ICE CREAM (KEM) IN SAIGON
Now I don’t always act upon those thoughts, but I must admit that a large scoop of creamy chocolate-chip ice cream is often on my mind. In fact, I have actually planned my ice cream consumption up to 6 months in advance. Let me try to explain this obsession.
In my mind, to truly enjoy ice cream on a balmy tropical Saigon evening it is essential that it be crowned with a thick hot fudge topping. Now, I don’t mean Hershey’s Chocolate Sauce or some other inadequate substitute. It’s got to be the real thing.
But, here in Saigon, I’ve yet to find a jar of genuine hot fudge. And some of the most famous ice creameries here in town serve up awful imitations of hot fudge (but more on that later).
So, my solution, “if you want something done right, then do it yourself.”
That’s right – I make my own hot fudge now. Every six months, when I return to California, my shopping list of items with which to return to Saigon includes a 5-pound bag of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and a 3.5-pound bag of Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chips (among my favorite Costco items).
Yes, almost 9 pounds of chocolate chips! Nearly 20% of my 50-pound weight limit for one of my suitcases is now devoted to my hot fudge addiction. But, I figure it’s a small price to pay for 6 months of inner peace come dessert time. (I’m not going to even mention the additional 5 pound bag of pecans for toasting).
Now the actual preparation of the hot fudge back in Saigon is quite simple. About half a cup of chocolate chips, 1/4 cup of milk, and occasionally, for those special treats, an egg yolk. All blended and melted together in a double boiler (please stir constantly) to produce the world’s best hot fudge!
Then, just reach into the refrigerator (tủ lạnh), pull out the liter of ice cream (kem) purchased from one of Saigon’s local ice cream shops, cuddle in front of the TV or computer with your honey, and enjoy life!
But, there are those nights when we’re out with friends or want to enjoy our ice cream treat in the hustle of downtown. So, Hai and I have had quite a few opportunities to sample the best (and the not so good) of Saigon’s ice cream offerings. Here are own conclusions:
Fanny Ice Cream is Vietnam’s most famous and most long-established ice creamery. It appears in every tour guidebook and website – both in Saigon and Hanoi. It gets high ratings on Tripadviser. What’s not clear is WHY?
Now, I’ve tried Fanny’s before and have never been fond of my experience there. But, I thought in fairness before I write this blog, I should visit again and consume yet another hot fudge Sunday (what a job I have). I want to be current in my judgment.
Well, that will be the last time – I won’t be returning to Fanny’s.
The servings were SO tiny and NO FREE TASTE SAMPLES!
Interestingly, the spoons provided are itsy-bitsy – perhaps to make the tiny ice cream scoops last longer or to appear larger then they actually are??? The whipped cream seemed to be a Cool Whip cousin and the hot fudge was just chocolate sauce.
Now what they lacked in ice cream Sunday quality, Fanny tries to make up for with festive umbrellas and tasteful little serving dishes for their toppings. So, if you’re into optics (and mini conical hats on the top of your spoon), Fanny’s is your place. But, if you want really yummy ice cream, skip Fanny’s.
The atmosphere and service were also second-rate. It simply wasn’t a comfortable place to be!
And then the bill arrived. Two (2) small ice cream Sundays – almost $10 usd.
There are some far better ice cream options in Saigon.
Fanny’s gets a HO HUM rating on Eating Saigon!’s Yum Meter.
Fanny Ice Cream
29-31 Ton That Thiep Street
View Fanny Ice Cream in a larger map
As a 35-year resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, my heart pounded when, several years ago, I first stumbled upon BUDS of San Francisco’s first ice creamery location here in Saigon! I recalled that the quality of BUDS ice cream was perhaps the best of the best. And, in Saigon, it didn’t disappoint.
With a large selection of flavors, free taste samples, fun and nicely decorated multi-story eateries and fair prices, BUDS became one of Hai and my regular weekend stops for a relaxing late night treat.
And it seems the rest of Saigon agrees. BUDS now boasts somewhere between 6-10 locations in Saigon, many having 3-6 floors of ice cream-consuming Saigonese youth (and a couple of older westerners ). The ice cream quality itself remains excellent.
Unfortunately, it seems BUDS now is trimming corners. The quantity of whipped cream provided has shrunk dramatically and the original yummy hot fudge sauce has been reduced to a simple brown smear on the inside of the serving glass – proving the visuals of hot fudge without the substance.
And annoyingly, the overall management of BUDS’ creameries is quite weak. It is not unusual that we must wait more than15 minutes when I stop at a BUD’s to simply pick up a quart of pre-packed ice cream for take-away. I watch in amazement as a half-dozen youthful employees run into each other trying to solve the apparently complex task of retrieving the quart, placing it in freezer bag, and accepting payment. So, BUDS ice cream is very good – just not what it used to be. BUDS gets a YUM rating on Eating Saigon!‘s Yum Meter.
BUD’S ICE CREAM
206 Nguyễn Trãi
phường Phạm Ngũ Lão
View BUD’S Ice Cream in a larger map
With only one location in the city (luckily for visitors, located near tourist-central), Swensen’s is now one of two Saigon ice cream rivals competing to be the king of ice cream in Saigon. With excellent quality ice cream, a large selection of flavors (I love the big chocolate pieces in the chocolate-chip ice cream), free taste samples, generous and delicious amounts of hot fudge, real whipped cream, and friendly and competent service and management, Swensen’s will bring a smile to your face and to your tummy.
Swensen’s is always one of Hai and my top choice destination for an ice cream treat.
Do yourself a favor and find your way here. Swensen’s earns Eating Saigon!’s YUM YUM YUM rating.
Swensen’s Ice Cream
73 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
View Swensen’s Ice Cream – Saigon’s #1 Ice Cream in a larger map
Finally, the latest entry into Saigon’s exploding ice cream eatery competition is world-famous Baskin Robbins. Clean – no, spotless. Well lighted – no, brilliantly illuminated. Cheery – yes, in a sterile way.
So, little ambiance here. Not a place to relax and loiter, but some classic, world-class, delicious ice cream here. And, it’s well-managed and offers free taste samples and real hot fudge and real whipped cream. Perhaps soon to become the king of Saigon ice cream, but at the highest price, by far!
APRIL 2013 ALERT: We learned this week that Baskin Robbins stopped carrying Cherries Jubilee Ice Cream in Saigon. That’s my favorite #1 ice cream on the planet!! Let’s start a campaign to get Cherries Jubilee Ice Cream returned to Saigon. Please, march into your local B&R in Saigon and ask “Where’s my Cherries Jubilee?”
Baskin Robbins are popping up all over Saigon this year! Baskin Robbins earns Eating Saigon!’s YUM YUM YUM rating.
Baskin Robbins Ice Cream
01 Truong Dinh Street
(other locations at www.baskinrobbins.vn )
View Baskin Robbins Ice Cream in a larger map