The Workshop


Well, folks, I have tried almost every craft brew bar and grill in HCMC and Thu Dau Mot. I enjoyed most. I will revisit some from time to time. Due to a weight loss challenge and a few bad after effects that come up, I am moving on to one of my other addictions, coffee. It makes me lively and thoughtful as beer, but without the same calories and swollen ankles. Before, beer…coffee. There is a coffee shop every ten meters in Vietnam. A lot sit next to each other serving the same exact drinks. Most are serving ca phe sua da, but I want to find those serving European style coffees. I’m looking for a quiet place, peaceful with soft conversations. I want to get away from the streets, maybe down a hem (alley) or up an old stairwell. I am avoiding plastic or wooden stools with my knees up high making my old hips hurt. Most importantly, I am looking for a cup of joe hand crafted for me.

I once found a small article listing unique coffee shops in HCMC. Most of these cafes are stated to exist in the Phu Nhuan district of the city, outside the city center with it’s own Vietnamese chaos. My first on a tour is not one of these. This cafe is located in District 1,  two floors above a tree lined and shaded street. It’s kind of classy. The menu is leather bound. One page demonstrates the different styles of making a cup of coffee. They offer pour over and immersion styles.

I first tasted Pham Manh Hung plain, black. It was bitter with an aftertaste of raisin as mentioned on the menu. The flavored lingered delightfully without the compulsion of cleansing my palate. The second taste -Halle Berry style- light and sweet with milk and sugar brought out the raisin and molasses flavor with some gusto. It was quite delicious. The problem with Vietnamese style is you never know how much sweetened condensed milk they use, and they tend to be too sweet. You never know if they are using robusta or arabica beans. It’s not common to get a Vietnamese coffee hot either.

I was quite delighted to find this cafe with the pour over option. It’s how I make coffee at home. I gave my French press to some young American guys because it was too large for just me. I don’t like cold coffee and that’s what happened with the press.

This cafe is called the Workshop and it lives up to it name. There is a separate conference room which was being used by people wearing matching polo shirts. Others were with a laptop or some paperwork. Some people were in small groups and pairs. There are small tables next to the large windows looking over the quiet street. There are also a few communal tables in the center. They have a counter, but the stools were a bit too high, with no proper bar to place your feet.

As I mentioned before, the street is quiet, lacking the chaotic HCMC traffic of motorbikes. The other noise, construction, is the reminder of the ever changing and developing city.





Craft Beers



It was to my great surprise that I would find a good wheat beer here in Vietnam. I have fond memories of previous visits that included Bier LaRue on ice. Any beer really, on ice. The beer here is extremely light and chuggable. Most nights traveling in S.E.Asia involved drinking some of these beers names after big cats, like Tiger, Bier Larue, and Leo. I’ve never been a fan of Chang from Thailand, but a lot of people don’t mind the Changover, I guess, the next morning. It wasn’t until the end of my CELTA training course in Ho Chi Minh City that I found some craft beers. They weren’t cheap like the others offered but definitely tasty. I’m a fan of hefeweizen, ales and lagers. Imagine how one would feel being served by some tattooed Vietnamese hipster listening to western music of their decade. It was like home.

My first craft beer was had at Ong Cao. They don’t brew their own beer here, but serve some of the best made in HCMC. Open to the street, the music draws you in. As you look in deeper toward the taps, there are some cool looking young guys with mustaches, tattoos and stylish haircuts. They serve with a smile anything you desire from the menu. In my opinion their music choice is top shelf playing American soul, R&B, and some hip hop or pop from a time that was so good in my life. I enjoy singing along with a delicious beer in my hand.

Upon my arrival in Vietnam a year ago, it never occurred to me that a craft beer scene would be on the rise. Once I moved out of HCMC and settled in Thu Dau Mot I found out from another beer enthusiast that there were quite few options to experience some good beers. I am in no way endorsing any of these places, but just letting you know they exist. Whatever your flavor, sociability and hunger, you will find a spot that suits you just fine.

One of my other firsts was East West. Located a block away from the famous Ben Thanh Market, this craft beer operation does it all on site. From the front of the restaurant you see the large brewing equipment looming over a number of taps at the back bar. The place is quite airy, being warehouse like. There is plenty of natural light. There are a few couches with low tables to have conversation. Tables for small groups and a large communal table near the taps. I went during some World Cup games and enjoyed a delicious steak of Australian beef. This place gives you an option of taking a six pack or even a case of bottled brews home. It’s not cheap, but once you have your bottles home you can enjoy them at your leisure. Drives into HCMC are long and pricy. This is one of the best options. Go in on a case with a friend and enjoy.

