Cục Gạch Quán
10 Động Tất
Tân Định, Q. 1, Hô Chí Minh City
038 48 01 44

With Vietnam’s maddening changes and uncertain future, there’s a bit of nostalgia for the past…or at least a repackaging of the past.  In Ho Chi Minh City, I went to Cục Gạch, a restaurant that crafts vintage Saigon for a higher aesthetic and culinary experience.  This is a must, if you’re in Saigon.

The food is of classic southern affair:  all served sparsely and beautifully.  Simplicity and fresh ingredients from the rich southern region, combined with subtle, yet striking culinary know-how.  My favorites were the lotus salad and the chicken wings fried in fish sauce.  The homemade desserts, healthy and not so sweet, were quite tasteful.

This is one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had in Vietnam.  Tran Binh, the restaurateur, combines his architectural profession with a brilliant eye for vintage items to create an atmosphere suitable for his impeccably simple home cooking.  Case in point: the restaurant’s audio and visual centerpiece  is a stereo system encased in dark wood, complete with a mint tube amp and reel-to-reel tape deck.  The divas of south Vietnam, like Khanh Ly, were crooning with their velvety voices and lyrics.

In Ho Chi Minh City’s current socialist capitalism, postsocialist society, or whatever you call it,  hypocritical irony abounds, and this is as comforting and, at least it should be, as troubling as the new Saigon gets.  You feel like a guest dining with an upper middle-class Saigonese family.  The spaciousness of the house, the custom woodwork, the Toto bathroom fixtures, the plethora of food and drink…if all this is what everyone is rushing around to attain, then why did we wage a war–where millions were displaced, millions died,  and millions more were wounded, physically and psychologically–when current Vietnam, it seems, merely wants to relive old Saigon?