“Are you sure you took down the right address?” asks my companion as we pull into the parking lot beside an insalubrious looking Chinese restaurant. I did, but I was starting to doubt the veracity of the magazine feature I’d had translated naming this as one of the top spots in Cholon. the façade featured disconcerting cartoon likenesses of various animals – including a lurid- green dismembered turtle – while the filthy tablecloths, strip lighting and hatchet-faced waitresses inside made it as welcoming as a sauna in the sahara. “Let’s skip it,” I whispered as we backed gingerly towards the door.
Journalism, like any other profession, involves good and bad gigs. Landing the task of scouring saigon’s Chinatown for the best edibles from the Middle kingdom fell squarely into the former camp, at least on first review.
In past lives I have rewritten old reviews of dubai restaurants within a day of pitching up in the Middle east and compiled themed lists of eateries in cities I have never visited. This was a far more palatable task. I live in Saigon, I love Chinese food and Cholon was an area I had always wanted to investigate further. What’s more, I had around a fortnight to come up with the goods. What could be difficult about that?
As the days ticked down and one blind alley led to another blind alley, it became apparent that this particular foodie mission would not be the cinch it first appeared. To use football parlance, an inevitable walkover turned into an unknown quantity then into a potentially humiliating banana skin.