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Tastes of Saigon

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Raymund B. Habaradas

The View From Taft

I am currently in a quaint café along Bui Vien Walking Street in Saigon, enjoying a cup of egg coffee coupled with a glass of hot tea. Yes, you read it right — coffee, tea, and me! While I had been in Vietnam twice before, this is the first time I’ve tried its famous egg coffee. When the server asked me if I wanted hot tea to accompany my coffee, I was a bit surprised and told her that I was fine with my coffee. Until I took a sip. A little bit embarrassed, I asked the lady if her offer of hot tea still holds, as the egg coffee was incredibly sweet and a bit too rich for my taste. With a suppressed giggle, she served the hot tea. I wonder how they say, “Sabi ko na sa iyo, eh!” (I told you so) in Vietnamese.

And so my coffee shop-hopping tour in Saigon officially begins, something that I decided to do after the roughly 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to my hotel in the city center. Along the way, I saw several local cafés with names that caught my attention. For example, Là Viet Coffee raises expectations — Will drinking its coffee make me say, “Love it!”? For those who can’t survive without their dose of coffee in a day, MyLife Coffee should keep them, as the elementary school song goes, “alive, alert, enthusiastic.”

Actually, I had my first Vietnamese coffee yesterday at ThFi Café [yes, it had strong Wi-Fi]. The café was located on the third floor of an old apartment building along Tôn That Đam Street, a 15-minute walk from my hotel. From the street, the building looked abandoned and a bit creepy, but those who are curious enough are in for a surprise as the building houses several artsy cafés, tea houses, and fashion shops. I am aware that there are similar attempts to convert old buildings in Escolta into such types of places, an excellent way of preserving our colonial heritage and of keeping the old-city charm of Manila.

Saigon, of course, offers more than just coffee. Vietnam, after all, is known for its delicious and healthy cuisine. And so far, it has lived up to my expectations. From the really cheap king mackerel (cá thu kho) with rice and soup that I had for lunch in a street eatery to the more pricey classic chicken pho (pho gà) I had for dinner at Terraces Café of the Bitexco Financial Center; to my hotel’s complimentary breakfast buffet of banh mi and fried egg plus the chicken curry and baguette that I had early this morning, I’ve had my fill in less than 24 hours. Having recently read about (and now practicing) mindful eating (i.e., concentrating on every mouthful one eats), I find Saigon to be a delightful laboratory for this gustatory experiment.

Tonight, I will take a private motorbike tour that will allow me to experience Saigon’s night life from the back of a motorbike. I look forward to discovering wonderful street food in the city’s hidden alleys, and to learning more about Vietnamese food culture, courtesy of my tour guide, Vince.

I wonder how I will be able to consume “nine different dishes and unlimited drinks,” as promised by the tour provider, and do it in a mindful manner. Just visualizing the Vietnamese rice pancakes, coconut ice cream, and grilled banana cakes that I am supposed to learn how to prepare as part of the tour, makes my mouth water this very instant. While riding a motorbike on the busy streets of this beautiful city makes me a little bit nervous, the anticipation of enjoying the tastes of Saigon more than makes up for my initial hesitation.

By the way, I have just moved to another café in Bui Vien Walking Street. I type in the café’s Wi-Fi password “blackeagle,” and do a quick Google search. “I told you so” is “Tôi đã nói rồi mà” in Vietnamese.

 

Raymund B. Habaradas is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches Methods of Research, Management Action Research, and Qualitative Research. He is also a Governor of the Philippine Academy of Management, and the holder of the Ambassador Ramon V. del Rosario Chair of Entrepreneurship.

rbhabaradas@yahoo.com

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