Diner's Diary

Why Ho Chi Minh has a culinary edge over Hong Kong, according to Chom Chom founder, who’s returning for a pop-up

Peter Cuong Franklin says Vietnamese city offers commodities in short supply in Hong Kong – a young team willing to learn and cheap, fresh ingredients for street food; he’s back next week to cook from his Anan Saigon menu

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 1:14pm

Peter Cuong Franklin is buoyant on the phone from Ho Chi Minh City, where he has just opened his restaurant Anan Saigon.

“It’s going really well, it’s amazing. I can do things here that I can’t do in Hong Kong. It’s based right in the market so we can get any ingredient,” he says. “I have an amazing team and what’s good about Vietnam is that there are bright, young people who are willing to learn, which is in short supply in Hong Kong.

“Being here is also practical because the setting-up costs are reasonable. We can experiment more, whereas in Hong Kong it’s more commercial.”

Franklin, founding chef of Chom Chom, which moved to SoHo, and Viet Kitchen, in Central, explains that his newest culinary venture is focused in Vietnamese cuisine in Vietnam, whereas other chefs and restaurateurs in Ho Chi Minh are more focused on French food.

It looks like a taco, but it tastes like banh xeo ... People say it’s the best banh xeo they have ever had
Peter Cuong Franklin

“We are doing something different in Saigon, and this young team I have is excited to be a part of it,” he says. On the menu, for example is street food like banh xeo, or Vietnamese crepe, and Franklin and his team have developed their own taco version.

“It looks like a taco, but it tastes like banh xeo. From the first day we started working on this to six months later, it’s completely different, but it has the same taste as the street food,” Franklin explains.

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“People eat it and say it’s the best banh xeo they have ever had. The crepe is hard to eat with your hands, but we figured out how to make it like a taco. You don’t need to dip it and then eat it – with our version, all the seasonings are in there and all you have to do is eat it in two bites.”

Anan Saigon is located within a market in District 1, which Franklin compares to being right next to Hong Kong’s Graham Street, where the individual wet market stalls are lined up next to each other.

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“It’s a unique location. We took over an existing building and it has a few floors, an open kitchen and bar, inside seats 50 to 60, and an outdoor space for a rooftop bar for 70 people standing up. It has one of the best views of Saigon and the sunsets from here are spectacular.”

Franklin is bringing his new style of Vietnamese street food back to Hong Kong at Test Kitchen in Sai Ying Pun from May 18-21.

Franklin describes it as a Vietnamese pizza with tofu and spiced pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin flowers will be chargrilled over coconut shell and dried coconut charcoal.

Dessert will feature strawberries from Franklin’s hometown of Dalat, and cocktails will be made from mulberry flowers with a splash of vinegar.

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Keeping busy seems to be Franklin’s motto – he went straight to Vietnam after his previous restaurant, Viet Kitchen, was abruptly shut down by restaurant group ZS Hospitality last July without much notice.

Even though he’s spending more time in Vietnam these days, Franklin is still coming back to Hong Kong periodically, and not just for the upcoming pop-up. He is also involved in other projects, including consulting for Dining Concepts on revamping the menu at Soho Spice in Central.

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“It’s been around for a while and I wanted to make it a place people could eat there like a neighbourhood place. The menu is focused on dishes from Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. We added baos, curries and the interior has been renovated so it’s modern inside. The prices are reasonable for Soho and it has a good wine programme, too.”

Franklin is excited about cooking at Test Kitchen and showing what he’s been working on. “I look forward to seeing people’s reactions, but I think they will be pleasantly surprised.”

Anan Saigon x Test Kitchen, May 18-21, 7pm and 8.15pm seatings, HK$980 per person

Shop 3, Kwan Yick Building Phase 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun

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