After the success of our French experiences, we thought we’d follow up with a journey deeper into the cosmopolitan heart of Saigon through Japanese pizza.

You heard right. It was something Sim had read about online and everyone raved about the pizza, so we thought it was worth giving it a go. It required some perseverence to find the restaurant (“4Ps”) which was not only down a tiny alley but around a bend in the alley, so it wasn’t visible from the street.

No one matches the Japanese for making you feel welcome, and I have felt an unreasonable sense of ambivalence towards me in Saigon based on nothing but the absence of the call of “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome!”) when I enter a shop. Although I had only booked our table an hour earlier, I was greeted at the door of the restaurant like a returning prodigal and several staff members took up the cry, “Miss Holly!”.

I don’t know what “4Ps” was originally supposed to mean, but our moist towelette wrappers said, “Platform of Personal Pizza for Peace”. Outstanding.

We were seated at the counter and had an excellent view of the chef, a serious-looking man who was as deft as an Italian with the dough but enjoyed a seemingly inexhaustible need to make the toppings of each pizza absolutely perfect, with the result that only one pizza tended to be in the oven at a time. An assistant was allocated to the task of placing the pizzas into and withdrawing them from the oven, and poking then with chopsticks for some reason halfway through cooking.

The woodfire oven is evidently a source of pride, as the entire restaurant seems to have been constructed around it: it dominates the centre of the bottom floor, and the spiral staircase to the upper levels wraps around the chimney. The pizza itself deserves its reputation; the crust is light, thin and slightly blackened, the mozzarella (apparently home-made) stringy but not heavy, and not too thickly applied. In the spirit of the evening we tried a Japanese flavour (miso salmon) and a Vietnamese one (edible flowers with sweet chilli) and both were most enjoyable, as was our impeccably polite waitress’s dismay when she saw us pouring our wine ourselves. She seemed to take it personally as a reflection of her inattentiveness (in fact, I doubt she could have been more attentive without standing behind us and watching us eat).

To make up for our shameful indulgence in Western cultures, today we took a Vietnamese cooking course that started with a guided stroll through the Ben Thanh market. We learned about different fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, various dried ingredients and even candies. It was much less confronting going through the market in a structured way, though to be honest, there were some things I was ok not being able to put a name to (pig’s penis, anyone?) It is pretty extraordinary how dexterous the women can be with a cleaver given it’s not really designed for fine details.

The cooking course was fun and a good way to learn some basics, such as dressing a Vietnamese salad and using the key ingredients (shallot, fish sauce, garlic etc) in various ways. One of the dishes was a sweet and sour soup which I wouldn’t usually like but I thought I’d give it a go; turns out even when done to an authentic recipe and adjusted to my taste (extra on the sour), I still don’t like it. Good to know. Dessert was a strange soupy pudding made with mung beans, coconut milk and sago that was surprisingly delicious.

Tonight is our last night in Saigon and we leave early tomorrow morning. Our next couple of days will be spent in the forest, so there may be a short hiatus depending on whether there is internet available.

Pizza 4Ps
8/15 Le Thanh Ton, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
(08) 38 229 838
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30am to 11pm. Bookings recommended (ask for a seat at the counter if you want to amongst the action).

Vietnam Cookery Center
362/8 Ung Van Khiem St, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City
(848) 35 121 491
Classes twice daily, morning classes have the option of including the market tour.

One thought on “Fusion”

  1. Pizza sounds awesome. I would have loved the cooking course, and tour of the market! Though I agree that some things are perhaps better left unknown…

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