There is a deceptive simplicity to Middle Eastern food. On the surface it looks fairly straightforward: barbequed meats, various dips with flat breads, falafel and kofta, shawarma and doner wraps and sandwiches. Brett Davis takes a look at Zeytun Middle Eastern Cuisine HCMC and Hoi An.
Yet the devil is in the detail, the marinades, spices and cooking needs to be on point or it can go from very good to very bad, very easily. Zeytun, which has been turning out Middle Eastern Halal food on Bui Vien Street in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district for more than two and a half years, delivers the goods.
A sister restaurant of the same name also recently opened in Hoi An, right next door to Banh Mi Phuong, the Anthony Bourdain consecrated sandwich shop constantly thronged by tourists.
Zeytun gets the small things right, which means the core ingredients have been properly and painstakingly prepared, and execution in the cooking and plating is spot on. It is also refreshing to see a restaurant serving up this type of cuisine not being overly reliant on the tajine, the ubiquitous slow cooking clay pot used across the region. They can sometimes be used to mask deficiencies in the kitchen by cooking long and low enough to make any combination of ingredients reasonably passable.
‘Fresh daily and to order’ is the philosophy at Zeytun, and it shows in the end results. The dips such hummus and baba ghanoush pair perfectly with freshly baked pita, and meats have been impeccably marinated and cooked over glowing coals.
Some of the standout dishes include the pide pizza with beef, which is shaped something like a kayak and is topped with a lightly baked egg; the falafel, served in various dishes, which has a slightly spicy kick, crunchy exterior and is cooked fresh to order; and the beef shish kebab, which has to be tried to be believed such is its melting tenderness and mixture of garlic and zingy lemon and herb marinade.
Both of the Zeytun restaurants have distinctive layouts. In Ho Chi Minh city the usual tall, narrow building affords the opportunity to sit above the fray and take in the view from the second floor dining area; while in Hoi An, a long corridor leads to a cool and quiet courtyard with a retractable roof perfect for enjoying a clear evening.
And last but not least, a selection of shisha pipes and flavoured tobacco are on offer at both locations for a very chill way to round out a satisfying evening.