Food Trip: Benaras Club

Admittedly, am not too fond of Indian cuisine. The explosion of flavor in every bite gets my palate dazed and confused. But the husband is a big fan and so, I want to try what he likes.

There are a few choices in our district for Indian cuisine and we’ve never really ventured out in other districts to see what other Indian restaurants offer.  Enter Benaras.

Benaras Club is conveniently located just behind the Saigon Opera House along Nguyen Sieu St. in District 1. With it occupying 3 floors, Benaras offers space for fine dining, private dining, and casual dining/ lounge.

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We stayed in the private dining area and it was like a maharaja’s dining room. I was unsure if we could really eat off the plates here. But dined we did, and it was a memorable night.

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Ashutosh, the waitstaff assigned to us, gave us a traditional Indian welcome and even gave me a tour to the different dining areas.

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Benaras offers a wide range of North Indian dishes made only from organic ingredients. What is interesting in the way they cook is that they only use minimal oil. I remembered eating naan before and I’d have several napkins to wipe off the oil from my fingers Though I have to confess that I still used a whole lot of napkins at Benaras not because of the oil but because I have gustatory rhinitis (yes, I had to look that up) due to low threshold for spicy food. You can of course request the waitstaff to adjust the spicy-level of dishes you order.

We met with Benaras’ Managing Director, Nidhi Arora and gave us a taste of mouth watering dishes and a peek into Indian culture. We had a 5 course meal which included appetizers, soup, snacks, main course, and dessert.

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Aside from gourmet dishes, Benaras offers street food of India and home delights. The kebabs, naan, and the mutton were absolutely delicious!

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For dessert, we were served the betel leaf with rose petal jam and fennel.

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I enjoyed the sweet dessert served below (far right) made from semolina flour, nuts, raisin, and cardamom.

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I think my favorite would be Pani Puri dipped in tamarind sauce (below). Nidhi showed us how to eat it and it was really interesting — it was crunchy and chewy, sweet and savory. Am craving for it now as I write this. Haha! I think my boys would love pani too.

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Nidhi recommended the Frozen Paan which is a perfect drink when eating flavorful food. This cleanses your palate.

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Manuel tried the Kingfisher and he gave this two thumbs up. Nidhi imports this beer directly from India.

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I also took a peek at the casual dining area at the topmost floor and I loved the atmosphere of the whole place. It’s designed for diners to comfortably eat and chat. When I checked it out, there was a buffet ready for a group that booked the entire 3rd floor.

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There’s also a separate room for lounging equipped with a widescreen projector just near the bar – a perfect place to watch your favorite sport while of course sampling the variety of liquor offered.

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During weekdays, they have set business lunch offered and even do deliveries. You can check out the usual suspects — Vietnammm, Grab, and Foody.

Benaras is also located in Thao Dien and I hope to bring the whole family there next. I heard they have brunch till 11 am, have a Filipino band playing in the weekend, and is quite spacious.

If you’re craving for some Indian food, do visit Benares and let your taste buds do the choosing from their over 200 dishes on the menu.

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Enjoy Vietnam’s Coffee Capital By Visiting These 5 Da Lat Cafés

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Located high above the Lang Biang Plateau, Da Lat City is gifted with a chilly climate. This makes it a great place to both grow delicious coffee beans and enjoy a hot cup of the resulting beverage. Luckily, you won’t have a hard time finding and sampling a cup of joe, whether you’re staying in a modest guest house or perhaps somewhere fancier like the  Traveloka Luxe Hotel. However, if you want to truly enjoy what Da Lat has to offer for coffee lovers, then you’ll want to try the coffee from any one of the city’s five best cafés. Read on to know which ones you should go to.

One More Café
If you’re looking for a straightforward coffee-enjoying experience, go ahead and pass by One More Café along Hai Ba Trung Street. And if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll be glad to know that they serve high-quality arabica coffee that’s been grown in sustainable conditions. The café also serves delicious English-style breakfast to help you start the day right. But if you’re looking to match your coffee with some sweet desserts, you can also check out their selection of cakes.

For coffee-lovers looking for a more unique café experience, BicycleUp is an ideal choice. Behind its lowkey façade hides a well-furnished Soviet-themed interior—complete with old Russian bicycles, cameras, schoolbooks, and other memorabilia. The old-school theme makes for a one-of-a-kind environment to enjoy the establishment’s rich-tasting coffee. And aside from the delicious locally sourced coffee, you can also order various teas and juices that represent the best flavors of Da Lat .

