Nostalgia rules! Retro styles always come back in fashion and design and in Vietnam it tends to manifest in hip cafes and restaurants. Get a glimpse of the past at these top 4 retro cafes and restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon.
Here’s the From 1976 to 1986, Vietnam’s national system of budget subsidy led the economy to a miserable collapse. The Vietnamese government distributed goods via stamp budgets, and consumer goods were not traded freely in the market. The government motivated goods distribution and restrained cashier transactions, leading to an extreme shortage of food and consumer goods during this period. However, this difficult period is now touted as a difficult yet romantic time in Vietnam to both old and new generations.
Nowadays, even as Vietnam’s economy has developed and new bustling metropolises have taken shape, locals still miss the good ol’ days. Many collect old housing items and surround themselves with antiquities and keepsakes in a new era of cafes and eateries. In these themed spots, patrons reminisce while enjoying food and drinks in shops that are designed to pay homage to a bygone time in Vietnam’s past. Out of the dozens of hip, chic and decidedly retro joints in Vietnam, these classy and charming throwback spots are our personal favorites.
1. Food Store no. 46
An Duong Str, Yen Phu, West Lake, Hanoi
The restaurant is impressive, to say the least. An old Vietnam-made “Thong Nhat” bicycle hangs on a wall, and other simple and familiar items from the last century such as rubber sandals, Chinese slippers or books of stamps and food coupons. The dining area exhibits a collection of paintings and posters from long gone days, as well as elephant ear fans, toad fans, typewriters, and cassette players. All are neatly and formally displayed by Mr Pham Quang Minh, the restaurant owner, who was born in Hanoi in 1962.
The restaurant welcomes foreign and local customers alike who come for not just the food, but the atmosphere as well where they can learn about Vietnam’s subsidy era through the items’ histories. Besides the antique design, vintage displays, worn wooden tables, aging chairs and chipped iron bowls, all dishes on the menu here — like rice mixed with potatoes, fried pickle with greaves, carp cooked with soybean sauce and crab soup — are the same dishes subsidy era Vietnamese were limited to during impoverished decades. Impressively, all payments are processed with stamps and customers need to queue to buy them before paying, just like their predecessors.
2. Cuc Gach Quan
10 Dang Tat, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Cuc Gach Quan Restaurant focuses on traditional Vietnamese cuisine, but also aims to bring back to the modern city a slice of the old countryside. The restaurant is cluttered with recycled and charmingly vintage items, so that “everything reminds people of the days gone by,” said Cuc Gach Quan’s managing director Huong Nguyen. The two-story house is filled with old wooden furniture, and even the outdoor tables are refurbished instead of new. The earthenware serving bowls look worn with use and are slightly chipped, while utensils are placed in a metallic bucket. And recycling isn’t limited to re-using old items –- even the straw used to serve fresh fruit juices is a stem from morning glory, a popular Vietnamese vegetable.
In line with the simplicity of olden times, the food served is very basic — all dishes typically found in a Vietnamese home. Cuc Gach Quan doesn’t feature expensive ingredients, only down-to-earth and home-cooked food with fresh meat, native vegetables and plenty of local herbs and spices. The hearty dishes, though tending to be on the salty side, are a showcase of Vietnamese comfort food — perfect to down with bowl-fulls of rice on the side.
3. Giang Coffee
39 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hanoi / 106 Yen Phu, Hanoi
This ancient coffee shop is also the birthplace of “egg coffee”, a type of drink that’s a local legend in Hanoi, and hailed as one of the city’s hidden gems and a favorite among many Hanoians. Giang coffee shop was originally located at 90 Cau Go, opened around 1946 by Mr. Nguyen Van Giang, a former bartender of Sofitel Metropole Hotel. After the reform of 1955, the coffee shop was moved to No. 7 Hang Gai, but today it is split into two, with one located on Yen Phu and the other on Nguyen Huu Huan. Two bars were opened by two brothers, and both maintain the original flavor that’s up to the high “Giang” standard.
Many customers hesitate when trying “iced egg coffee” for the first time, but they all are soon convinced that it’s one of the best and most unique kinds of coffee that’s come out of Hanoi. “Egg coffee” taste at Giang is thick with egg flavor and coffee bitterness, and the neutralization of these two opposing flavors creates the uniquely rich taste of Giang’s “egg coffee” that visitors cannot find elsewhere in Hanoi.
4. Cong Caphe
35A Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Cong Caphe began as a single, independently-owned coffee shop in downtown Hanoi that was hardly larger than a closet, but has since expanded to 7 locations and counting around the city. The popularity is well warranted — here, nostalgia and old memories are all brought back in a space full of old fashioned design with a humorous twist. With brick walls, handmade furniture and socialist and army style posters, Cong Caphe harks back to Hanoi in the 70s and 80s. The best options here are nau da – or iced black coffee with condensed milk. Those looking for something to warm up can opt for a few of the cafe’s other favorites, including hot black coffee, yogurt coffee or coconut milk coffee.
Hungry yet? The best way to experience Vietnamese culture and history is by discovering its cuisine, so be sure to explore with our Hanoi Discovery tour or The Story of Saigon tour. Discover these iconic cities with Buffalo Tours and be sure to stop by one (or all four) of these chic cafes!