The sights, sounds and smells of Saigon are changing fast. Helped by the internet, a gradual relaxation of media censorship, and the rapid uptake of the English language, Vietnam’s youth are engaging with Western culture more than ever.
At the end of a leafy alleyway in the trendy District 1 neighbourhood of Dakao, Bunker Bed & Breakfast & Bar perhaps perfectly represents the changing fabric of modern Saigon. Joined by four B&B rooms upstairs, the LA-style breakfast bar opened in March 2016 by three business partners including Tuan Le, a Vietnam-born 31-year-old who moved to California with his family at the age of 10.
Having made his way back to Saigon in 2013, Tuan is one of the growing number of Vietnamese born or raised abroad who are slowly returning to their homeland, seeking to reconnect with their ancestry while taking advantage of low startup costs and relatively few barriers to doing business here. “I missed the food in LA,” he says, talking about Bunker’s conception. “I was just betting that there were other people out there who liked [it too]… those no frills, ‘dirty’ breakfasts.” He was absolutely right, and Bunker’s LA-style fry-ups have quickly made it one of the places to chow down in the city.
Another cornerstone of breakfast, of course, is coffee. Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world, and its famous ca phe sua da is an almost mandatory breakfast accompaniment. It’s strong, it’s cheap and it’s everywhere. But the traditional kerbside brews have fallen somewhat out of favour with the local crowd in recent years.
“There’s a huge boom in speciality coffee in Vietnam,” says Tuan, highlighting Bunker’s menu of high-quality local and imported beans and specialist brewing methods. “Ca phe sua da gets a bad rep because of the way it’s prepared… You’re getting a lot of sugar, not a lot of coffee, and very little aroma.”
Breakfast is one of those meals you just don’t mess with. Whether you’re nursing a hangover or looking to soften the blow of the hard day’s work ahead, there will always be places like Bunker, Pho Hoa or Ba Ghien to lend a hand with a squeeze of lime, a dab of chilli, and a plate of good old-fashioned nostalgia.
Bunker Bed & Breakfast & Bar is at 79/2/1 Phan Ke Binh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
8.30am to 9pm, 7 days.
Image credits: Mike Pham and Phong Chac, Bunker, Saigon.