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An Café
If you want to drink your coffee from a great vantage point, then why not try out this rooftop café. Indeed, An Café rests high on one of the buildings along Ba Thang Hai Street. Along with its elevated location, this café is also decorated with many garden plants for a very naturally relaxing atmosphere, one that happens to go well with their rich and smooth café latte. Plus, you can have your coffee with some delectable dishes which have Central and Southern Vietnamese roots—all of which also feature organically sourced ingredients.

The Dreamer
If ever you find yourself in Da Lat’s old French Quarter along Tran Hung Dao Street, then go grab a cup of coffee at the Dreamer Café. It has a very intimate and very tasteful interior design, allowing for a very cosy time. They even have tables that offer a scenic view of the old Da Lat Railway Station. Aside from coffee and tea, they also serve a variety of smoothies if you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Biang Bistro
Despite not strictly being a café, Biang Bistro serves some of the best coffee in Da Lat. And curiously, the establishment’s look has a mix of Thai and Indonesian Balinese design elements. The result is an eclectic yet relaxing atmosphere that you can savor while you’re having a cup of coffee, or maybe even when trying out their delicious meals. Indeed, they serve delectable latte that comes with a dash of cinnamon for added flavor. And if you’re hungry, their menu features a wide range of Vietnamese and Western dishes—along with some vegan and vegetarian options, to boot.

A hot cup of coffee goes remarkably well with Da Lat’s cool and relaxing climate. So, if you’re up for trying the best cups of coffee the city has to offer, make sure to check out the above establishments. With most them, you can even have a satisfying meal to go with your hot coffee.

 photo chanh-duong-FfzA6iZJS-c-unsplash_zpskc4p5rts.jpgPhoto by Chanh Duong on Unsplash

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Have you tried Be?

With the frequent evening rains in Saigon lately, it became increasingly difficult to hail a taxi or even Grab. With Uber out of the picture and the fact that the price of Grab becomes enormously expensive during rush hours and rain hours, I had to find an alternative. Um no, still no bikes for me.

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Strangely, a Grab driver told me about Be. Well, it’s more like he reminded me about Be. Be launched sometime mid-December last year and yes, I’ve heard about it for a while but wasn’t too keen on trying it — until this month.

Downside is that it’s all in Vietnamese. I had my Vietnamese colleague help me register. After that, it was pretty much the same app as Grab. But am sure am missing good deals and other options since I couldn’t decipher the app fully. But am all good as long as I get from point A to B.

When I booked this morning from my place to work, I saved 80,000 VND compared to riding a Grab and 60,000 compared to a regular taxi. Does that even make sense? I mean why is Grab so expensive compared to a regular taxi? They should at least be competitively priced against a regular taxi fare.

The trouble is since most drivers are using multiple riding apps, am sure they’re checking the fare where they could get the most revenue. That’s why it’s not so easy to book Be.

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I downloaded Go-Viet too a couple of months back but it’s the same banana. It was in Vietnamese or was I missing something?

What ride-sharing app do you recommend?

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Dahi Handi: Authentic Indian Cuisine

Phu My Hung has become a mecca for those in search of a good meal. Amidst the Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, stands Dahi Handi bringing in only authentic Indian cuisine.

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Dahi Handi prides itself in only serving meals cooked to perfection by their top chef from India and his team of professional cooks.

Some of their signature dishes include Laal Maas, Mutton Dum Biryani, Mutton Rogan Josh, Paneer Tikka, Rahra Mutton, Dahi Ke Kebab, and Thandi Kheer.

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Enjoy these mouthwatering dishes and more only at Dahi Handi. Visit them during:

Breakfast : 8:30AM-10:30 AM
Lunch: 11:00 AM -2:30 PM
Dinner: 5:30 PM -10:30 PM

They also have an ongoing Happy Lunch Discount of 10% from 11 am to 2:30 pm.

Visit their website for more information on their menu, delivery service, and reservations. For real time updates, check Dahi Handi’s Facebook page.

Dahi Handi
48 Hung Gia 2, Phu My Hung,
Tan Phong Ward, District 7, HCMC
0917080044 – 028 5410 7955

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Bukchon Hanok Village

I’ve always been fascinated with traditional Korean houses called Hanok. I love wood so it’s amazing for me to see the harmonious combination of wood and brick in creating such a fascinating structure.

