Last update: 09:00 | 16/05/2018
VietNamNet Bridge – If you think you already know dishes like banh xeo, banh trang or nem nuong too well, Anan Saigon’s creative versions might surprise you. Plus, their unique location is a bonus. The Nomad Quynh reports.
Small but mighty: Betel leaf beef - a delicious starter though quite expensive for the small portion. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Opened just over a year ago, Anan Saigon has quickly made its mark in HCM City’s food scene.
Peter Cuong Franklin – the chef, founder and the face behind Anan – is an award-winning overseas Vietnameese chef who has worked at famous overseas establishments such as Alinea and Next (in Chicago) and Four Seasons Hotel (in Hong Kong), as well as founded two restaurants before coming back to Viet Nam - his motherland to open Anan. In case you are wondering how to pronounce this name, it is “ăn ăn” meaning “eat eat” in English.
Before coming here I already heard about the restaurant’s unique location, and indeed it is. Anan is located on Ton That Dam Street inside Cho Cu (Old Market) – one of the oldest wet markets in HCM City. I find this part of the city very special and charming by itself: On one side you have the Bitexco Tower – the current highest building in the city, a symbol of the new and modern, but on the other side there is this Cho Cu – the symbol of the old and traditional which has been standing there through decades, with hundreds of vendors and street shops that are known to provide some of the best quality ingredients in the city, some of them are famous even among the foreigners living here. Therefore, going to Anan isn’t simply just a trip to any restaurant, it’s a sightseeing tour by itself for you to see a very special part of old Sai Gon.
This location is perhaps one of the reasons why Anan has quickly become very popular since it was opened, and of course the food too. At Anan, under Chef Peter’s talent and creativity, you will find dishes you might not see anywhere else in HCM City. Just like the location, the food is also another fusion between the old and the new, the local and the foreign, the traditional ingredients and the modern cooking techniques.
I have been here with my friends several times, and even on weekdays Anan still seems almost packed. If you come in a taxi, ask them to stop outside at the corner of Ham Nghi and Ton That Dam, and take a stroll in for just a short distance so you can have a look at the wet market. If you come by motorbike, let the staff point you to the small parking lot nearby.
The restaurant is spread over several floors of a typical but renovated Vietnamese house, with a cool rooftop where you can come early to enjoy the sunset and the view to Bitexco during happy hour (when they provide Vietnamese brewed beer, aka bia hoi at only VND10,000 per glass), or come up after dinner to enjoy a few glasses of wine or cocktails from their interesting drinks menu.
We started with a portion of betel leaf beef, aka bo la lot (VND125,000) which was creatively presented on a grilled mesh and clay pot plus some salad on the side. For this price the portion is probably a bit small, nonetheless it was delicious. The meat was of high quality and the taste was flavourful, with just the right amount of seasoning.
Order it: One of my favourite dishes here - lemongrass pork chop. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Our second dish and first main course – Lemongrass bone-in pork chop (VND350,000) – is another beautifully presented dish and easily one of my favorites here. I usually am not a big fan of pork chop because of their high fat content, however the pork chop here has the right balance and is perfectly grilled. Furthermore, the addition of lemongrass and cucumber salad creates a very interesting and wholesome flavour, setting it apart from most pork chops that I’ve tried in restaurants here. The portion is also quite adequate to be shared among two people. This is a dish I would definitely order again on future visits, as well as recommend to other guests.
Our second main course – Crab fried rice – comes in quite a big portion to share, and very reasonably priced at VND95,000. Again, it arrives elaborately presented with the crab in a shell on the side and a poached egg on top, all of which you’re supposed to mix together. Again, I love the addition of fresh herbs here. It was a delicious dish, and a good choice if you want something tasty that can keep you full.
Another one of Chef Peter’s signatures and also a must-try dish here is banh xeo tacos. As the name suggests, this is a very unique blend between tacos and the famous Southern Vietnamese dish banh xeo, the result being a crunchy exterior with a mixture of banh xeo ingredients inside including vermicelli, herbs, shrimp, pork, beef or fish depending on which type you choose. Alternatively if you want to try all, opt for the Ba Tacos (Three Tacos) which consists of all three choices for VND175,000.
As if having an award-winning chef, an interesting location and some creative food isn’t enough, Anan is also well-known as the place that offers US$100 banh mi and pho. Yes you heard me, one hundred US dollars for the types of dishes you typically get at any street corner for $1 or 2. So what are the secrets in them? Foie gras, truffle, caviar, premium meat, you get the idea. Be advised that these one-of-a-kind treats are not on the usual menu, you have to order one day in advance for them to prepare. If you ever feel bored of the normal banh mi and pho and feel like splurging once in a while, then why not?
On the other hand, if going through all the options in the menu gives you a headache, check out their 4 tasting menu options which offer you all their specialties. Each of them has 6 to 8 dishes, with price ranging from VND390,000 to 490,000 per person. Veggie menu is also available.
From the sea: Crab fried rice - another delicious main course. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Hustle and bustle: Visitors crowd inside the ground floor seating area. — VNS Photo
Drinks is another special part of Anan’s menu as well. Besides the usual suspects, there are interesting signature cocktails such as Tra Da (a very refreshing one made from gin-infused Da Lat black tea, honey, lime and soda), Saigon Sunset (made from dark rum, sugarcane juice, ginger and calamansi), Phojito (from fragrant sticky rice wine and pho herbs), and many others. They also offer premium Vietnamese rice wine and spirits, in case you want to try.
The staff here are quite friendly and professional, which justifies the 15 per cent service charge on top of the above mentioned prices. It is indeed not a cheap place, but bear in mind you are going to experience unique and creative versions of the usual Southern Vietnamese dishes that probably no other places are able to offer. This explains why Anan is very popular especially among the expat community living in HCM City. Give it a try if you like Vietnamese food with a twist!
Address: 89 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1, HCM City
Tel: 0904 792 920
Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday from 5pm until late; Monday closed
Comment: Interesting place that offers a creative take on traditional Southern Vietnamese cuisine in a unique location. Reservation recommended during weekends.