Cafe A & B
Where Hem Só 20 (off Trần Não Street) meets the Saigon River
Quán Thu Hiền
1B Trần Não Street
This past Sunday was NOT “just another Sunday” …
- One of my favorite Vietnamese lunches!
- A breezy afternoon coffee alongside the Saigon River.
- A surprise visit by chanting Buddhist monks (on a boat)!
Now, the day started out ordinary enough. Got up, made a cup of coffee, swept the balcony, misted the orchids in the bathroom, watered the plants on the balcony, checked my emails. Now what?
The first nice surprise of the day – Hai decided to close his restaurant. A combination of one employee needing to return to his countryside home to take care of some family crisis; another wanting to attend to some personal business at her temple; and Hai’s newest hire not yet able to begin work.
So, Hai got a “free day” and we got an afternoon to enjoy Saigon together.
The night before, our friend, Tan, had invited us to come over to District 2 on Sunday to have lunch together at his favorite xôi gà (sticky rice with chicken) restaurant. So, at 11:00 a.m. we jumped on the motorbike and cruised from District 10, through Districts 3 and 1. (Sunday is my favorite Saigon streets day, having the least number of vehicles through which to maneuver. So, you can enjoy a speedy and pleasant ride across town.) Heading over the relatively new Thư Tiêm Bridge, we continued on, crossing the Saigon River from District 1 into District 2.
What a great view from the top of the bridge. We stopped for a minute to take in Saigon’s rapidly rising skyline and enjoy the steady breeze sweeping down the river. A nice perspective on the new Bitexco Tower.
We arrived 15 minutes late at Quán Thư Hiền restaurant to find Tan already seated and waiting (not so patiently) for us. BUT, we were all about to enjoy xôi gà – so not to worry!
Quán Thu Hiền features everything gà – lots ‘o chicken. The xôi gà here is likely the best in the city. Of course, xôi is “sticky rice”- a glutinous rice dish, slightly chewy (not crunchy), sometimes served as a sweet dessert, but here served with the restaurant’s signature chicken. Order xôi gà with gà đùi (chicken thigh meat) or gà thịt trắng (white meat chicken).
Want the chicken skinless? Order gà không có da (with no skin). Spoon some of the delicious chicken stock served in a small bowl over the xôi, add a twist of lime, a small squirt of soy sauce and some chili paste.
Really, really delicious.
After Lunch ?
As we enjoyed our lunch, we debated our afternoon options – massage at a local spa? Shopping in the new Crescent Mall in District 7? Coffee at a District 1 cafe (our usual)?
I offered my suggestion, “You know, I just want to do nothing! Let’s just go down the road (nearby), relax by the River, and have some coffee.”
It got three thumbs up and definitely turned out to be the right choice.
Within 5 minutes from Quán Thư Hiền , we motored through an upscale ex-pats-villa neighborhood and parked our motorbikes where the street ended at the river’s bank. There we found a simple (makeshift) coffee stand – Cafe A & B. A moment later, we found ourselves settled into comfortable, tree-shaded lounge chairs, bare feet (toes wiggling) above the river bank, enjoying a strong steady breeze coming across the Saigon River. Life was good again. And so were the cà phê sữa đá (iced coffees with milk) and the sinh tố (fruit shake).
“Oh look – there’s a boat full of tourists snapping their cameras as they cruised down the river.” (Why must they blast that deafening tourist music on board? Does any one enjoy that volume?)
Tan, Hai and I chatted about life (including xoi ga), enjoyed our drinks, watched the three fisherman cast and alternately reel in big globs of river weed and small river fish.
We lazily passed the afternoon hours, mostly enjoying the steady river breeze, a rare and refreshing treat in Saigon’s summer heat.
“Oh look – another boat – coming this way … ah … coming directly at us! Ah, is he landing here??”
YES, amazingly, this good-sized passenger-less ship pulled up to the bank, and “parked” directly in front of us. The sides of the boat were draped with scores of life-jackets, a large female Buddha graced the rear of the boat and an ornate Buddhist alter filled the front of the boat’s large covered passenger deck. “What was this?”
A few dozen passengers began arriving by car and motorbike at the river bank and boarding the Buddhist boat. Each and everyone covered themselves in a robe, and kneeled before the alter as several young monks recited some ceremonial chant.
After we finished our drinks and idle chat, drifted in and out of consciousness in our comfy chairs, and absorbed 30 minutes of riverside Buddhist chanting, it was time to conclude our lazy-day District 2 afternoon get-away. Time to return to center city.
If you have a free day in Saigon and want to treat yourself by getting away from tourist-central, you probably can’t find a more enjoyable place to spend a mellow, riverside afternoon. I’m not sure whether or not the chanting Buddhist boat will return, but the delicious xôi gà and the relaxing Saigon River coffee scene combo will surely be there for you to enjoy.
Cafe A & B
where Hem Só 20 (off Trần Não Street) meets the Saigon River
View Lunch & Riverside Coffee in District 2 in a larger map