Along with their 8 – 10 standard flavors, they are always trying something new for limited times. The past few times I visited they had just run out. My only complaint is that they should erase the name off the board as soon as the last drop has been drunk. The hefeweizen is my favorite, but the East West Pale Ale is something to try. It has just the right amount of hoppiness that doesn’t punch the drinker in the nose and throat. Their Mosaic Pale Ale brings in another interesting taste profile that it’s nice as a taster, but too much for a pint for me. In June their limited edition was a Plum Sour that I appreciated, because it didn’t squeeze the glands just under my jaw. The staff is amazing and the food is quite delicious

A place tucked away on a small street is the Winking Seal. Now, I must say that I do go to the breweries during the day. The earlier it is open the better. This one doesn’t open until 3pm. It was empty when I arrived save the owners who are a collaboration of Vietnamese and American guys. The music is a nice afternoon ambience. There are about six different flavors usually on the menu. The flavors are adventurous and refreshing. Their food menu is extremely small and not that great. Their chicken nuggets should be chicken wings instead. They do can their beers and some flavors are available to bring home. Along with being close to a Tous Le Jours bakery, this place is a nice little stop before getting on the last bus back to Binh Duong Province, which is early in the afternoon.

Another HCMC favorite is Pasteur Street Brewing. I didn’t particularly like this place. It wasn’t as welcoming by staff or even others imbibing on the juice. The spring rolls ordered were disappointing and the beer was expensive. Why did it take so long to pour the beer? I had a taste and a beer and then left into the rain to find another place open this early for lunch beers. I ended up at Gammer. I was expecting a little more from their beer. The place is extremely spacious inside and out. They do brew their own craft beer, but there are only two flavors, Golden and Dark. They come in a huge glass and the Golden goes down quite nicely. That was it though. Not much of an atmosphere or character to bring me back, yet a good place to avoid the rain.

My favorite place in HCMC is Heart of Darkness Brewery. I don’t know why, but it grabbed me by the beer belly and we made friends real fast. Liking Ales and Pale Ales they have a quite a few different ones to choose from. Their pilsners are quite strong and bitter for my taste. I had their truffle fries and sliders that were okay. Mainly, I enjoy the beer here. There are so many to choose from. They all have some cool name from the book. My last beer is always Kurtz’s Insane, and I reflect on the movie Apocalypse Now. From a taster of 6 to pint glasses, I have yet to be disappointed. I also like the atmosphere at the bar. People are sociable and don’t mind some small talk. If I lived in HCMC I would be a regular there, especially since I found that they have live music and trivia night. Just after lunch is a great time to sit and do some blogging also.

Then there is the Hen House, serving Red Rooster Ales. Just a block away from Bui Vien walking street in the backpackers area of District 1 is a nice spot for whole chicken wings and delicious beer. This place was found on the night I finished my CELTA training. The perfect combination of finishing an intensive course and then celebrating with chicken and beer. It was a good night. The wings are large and the beers are cold. It’s owned by an American and it shows. They have a nice blond, but other flavors are available. One thing I wish they had were t-shirts and stickers. An overnight in HCMC, draws me to this place, especially if I get into the city a little on the late side.


As I mentioned before, the craft beer scene is growing. It’s spread out to the close provinces. Here, in Binh Duong, we have two notable places. One is Bia Factory and the other is Broken Bridge Brewery. They both brew their own flavors. One is a little more polished than the next. Let’s start with Bia Factory. Walking in, it’s nice to see a regular pool table available and shuffle board. I would say in general bar games are missing in Vietnam. Brick walls are kept raw amongst the other kitchy decorations of street signs and license plates. The high stools aren’t that comfortable and that’s when I become grateful for the bar games. It’s a chance to move around a bit. Music is my style. They have a full menu of food and beer flavors. None to take home, but it’s just a fifteen minute bike ride for me. Bia Factory is located in the New City, which is a developing area with small universities and other government industry. At a certain time in the evening, the other expats pour in. This group of expats kind of stick to themselves. Even the other Black guy wouldn’t acknowledge my presence.

