Chi Minh City, to launch his restaurant, Akuna.
“Vietnam is awe-inspiring and hysterical. It has given me the opportunity to play with the familiar and let me create a new perspective on the world. I would like the world to be able to experience the amazing culinary opportunities I have seen within Vietnam,” Aisbett says.
Aisbett’s imaginative experimentation laces Akuna’s menu Akuna with local ingredients, like an appetizer consisting of shaved saltwater fish and custard of steamed garlic and rose heart radish in which local saltwater crocodile tongues are the principal ingredient.
Franklin is adamant that the arrival of new chefs and the growing interest in Vietnamese ingredients are starting a fresh movement in the nation.