Hidden in the eaves above one of Saigon’s most famous strips of real estate, Com Nha proves that sometimes it pays to look up. By Simon Stanley. Photos by Vinh Dao.
High above Dong Khoi, at the very top of the crumbling, colonial-era megalith that is number 151, sits an intimate dining space filled with light, vintage decor and plenty of that chipped-paint, bare-brick charm we all love. Despite being easy to miss from street level, and thus far rather overshadowed by the area’s more tourist-friendly dining options, Com Nha has quickly become a favourite among the local crowd since opening in February 2015.
Serving up three freshly cooked traditional Vietnamese meals each day – breakfast until 10am, lunch until 3pm then dinner (with lunch and dinner both served as a decision-free set) – Com Nha’s menu is never the same, changing each and every morning depending on what the local markets have to offer. “It’s always different,” says owner and head chef Ngoc Anh, “but I always offer a choice of meats and seafood.”
On the day of our visit, Anh presents us with a luffa soup (yes, those things you scrub your back with in the shower). “It’s a vegetable,” she says. “It tastes quite amazing.” Beside this, all beautifully presented on a traditional woven tray, is a generous portion of stir-fried courgette and a large steaming bowl of rice. We’ve also chosen three of the day’s four meat and seafood options to sample: mussels in chilli sauce, pork in shrimp paste, and fish cakes in tomato sauce. There’s only photographer Vinh and I here and he’s already eaten. I unfasten my belt a notch and tuck in.
With the passion and care Anh puts into her meals, I’m not surprised to discover that each element is exquisite. I can instantly taste the freshness and the quality of the fish in the cha ca, the tomatoes in the sauce, the tender mussels and the subtle warmth of chilli. I even enjoy the shrimp paste on the pork. “Vietnamese people love shrimp paste,” says Anh, “but many foreigners don’t like it. They think it’s too strong.”
But no, I like it. Here at least. The intensity is just right and sides well with the pork. Along with the soup, rice and vegetables, I couldn’t imagine a more rounded meal. Two thumbs up.
Com Nha’s sets are all just VND 59,000. Visit now before the secret gets out. Oh, wait a second…