I feel for the residents in Bukchon as swarms of tourists visit their beautiful village. What all we could do was not make too much ruckus while admiring their homes. Am currently making plans to visit Seoul and possibly scoring an Airbnb in this area. Fingers crossed.

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From what I researched, typically, when building a house in Korea, there should be a mountain at the back and a river in front. This principle is called 배산임수 or baesanimsu. The Hanok style in the north are usually square with a courtyard in the middle while in the south, it’s L-shaped.

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I spied a cafe and a small art gallery in this area. Since I was with a group, I couldn’t openly explore the area, much less spend time to check out the gallery. Sigh.

Am definitely coming back here.

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Some tourists would come in the traditional Korean dress called hanbok and have their photos taken. Must be a great place to do prenuptial photos!

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There were signs on some homes asking tourists to be keep the noise down.

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The doors all looked heavy but interesting.

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I ofcourse had to stop by and buy postcards! They all look like mini works of art!

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Hope I find my way back here again.

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Cherry Blossoms at Yeouido Park

My first trip in two years was South Korea. It was unexpected and it made the trip more meaningful.

I was lucky enough to have gotten back to work after a furlough of about 10 months. And as soon as I got back, it was time for our office retreat.

Just sharing with you our first stop of our trip, Yeouido Park.

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I thought there was just too much hullabaloo on cherry blossoms in Seoul. So I wasn’t about to be amazed by it. BUT I couldn’t help it.

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I think I could have spent the entire day just looking at these enchanting blooms. My Korean Drama heart (yes! am into that too!) was happy!

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What perfect timing to come here in Spring and just walk under the shade of these delicate flowers.

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The only trouble was there were lots of people too so it was kinda difficult to get lovely shots.

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Needed some serious ninja skills to take photos without the crowd. But if you stay in South Korea in spring, there are actually lots of less crowded places to see the Cherry Blossoms. You might want to check this out.

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I can’t wait to come back with my family. Fingers crossed and toes too!

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Looking for WiFi rental?

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In 2018, the whole family was homebound and we didn’t get to travel at all. However, come 2019, we needed to update our visa so we decided to go for a quick getaway to Hongkong. It was back in 2009 when we last visited with a 1-yo in tow.

Back then, wifi rental was just an idea (I think) and we kinda racked up a substantial amount on our mobile plan.

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We decided to check out wifi rentals in Vietnam and narrowed it down to our telco, Mobifone and Laxgo which my colleagues used in our recent trip to Korea. I bought a SIM in Korea which was pretty convenient by the way.

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Pricewise, Laxgo won. They were having a promo as well for 150,000VND/day. Not bad. Mobifone is in the same range but with Laxgo, you can book online (5 days minimum in advance) and they will deliver/pick-up the router to/from your house. It came with an adapter so you need not worry about it being compatible with the power outlet in the country you’re traveling to.

It’s energy capacity is 5000mAh though, so if you’ll be outdoors for a long time, best to have a powerbank just in case the router runs out of juice. Also, we’d turn it off in areas where there’s dependable WiFi to save on the power.

Overall rating, 5/5. If ever we’ll be out of the country again, we’ll be definitely going with Laxgo.

P.S. No, this is not a paid advert. 😀

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

I never really imagined living in Vietnam. I think I’ve related this story before that when my Dad in the late 90s visited Ho Chi Minh City and came home, he didn’t have a lot to say about his trip. So, I had some misgivings about living here.

But it is interesting meeting Filipinos who have fully embraced the culture and built their families and dreams in this vibrant country. One such person is Nomer Adona, who I first met in 2012 when I was still moonlighting for Word HCMC.

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Nomer moved to Hanoi in 2012 as an architect and eventually found his calling as an art teacher for an international school. He’s a witness to how Vietnam’s landscape changed over the past 25 years or so.

Lately, Nomer has been embarking in his own personal project — creating awe-inspiring works with only two things, a ballpoint pen and paper. How this Ballpoint Pen Drawing series came about is noteworthy. He actually asked his students to create drawings using the cheapest pen and cheapest paper they could find. At the same time, he too challenged himself using these medium.

His end goal is to publish a book illustrating different portraits of Vietnam — but he is in no hurry and just wants to enjoy the process. To date, he has more than 30 portraits since he began in late 2018. It takes him 15 to 50 hours to finish a portrait depending on the size.

His pen of choice? He started with the local Thien Long ballpen, then hoarded some 100 Bic ballpens from the Philippines on his last visit. He usually consumes a pen or two per drawing.

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He has divided his project into three: Portraits of Vietnam, People who Inspires, and Beauty of Cultures.

