By Jovel Chan | 31 Jan 2023
I’ve been working in the F&B industry as a marketing and communications professional for the last nine years – safe to say I love it! In 2019, I was the Head of F&B Marketing (Retail) at AirAsia and was living in Kuala Lumpur when the pandemic hit. Overnight, my industry was destroyed and I did not know what to do or how to move forward. Of course, my team and I did all we could to survive but then after almost a year and a half of trying, I burnt out and left. I moved back to Singapore in late 2021 to rest before figuring out my next step.
Moving to Vietnam
That was when a close friend of mine reached out to chat with me about her brand-new fitness venture in Ho Chi Minh City. Feeling skeptical, unsure and demoralised about the prospects of the food and beverage industry during the pandemic, I decided to take the opportunity to move to Vietnam and open an indoor rhythmic cycling studio (besides being a full-time marketer, I’m also a part-time rhythmic cycling instructor). I took it as a sign that it was time for me to try something different.
Perhaps after dabbling in F&B marketing my whole life and making it to what I felt was the peak of my career – it was time to move on. So, for months I posted relentlessly across Facebook groups and forums until I found a visa sponsor. Three months later, I found myself in Ho Chi Minh City signing papers and opening my own company.
I spent the first two months visiting construction sites, networking with the fitness community and reaching out to multiple fitness equipment suppliers, interior designers and contractors. Right as I was about to sign my lease, the city went into lockdown.
Becoming a food blogger in Vietnam during lockdown
I found myself back at square one again – without a plan and this time with no contacts, friends or resources. At this point in time, I had only been in Vietnam for three months. So, I joined multiple Facebook groups to find friends, information and community during the lockdown. One thing I noticed was how reliant people are on Facebook groups for information as simple as “where to find imported wine?” and more importantly, where to find food during the lockdown. I saw the same question popping up over and over again and disappearing within a second.
Like many, I was lost and frustrated! So, I compiled all the restaurants and opening hours together in a single article and gave birth to my first article “Restaurants Open During Tet 2021”, which overnight received more than 10,000 hits. I went from nobody to having everyone – restaurants, expats and even locals – reach out to me. This went on throughout the pandemic and I was compiling Facebook thread after thread into articles. Slowly, I introduced other content pillars including stories about Vietnam’s fast-growing dining scene and its tastemakers.
Beyond a Blog: An insight to Vietnam's exciting coming-of-age dining scene
From interviews with Vietnam’s Asia 50 Best bartenders and chefs to new craft chocolate artisans in Vietnam eager to make their mark, my blog became a source for discovery, learning and experiencing Vietnam’s F&B gems and coming-of-age culinary scene.
Today, I run the largest and leading English-language food and drink blog in Vietnam with 7-figure impressions, and 6-figure hits with almost 25,000 people around the world visiting monthly. I’ve also since judged multiple national food and drink competitions and been featured in leading media national and international publications such as TODAY, Vietnam Plus, Epicure Vietnam, The Saigon Times, Vietcetera, and e27.
When I’m not busy filling the information gap, I run a boutique F&B marketing consultancy specializing in helping businesses to enter and grow in Vietnam, as well as an online e-commerce store selling local Vietnamese artisan food and drink products.
My top picks in Ho Chi Minh City
After eating in more than 120 restaurants, cafes, eateries and bars in Vietnam, here are my top picks in Ho Chi Minh City from homegrown culinary gems to Singapore Hainanese chicken rice hotspots!
