Peter Cornish checks out ZuZu, one of Saigon’s best-kept secrets, a quiet little cafe with historic links. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
There’s something special about ZuZu, tucked away down the far end of Tran Ngoc Dien in Thao Dien. A ‘journey out of time in Saigon’ where memories of old Vietnam meet in harmony with the modern. Somewhere to sit and enjoy a morning juice or an afternoon coffee, enveloped in calming tranquillity far away from the noise of nearby streets.
A hidden gem tucked down a small alley offering ample parking, ZuZu Concept Store is homed in an ancient house transported to Ho Chi Minh from central Vietnam. Entering through a door below the architect’s signature and on your right the dark wooden walls are covered in intricate carvings of leaves, traditional patterns and hidden animals. On the opposite wall the panels are simple and plain, hiding a small kitchen space and an ornate bathroom.
Above the main room sits a small mezzanine, suspended beneath the tiled roof and once used to store family possession in times of flood. At each end of the room, more carved wooden panels hide the concept store selling locally produced gifts, beauty products, organic teas and vintage ceramics. Each collection produced by local artisans and chosen for the story it tells.
Throughout the building sits iconic, modern shelving units, designed around the shape of animals, a rhino, elephant and a bird. The work of designer Olivier Polmanss, co-owner of ZuZu with his partner Tomoko Ukai, the shelves are made from local woods and covered in lacquer. On the shelves sit more colourful ceramic creations, also the work of Olivier.
Step outside into a small courtyard with chairs and tables providing more space to sit and relax when the inside gets busy. White netted scrimmage hangs from the corners of the courtyard, sheltering it from the sun, and large architectural plants line the walls creating a lush, welcoming environment.
The organic teas from Dalat (VND85,000 for a pot and VND50,000 for a cup) include mixed fruit and black tea, coconut tea, lemon grass and ginger and roasted green tea and are served hot only. The coffee is from Dak Lak (VND40,000 for an espresso solo to VND68,000 for a cinnamon latte) and also organic, sourced from a Japanese friend of Tomoko.
The cold pressed juices (VND68,000) are delivered fresh daily and for those who fancy something slightly stronger, Te Te beer is newly on tap. Canele (VND35,000) and chocolate brownies (VND48,000) are currently available and an organic vegetarian lunch menu will be launched over the summer months.
Open from 9am to 6pm, ZuZu hosts temporary art exhibitions and regular community events, with a monthly party planned for the future. Owners Tomoko and Olivier set out to create a quiet and peaceful space, taking us on a journey through time and offering a memory of Vietnam. Unlike anywhere else in Thao Dien, they’ve certainly succeeded.