I sat with him one afternoon for a chat on how his experimental project was going and he was more than happy to answer my questions.

What do you want to show in your Portraits of Vietnam?

I’m painstakingly doing all these things to document what I’ve seen in Vietnam since I first moved here, anything and everything about Vietnam.

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Original Photo by Alden (IG @360nomad)

What about for People who Inspires?

It’s about people who inspires me to think critically, even those who has opposing perspectives with me. This also includes pastors, teachers, friends, people I admire. They don’t wear capes yet I consider them as my heroes. People who inspires you not only to think, but also to live.

One particular Bible verse that really touched me is, “You’re wonderfully and fearfully made.” Whenever I create this ballpoint pen drawing, I see our life in that kind of sense, how God created us, molded us. We are His workmanship. The glory goes back to him.

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Fidel Ramos, 12th President of the Philippines

What about for Beauty of Cultures?

Actually the movie Black Panther inspired me on this. Remember the scene where Black Panther was being inaugurated? There were a number of Africans witnessing his inauguration and that scene looked looked amazing. Different tribes all bowing down to the same authority.

I also want to convey the value of people is not in one’s nationality but in being human and I want to show that in my drawings.

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What do you like most about drawing the portraits?

I like the dents. I don’t like perfectionism, filtered portraits. I find pleasure drawing the freckles, the imperfections. It makes it realistic. All the imperfections represent the challenges each person has to go through but ultimately, despite such imperfections, turns out to be a masterpiece.

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For Beauty of Cultures, Nomer has collaborated with photographers he has met through his immense network. Unable to always travel, he thought of getting in touch with his friends and using their work to reproduce what was caught by the lens with his pen instead, “They use their feet [to travel] and their camera, while I use my hand [and my pen].”

He has worked with Vietnamese photographer Bui Tuan Hung, Abu Dhabi-based Filipino photographer Anthony Austria, Asia Geographic contributor Donnel Guimaran, and Italian photographer Sabrina Niccolazzi, among others.

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For Nomer, creating works of art through the stroke of his pen is paying homage to the Greatest Creator.

You can catch up on what Nomer is up to through his IG, @nomeradona3d


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Taking a Leap

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When I started Hello Saigon in 2011, I was just aiming to write a chronicle of our life here in Vietnam for the kids’ sake. What started out as a planned 3-year journey is slowly becoming a decade. Yes! A DECADE!

I remember walking around feeling that I know most of the Filipinos in HCMC but honestly, 10 years later, the Filipino community has grown exponentially, and I realized I don’t know these people! Have I been living under a rock?

So, I thought to myself why not turn the spotlight on some of the seemingly ordinary but amazing Filipinos I’ve met in Vietnam? So here we go, fingers-crossed, am embarking on this personal project because you know, I need to have content in this site. Ha ha!

But more importantly, I just need to get my butt off the sofa and take a leap (figuratively speaking).

Photo by Kid Circus on Unsplash

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Ippudo opens in Vietnam

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It was way back in 2017 when news broke out that Ippudo will land in Vietnam in cooperation with another favorite restaurant, 4Ps.

And this weekend, Ippudo finally opened in my neighborhood in Phu My Hung! It’s a 15- minute walk from our place.

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We went on a Saturday night (the day after it opened) and there was still a bit of a queue at 8pm. Free-flowing beer was being served as you wait.

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It wasn’t easy convincing both our boys to try out this new place. We decided that if they didn’t like anything from Ippudo, we can just pop in 4Ps right beside it. But my eldest who’s a fan of salmon saw the above in the menu and was quite happy.

Our youngest is satisfied with fried rice paired with chicken so we had that too and I was surprised that he ate quietly by himself. If you knew him, you’d know he’s a slow eater who needs constant reminders that he has to chew his food.

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The  chicken is really good too!
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Hubby ordered gyoza which was good too but he said that the soy sauce was really quite salty. But shouldn’t it be? But then again, we’re steering away from salty food, so if you’re the same, you’ve been warned.

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Me? I came for the star of the restaurant — ramen of course. Ippudo has been open in my home country for some time now and I was always curious about it so am glad I finally got to try it.

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Verdict? Coming back for more. Later. At lunch. Yes, today. Haha.

Ippudo Vietnam
1-3 MD2, Khu A Đô Thị Nam Thành phố,
Đường Nguyễn Văn Linh, P. Tân Phú, Quận 7
Ho Chi Minh City

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