- An’s Saigon: This multi-concept sanctuary tucked away in a small alley combines a spa, chef’s table, beautiful al fresco cafe and garden (where the team grows their own herbs and spices) in one space. Meaning “peace” in Vietnamese, An’s menu is a refreshing discovery of familiar Vietnamese flavours and ingredients such as fish sauce, shrimp paste and jungle leaves in subtle and simple unprecedented ways. By far one of my favourite Vietnamese haunts, An’s is helmed by the talented Chef Cuong Nguyen who is no doubt a rising culinary star. 5A Tống Hữu Định, Thảo Điền, Ho Chi Minh City
- Quince: Claiming the spot of ‘Best restaurant in Vietnam (2020)’, and name-checked on the Asia Top 50 Discovery list in 2019, Quince is helmed by Chef Julien Perraudin who was awarded “Best Chef of the Year’ for two consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. Sleek and sexy interiors with an open kitchen where you can witness the action, go for the Spicy Salmon Nori Taco (200k each) and BBQ Hokkaido Scallops and Suckly Pig Belly (450k). 37bis Đ. Ký Con, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Mua Craft Sake: Say hello to Vietnam’s first and only craft sake brewery. Here, you can try a one-of-its-kind Vietnamese craft sake made using premium local Vietnamese rice paired with traditional Japanese sake-making techniques. On the food front, think of a marriage between Japanese izakaya classics and Vietnamese street food staples. I recommend getting the Sake flight to experience a full range of its sakes but if you must only have one, go for the Guava Kumquat, it’s my favourite. 7 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000
- Okra Food Bar: This dimly-lit and sleek fine-casual 10-seater concept fronting an open kitchen and chef counter is helmed by Chef-founder Jamie Celya. The focus here is on in-season locally-sourced ingredients with an emphasis on vegetables. I recommend the Brown bourbon butter street corn and Burnt cabbage with Romesco sauce. So 10 Thao Dien, Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City
- Olivia Dining: Helmed by Chef David Green (ex-Executive Chef of two-hat Lakehouse Daylesford in Sydney), Olivia (named after Chef David’s daughter) boasts aesthetically-pleasing minimalistic country house interiors with an open kitchen, private dining room, wine cellar and crisp white tablecloths. The tasting menu is simple yet elegant and masterfully displays Chef David’s clever interpretations of local ingredients, flavour and texture, all delivered with expert technique and tasteful presentation. 31A Lê Văn Miến, Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City
- La Villa French Restaurant: A cut above the rest, a meal at La Villa by Chef Thierry Mounan is more than a pleasurable treat, it’s a luxury. Housed inside a charming villa, expect white tablecloth service with an impressive cheese trolley and a variety of tasting menus (starting from VND 1.69 mil for lunch) to choose from that feature quintessentially French classics such as Duck Foie Gras terrine and Snacked Hokkaido Scallops with apple compote and sweet cider jus. Don’t miss the famous apple tart. 14 Ngô Quang Huy, Thao Dien District, Ho Chi Minh City
- Ittou Ramen: A hidden ramen spot located just a 15-minute walk from Saigon’s famous Japantown. Thick and chewy handmade ramen noodles served with a side of rich and flavourful broth – this Tsukemen (180k) favourite amongst both Japanese locals and foreigners is perhaps my favourite ramen spot in town. 8/8 Hẻm Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Fujiro: Visit Fujiro during lunchtime and you’ll see droves of Japanese diners sinking their teeth into its signature Tonkatsu 豚カツ – a popular Japanese dish of deep-fried breaded pork cutlet served with rice, shredded cabbage and Japanese Worcestershire sauce. For me though, it’s the deep-fried Kaki (oysters) that keep me coming back. 8a/8b1 Thai Van Lung, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Sol Kitchen: Playful Mediterranean-inspired interiors, moreish flame-kissed dishes boasting bold and fiery Argentian and Mexican flavours as well as colourful cocktails. A good value-for-money option for both lunch and dinner, Sol is an easy top choice for me. 115 lý tự trọng, Ho Chi Minh City
- 86 Proof Whisky Bar: My local watering hole. This cocktail and whiskey bar has is laidback and relaxed and definitely where you can go and everyone knows your name. The drinks are spot-on – I recommend the Shogun Sour – and the best part is it has a really generous daily Happy Hour (4 to 7 pm) with 50% off all cocktails. 109 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
