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Aiko, a Japanese customer, enjoys her favorite Japanese authentic breakfast at Azumaya Restaurant. Photo: Tina Pham

To try something new for breakfast last week, I took my friend Aiko's suggestion to experience the authentic Japanese breakfast offered by Azumaya Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.

At the early hour of 6 a.m., we saw a different Saigon: dreamy and unburdened by heavy traffic. Sunlight showered the houses and boutiques around us. We enjoyed the simple joy of walking on uncluttered sidewalks without being bothered by roaming motorbikes.

Azumaya Restaurant is located on Thai Van Lung Street, in a Japanese hotel by the same name. Upstairs, it serves authentic Japanese breakfast; lunch and dinner are available at the bar on the ground floor.

The cost of breakfast is quite reasonable. We chose the first set menu (VND100,000), which included nine small dishes, as well as tea. Other options included the quick breakfast (VND60,000): miso soup and rice; and the continental breakfast (VND60,000): western style bacon and eggs with bread.

By chance it was a special Japanese holiday, the Emperor's birthday, making the opportunity to enjoy an authentic Japanese breakfast all the more poignant.

Traditional breakfast is an important ritual in Japanese culture, which emphasizes quality of life, relaxation, the female's role in the family and housework. In the old days, women would wake up hours before their husbands, roll up their sleeves and prepare several healthy dishes for their family's breakfast.

Very quickly our waiter delivered a bamboo tray with nine dishes of assorted colors including Japanese style steamed rice, steamed vegetables, radishes cooked in a special sauce, clam soup, fried fish, egg rolls, minced radishes and two types of pickles.

AZUMAYA RESTAURANT 

8A/8D1- 9A/9D1 Thai Van Lung Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

They were arranged in tiny bowls and dishes which looked like a lovely painting with warm delicious yellows coloring the fried fish, carrots, eggs and soup. Typical for Japanese food, there was almost no oil or fat used in the preparation, as well very few herbs. The taste of these dishes was pure and fresh and felt incredibly healthy.

 "Traditionally, in the morning we cook sea fish (other than salmon) for breakfast. Rice, soup and vegetables are also important elements of an authentic Japanese breakfast. But nowadays we are too busy to prepare authentic breakfast with so many dishes like that," Aiko said as we ate.

The dining room offered a pleasant view of Thai Van Lung Street, tranquil in the early morning. The atmosphere was calm, ideally suited to slowly savor the myriad of small dishes.

 "In an authentic breakfast like this, we don't finish one dish and then try another. We taste a bit of one food and then try others in a round. We call it "˜sankaku tabe'," Aiko explained.

By chance, together with another friend, we returned to Azumaya Restaurant for a light dinner a few days later, after an evening stroll in the city center. The bar on the ground floor where dinner is served had a very different atmosphere.

We quickly felt as if we'd wandered into the heart of Tokyo, as Japanese businessmen chilled out after a long day of work.

Dinner cost about VND200,000. I had a big lunch, so I only ordered miso soup, which was not on the menu, but the helpful cook was willing to prepare it anyway.

Luckily, my friends suffered no lack of appetite and ordered torinabe soup (chicken, leeks and cabbage cooked with chicken broth), nikujaga (potato, carrot and pork soup), salad with shredded chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, oil and sesame on top, plus Japanese ramen (noodle soup with egg, seaweed and chicken).

I couldn't resist the fragrances of torinabe soup, nikujaga soup and ramen everything was fantastic.

The service at Azumaya was also very good. The manager even came by just to remind a friend to add pork to my nikujaga.

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