A Peek Of The Strong Café Culture in Ho Chi Minh City

In a congested tropical city like Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), a sip of its Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê đá) is certainly a cool reprieve from the hot & humid weather. Made using medium to coarse ground dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter, this traditional coffee recipe has won numerous fans from all over the world. I may not be an avid coffee drinker, but I do like the strong aroma of Vietnamese iced coffee too. Having read online about the sheer number of unique cafes in the city, I was kinda excited & looked forward to visiting some of them during my short trip last Dec.

Cool cafes abound in the city

Cool cafes abound in the city

I only managed to visit 2 cafes on my 1st 2 days in HCMC, because on my 3rd day, we lost our bearings in the large District 7, an expats’ district supposedly flooded with cafes. Unfortunately, the only cafes we saw in District 7 were Caffe Bene (bottom right photo in above collage) at Trung Tâm Thương Mại SC VivoCity & Angel-in-us Coffee at Lotte Mart. Just within District 1 around the upmarket Dong Khoi Street, I spotted many prettily decorated cafes as I explored the area. Too bad my stomach isn’t big enough to try so many cafes on my own. Read below for the 2 cafes that I managed to sit in & try some f&b. 😉

1. Satra Bakery & Cafe

satra-bakery-cafe

I chanced upon Satra Bakery & Cafe after exploring the famous Ben Thanh Market. This little bakery cafe is situated along the street facing the Cua Tay entrance of the market. As its name implies, the cafe sells various kinds of baked breads, pastries & cakes. Of course, there’s the traditional iced milk coffee that is almost customary to order in any Vietnamese cafe. As I visited in the late morning, I didn’t order any filling sandwiches to go along with the coffee. Instead, I only ordered a slice of taro cake which I thought was quite nice with a faint taro fragrance & not too sweet. I don’t remember the individual item price, but I know the total bill came to 47,000 VND (about S$3). Nothing to shout about for Satra’s interior, but it’s a convenient cafe to visit for a break away from the city’s heat if you are in the area.

2. L’Usine Le Loi

lusine-le-loi

L’Usine Cafe was highly recommended by Le Meridien Saigon’s Marketing personnel. Following her recommendation, I googled on the list of top cafes to visit in HCMC & discovered L’Usine Le Loi was one of the hot favourite cafes in the city. Thus my friend & I hunted down the cafe in District 1 for dinner on my 1st day.

Housed in an old 3-storey shophouse nearby Ben Thanh Market, L’Usine is an unassuming lifestyle store cum cafe on the outside. Pass through the door & you will be welcomed by its chic lifestyle boutique on the 1st floor. Climb up the wooden stairs to reach the cafe with white-washed walls. The decor is simple but gives a clean & modern look. We chose to sit indoors, because I thought the balcony area (beyond the glass door of the bottom right photo above) would be too warm for comfort. 😛

Menu clipped on a wooden board

Menu clipped on a wooden board

Personally, I like the way the menu was presented on a wooden board. To read beyond the 1st page, just remove the huge clip at the top like I did. 😉 The price range here is considered more high class than other cafes but some of the items looked quite interesting. After much consideration, we decided on a 3-course dinner to share – 1 appetizer, 1 main & 1 dessert, plus a drink each.

From top left in clockwise direction: Cyclo, Marou Iced Chocolate, Carrot Cake, Fish & Chips, & Tossed Soba Noodle Salad

From top left in clockwise direction: Cyclo, Marou Cold Chocolate Milk, Carrot Cake, Fish & Chips, & Tossed Soba Noodle Salad

I heard from the hotel that Marou chocolate is a reputable artisan chocolate brand in Vietnam, hence I ordered the Marou Cold Chocolate Milk (90,000+ VND, about S$5.70+) as my drink of the day. It’s a glass of ultra-rich chocolate drink that choco lovers will definitely fall in love with! 🙂 My friend’s Cyclo (mango, orange & strawberry blended juice, 85,000+ VND, about $5.40+) was very fresh & quenching. Compared to the usual salads or appetizers we see & eat, the Tossed Soba Noodle Salad with roast salmon, kale, edamame & wasabi (240,000+ VND, about S$15.20+) was an interesting bowl of salad that tasted wonderful.

As for our main course, the Fish & Chips with tartar sauce (210,000+ VND, about S$13.30+), it was a pity the fish was a little burnt & “chow-dar”, otherwise the thick-cut fries were great. Our Carrot Cake dessert (95,000+ VND, about S$6+) was quite moist & dense, but we both felt the cream on top was too sweet for our liking. Ended the dinner on too sweet a note! 😛 Nonetheless, I enjoyed the dinner as a whole in such cosy ambience at L’Usine. I would definitely recommend L’Usine as 1 of the must-visit cafes if you are in HCMC. 🙂

It was a bit of a waste that I couldn’t manage to squeeze a few more cafes into my trip. If you love to cafe-hop, do make time to check out the exquisite cafes hidden in the narrow alleys of the city. There are so many lovely cafes in HCMC that you wish you have time for all of them. Plan your route before you go to maximise your cafe-hopping trip! 😉

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