As fate would have it, I was offered an exciting new job opportunity in Saigon and decided to make the move. I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of living there due to its notoriously fast-paced lifestyle and high population density. Da Lat or Hoi An certainly would have been a more similar vibe to what I was used to, having come from laid-back Chiang Mai. But, putting all my fears aside, I set out and found a little apartment in Thao Dien, a very nice ward in district 2 which is well known for being the main expat area in Saigon. Once I’d settled into this cool new area, Hum vegetarian was the first restaurant I wanted to write about.
32, D10 St., W. Thao Dien, D.2
Hum vegetarian has three different outlets: Hum Lounge in district 1, Hum Garden district 2 and Hum Cafe in district 3. Each outlet was designed by a different architect. Stepping into Hum Garden at Thao Dien, I felt an immediate sense of belonging. The restaurant is a white villa located in a green and peaceful garden, much lower than the other high-rise buildings surrounding it. It looks like a “green island” in the city. Designed by a21studĩo, all of the architecture and interior decor materials are carefully sourced from different parts of Vietnam. These include raw, dark colored wood, red bricks and embroidered curtains to bring out the essence of Vietnamese culture.
I particularly enjoyed being here in the afternoon, when the lunch rush of customers had quieted down a bit and everyone around me seemed to be in a relaxed mood. You can choose a table near the inner garden, order a glass of sapodilla smoothie and focus on working or writing, or just do some leisurely people watching.
32, Vo Van Tan, W.6, D.3
Among the three different outlets, my most favourite is Hum Cafe in Vo Van Tan street, district 3 - a spacious, tranquil place near the famous War Remnants Museum. This Hum seems designed from the start as a place to find peace in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city. There is a white wall and another brick wall in front of the restaurant to “block” it from the busy street outside. A purposefully narrow wooden path from the front gate to the restaurant is a thoughtful touch to almost force people to walk one by one instead of walking and entering together as a group (sometimes I think if that path was longer it could be used as a walking meditation for some). Even the scent of lemongrass being diffused throughout the restaurant evokes a feeling of calm.
When scouting for a location to establish this Hum cafe, the owner had a vision of a charming place with some sort of history behind it, a place to recover and rest (not just a restaurant). So she searched intensely and found an old French style mansion and decided to renovate it. I won’t show a full picture of the restaurant here, but rather simply feature some nice details with the hope that it makes people feel curious enough to come and experience it for themselves ;-).
The first dish I tried at Hum was brown rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and it remains my most favourite dish even now, the rice was nicely seasoned, well cooked, and topped with fragrant lotus seeds. Hum has a large menu with a variety of Vietnamese and Thai inspired dishes (which were totally able to satisfy my cravings for Thai food). The restaurant’s director told me that from the very beginning they wanted to create a new concept for Hum, and it would be different from any other vegetarian restaurant at that time that served ‘faux meat’. They want to change people’s misconceptions about vegetarian food as being “boring” or “tasteless” by putting a lot of creativity into the menu. I got a chance to talk with Ngoc - the head chef - who spent many years working in Bangkok. He said the food is non-traditional vegetarian, which means they also use egg, milk, onion and garlic. Personally, I think the sauces he made are amazing, it’s the key to making Hum’s food burst with flavour.
In the upcoming months, Away will collaborate with Hum Garden in district 2 to host food styling and other creative workshops. After learning about their vision and values, I believe Hum is truly a place where I will have the opportunity to learn about a new type of cuisine and experiment with food styling and photography. Please stay tuned for our next workshop in this beautiful place!