5 delicious Japanese(ish) eats conceived in Saigon

By Calvin Godfrey   January 1, 2017 | 09:19 pm PT
In smashing, tweaking and preserving tradition, enterprising chefs gave us something to look forward to in 2017.

The chef’s choice


Dressed always in a neatly-folded head kerchief, Tomo Harada presides over his long maple bar with all the manner of a country doctor.

Perhaps that's because Cuu Long Izakaya has offered sanctuary to a tight crew of expatriate businessmen for over a decade.

The menu of homemade pickles, smoked tidbits (fish, bacon, chicken innards) and hearty rice bowls pair well with an impressive offering of sake, Soju and beer.

If you’ve worked hard, treat yourself to the seven-course chef’s choice (omakase) which may involve a grilled salmon head and a plate of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Nippon Izakaya Cuu Long

63 Pham Viet Chanh

5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday

11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday

Closed Sunday

 Japanese jerk chicken


In a hidden courtyard high atop Ho Chi Minh City’s only hill, Takao Saito serves up a surreal homage to what he calls “reggae culture.”

The thin pink walls of Shanty hum with Saito’s collection of obscure ska, reggae and dance hall vinyl.

Dried palm fronds and fishing nets hang over the small indoor bar, which offers curious cocktails and homebrew.

His hand-written crayon menu centers on mildly-spiced jerk chicken legs and curries that range from pork to okra. Saito does not pretend to Rastafarianism (exhibit: booze and fried sausages); he just never really came back from his trip to Jamaica.


36 Chu Manh Trinh

11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

7 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

 The five-dollar unadon


The Agata Café feels, at first, like something Tokyo set up to promote itself.

On a recent evening, a Japanese tea master dressed in an elaborate Kimono mounted the café’s loft to painstakingly demonstrate the proper way to receive and drink a cup of matcha.

On regular days, this quiet café offers a limited menu of imported tea and comestibles amid a traditional “Eel’s bed” home.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the star of Agata’s limited menu is a cut of grilled unagi served over rice and seaweed. The café throws in a sprig of cilantro and a pinch of crushed peanuts in a tasty appeal to local palates.

Agata Japan Café

19 Dang Dung

10 a.m.-7 p.m. every day

 Flan-Matcha Shaved Ice


If you’re in Saigon, chances are you are hot -- in a bad way.

Few things cool you down and lift you up like a pile of snow slathered in syrup. While chains offering kakigori abound, Kamakura café stands out thanks to syrups made from fresh tropical fruit.

Unlike most people in the shaved ice game, Kamakura’s matcha and adzuki bean ice sits atop a pile of banh flan, just to let you know where you are.

Kamakura Café

21 Phan Ke Binh

7 a.m.-10 p.m. every day

 Camembert Ice Cream


Every day, hundreds of kilograms of fresh cheese leave a proprietary facility in Lam Dong Province and head down Highway 20 toward Yosuke Masuko’s growing empire.

His holdings now include six world-class pizzerias and a grocery delivery service.

Pizza 4P’s has sold buffalo milk frozen yogurt since it opened five years ago. More recently, it began spinning its mild wheels of camembert into a fluffy substance that doesn’t taste like ice cream at all.

Imagine a rich grilled cheese sandwich transmogrified into the consistency of cold cream cheese.

Happy New Year.

Pizza 4P’s

Multiple locations in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang

Hours vary

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