|Safe on the ground and looking for the bus, at Tan Son Nhat Airport, Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam, 2007)|
|The streets of Ho Chi Minh City are just as congested as they have always been, but they look a bit more upmarket these days (Vietnam, 2007)|
As soon as I had found a hotel in Phạm Ngũ Lão and had dropped my bags off there, I was keen to challenge Saigon's famous dining scene. I didn't have any particular destination in mind, I just started walking. The first place that caught my eye was the Trung Nguyên Cafe, situated on a busy intersection opposite the Van Canh restaurant (perhaps it was on the corner of Nguyễn Thái Học Street and Trần Hưng Đạo Avenue -- anyway, it was in that basic ballpark.) I ordered deep fried beef and a Tiger. I flirted with the cute waitress as she tried to squat a fly which kept bothering my food ("You're never going to catch it -- those flies have eyes in the backs of their heads!" I implored.) Nearby me, what looked to be a Singaporean family purveyed the extensive selection of Vietnamese coffee beans on display, in a glass cabinet as I recall.
|Deep fried beef and a Tiger beer, at a Nguyen Trung Cafe in District 1 of HCMC (Vietnam, 2007)|
Capitalizing on an emerging, affluent middle-class and the simple attractions of aromatic coffee, 31-year-old entrepreneur Dang Le Nguyen Vu has successfully launched Vietnam's first nationwide franchise.
Call it Starbucks, Vietnam-style.
Over the past four years, Vu's chain of Trung Nguyen cafes has grown to more than 400 outlets in all of Vietnam's provinces, from the busy Ho Chi Minh City to rural of Sapa on the northern border. In Vietnamese, Trung Nguyen means "Central Highlands", an area famous for its coffee, and Vu now wants to spread the reputation of his coffee label well beyond Vietnam's borders.
'I want to have the Vietnamese brand name of Trung Nguyen well known in the world. Our coffee is good. There's no reason we can't do it.."I didn't know this at the time, but apparently Trung Nguyên Cafe is a good place to sample one of the best coffee brews in the world -- the notorious Vietnamese weasel shit coffee. Anyway, I really love Vietnamese coffee but I was scared of sampling the wares today, because strong caffeine tends to give me migraines. More about this disturbing handicap of mine later! The beef dish was great nonetheless and I hope to return to the cafe later, to see if I can get some of that weasel shit brew! And possibly even hit on the waitress, if she's there again!