Last night we had dinner with the East Meets West Foundation’s Country Director, her husband, and a friend of hers who manages contributions for a big multinational corporation. The friend is Vietnamese but very Western. She speaks and dresses like a Westerner, and she knows what’s trendy in the world. The Director says I should get to know her. She knows everything that’s hip in Saigon.
She proved it last night. She picked the place for dinner, and it was a local place whose name roughly translated is “broken pot.” That’s what they do there; they cook rice in a ceramic pot and when it’s ready they crack the pot, throw the shards into a bigger ceramic pot and toss the finished product across the room like a frisbee. The catcher on the other end tosses it in the air before plating it and taking it to the table. The end product is a saucer-like hunk of rice that is dry and crispy with a little browned crust. It’s what I call performance food – like throwing fish at Pike’s Place Market. It may be touristy, but it’s really fun and interesting.
The meal was as good as the performance – stuffed, fried squash blossoms, stir fried chunks of beef with sauteed onion and red pepper, soup, sauteed greens and finished off with mango and banana flambe. Everything was delicious.
After dinner “Rosemary,” as she is known to her Western friends, had us all jump in a cab and drive to a small little alley somewhere nearby. It was pouring rain when we got there, and we scampered down this darkish, dead-end alley until we arrived at the entrance to Serenata, a combination coffee house and bar. It was an amazing place. I felt like I was in a time warp – SE Asia in colonial times, Grahame Green’s Vietnam, Malraux’s beat, definitely some other time and place. It was an indoor/outdoor space- all open to the air – without walls although the central area was covered. In that central area they were playing live music. At first it was a Vietnamese woman singer backed by a trio of violin, piano, and classical guitar. She was followed by a man singing French pop chez Johnny Hallyday, and then the trio took over without the singer and played like the Julliard String Trio. I could have stayed forever.
What a great introduction to the offbeat Saigon nightlife.