- Firkin: One of the original speakeasy bars in Saigon, this bar features different bartender interpretations of the same drink so get ready to experience your favourite drink reimagined in different ways. Moodily lit with sleek, sexy and intimate interiors – this is my go-to spot for a tasty post-dinner cocktail where I can just unwind and indulge in friendly banter with the talented bar team. 20 Mạc Thị Bưởi, Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Clay Saigon: A riverside open-air casual dining concept with stunning interiors, a live DJ and a happy hour from 4 to 7 pm and 10 pm to late featuring 100k sangrias – what is there not to like about Clay? For food, I recommend pork ribs or chicken but make sure to order multiple plates to fill up your bellies. 18 Duong so 6, Phuong Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City
- STIR Modern Cocktail Bar: Last year’s only Vietnamese mention on coveted Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, this speakeasy bar is hidden inside the alley of one of Saigon’s most popular streets. The drinks here are rooted in Vietnamese flavours and ingredients and very cleverly crafted. The bar snacks include grilled squid with salted fire ants – it’s a must-try. 1st Floor, 136 Lê Thánh Tôn, ward, street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Madam Kew: An “underground-esque” bar inspired by Shanghai in the ‘60s, the drinks here are creatively crafted and feature nostalgic elements from popular traditional Chinese beverages such as Hong Kong milk tea. With delicious drinks and food, a live DJ (and saxophone on some days) as well as girls in cheong sams – no surprise this is one of my favourite spots in town. 37Bis Đ. Ký Con, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000
- Umenomoto Umeshu Bar: I’m a big fan of Umeshu (Japanese plum wine) and this pink and playful Umeshu-focused Japanese tapas bar located in the bustling Japantown (Le Thanh Tonh) hits the spot with over 100 varieties of Umeshu as well as yummy Japanese-flavoured bites and snack with quirky names such as “Smush Your Heart”, “I know like this” and “Melted in the Kiss. If you’ve got a sweet tooth like me, opt for the Strawberry Umeshu. 15B/12A Đ. Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
- Twelve Chicken Rice is my go-to spot for chicken rice in Ho Chi Minh City. Founded by local Singaporeans, the best is to grab a seat by the street (if you can) and tuck into one of Twelve’s many different sets featuring white, roast and soya sauce chicken. Be sure to pick up a bottle of sambal chilli on the way out! 012 lo c2, Số 45, District 4, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
- Banana Leaf Saigon for Roti Prata and Mee Goreng. This hole-in-the-wall spot right at the end of an alley in the heart of District 1 has been dishing out popular Indian and Malaysian classics for years. And yes, if you order a Thali or even the Nasi Padang and Nasi Goreng, it’ll even come on a Banana Leaf! 46/6 Phạm Hồng Thái, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 70000
- Penang Noodles for Wanton Mee and Lor mee. Very reasonably priced and situated in the middle of Districts 1 and 2, this tiny joint is my go-to for a quick and fuss-free local meal. Available on GrabFood and dine-in, besides Wanton Mee (the dry option is my favourite), they also serve kaya toast! 86 Trần Não, P. Bình An, Quận 2, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
- Everything ma la: Fennel Private Dining for Sichuan Chinese food or Wok of Love for mala xiang guo. Of course, Hai Di Lao is always an option though you have to wait. These are one of the only restaurants that I know in central Saigon that serve the authentic Sichuan ma la peppercorn for that addictive numbing seasoning!
Wherever you are in the world, there is nothing like the smell of a fragrant plate of chicken rice to remind you of Singapore. Together with recommendations from our community, Singapore Global Network has put together a crowd-sourced food directory of all your Singapore-favourites and familiar Southeast Asian flavours that can be found around the world. Check out our global food map here.
Jovel Chan runs Vietnam’s leading English-language food and drink blog where she covers the latest industry trends, restaurant reviews, new openings and happenings. She is on a mission to help people learn, discover and experience Vietnam’s exciting coming-of-age food and drink scene. Think of her as your foodie friend in Vietnam!
For businesses, Jovel is an F&B consultant armed with two years of first-hand consumer data about the Vietnamese F&B market as well as almost a decade of industry experience. From pre-launch concept development to scale, her portfolio includes both clients from Vietnam (Suntory PepsiCo, Q Industries and Annam Gourmet) as well as overseas (FoodPride and Ebb&Flow Group in Singapore).