The most recent opening of Broken Bridge was a complete surprise. Two young men own this small operation. They offer a small selection that they are sure to grow. One of the owners went to Michigan State and did home brewing while in university. He decided to bring the passion back to Vietnam. It’s a good thing. They have an APA and an IPA available that are quite tasty. They still need to work on somethings, mostly timing and dealing with their hops. It’s nice to have something even closer to my house. It’s nice for a quick stop there after work and enjoy a few wings before going home. It’s rather small and can get loud quite quickly with just a few drunken Vietnamese. I just hope that they continue to be inspired to improve and for sure it will be successful. They do need better seating. Fuck, I need a cushion and something not so high. Am I just showing my age or do other people just tolerate drinking in uncomfortable situations. Trust me, the seats don’t feel better the more you drink.

I made it to all of the suggested places to try good beer. Sure enough more are opening. The last venue I made it to was Bia Craft. I went to the one in District 2, but it doesn’t open until later in the afternoon. Luckily there is one in District 3 which blends into District 1. Bia Craft in D3 opens for lunch and has beers called Bottoms Up (chuggable), Let’s Get Naked, and Fucking Liar. All of them were delicious. As some advice, order food to pair with the beers. Having a taster of 4 and then ordering food will confuse you. It was extremely difficult to decide what to get off of their pub menu. Everything sounds awesome. The fish and chips sounds awesome, but it’s not. It’s been my experience in Vietnam that they always get the batter on the fish extremely wrong. They fry the fuck out of it to make it crispy, but the batter isn’t light and it takes away from the point of the highlighted item, the fish.

If you enjoy beer like I do, there is a place for you in Vietnam. There is good craft beer, freshly brewed Vietnamese beer and then beer named after cats or cities.

A lot of my beer enjoyment has happened solo. It has given me time to think and put words to paper. The earlier the better, which means a bit of peace and quiet. Usually, I would have the place mostly to myself. It has given me time to talk to staff about the operations, beer and Vietnam. I like beer. I’m glad I had a little beer tour. I’m grateful to get my pen to paper in this ways also

Think beer on ice is wrong, well, you’re wrong. It’s hot here and before you know it so is your beer. Would I put ice in a craft beer? Not yet, but I probably could.

Seriously Ill in Vietnam

About a month ago I got seriously ill. I was ill enough to go to the emergency room and stay a few days. It was a Sunday evening when I got off of work and went to get a meal at one of the western style restaurants close to the school. It had been a long week with screaming children and teens. I don’t often eat out, I usually cook at home. This particular night I didn’t want to cook and was craving pasta. I was extremely happy to have some cheesy shrimp pasta, but I should have known better.

The first time I had eaten at this particular restaurant there was no incident. I ate a large plate of pasta and enjoyed a nice beer. The second time I went there I woke up a few days later with a sore in the corner of my mouth. I had had these sores before but never knew what caused them. I hadn’t had one in more than a year. Actually writing this I looked it up…won’t go into it. It was my third visit to this restaurant and I typically learn my lesson in threes. Well, I ate my plate of pasta and drank a large beer. I sat with my kindle and enjoyed the food before I took a ride home in the rain to end the day.

I got comfortable at home and began to lesson plan for the next week. I was working on my lessons when I began to feel extremely hot and started sweating profusely. Waves of nausea began to hit me from the left and the right. I felt it in my toes. I eventually went to the bathroom and sat by my toilet spinning. One thing I hate about my bathroom is how hot it is. There was no cool floor to calm my body’s reactions. I continued to sweat and eventually heaved up my meal.

Ah, okay. Maybe my ice cream float with a touch of whiskey wasn’t the best dessert choice. I went back to the couch feeling some relief. It was hard to believe that a shot of whiskey and a beer would make me sick enough to puke. No sooner had the sweat dried on my body that it all began again. I really hate puking and I don’t know anyone who does, but I decided to campout in the bathroom for a bit, you know, get it all out of me so I could just go to bed and rest. It was only around 7pm at this time, but I was definitely done in. To shorten the story a bit, after laying by the toilet for a few hours I decided that I would be more comfortable heaving from the comfort of my bed into a trash can. The steamy bathroom was keeping me in a state. I dimmed the lights and turned over every 30 minutes or so to drop off whatever into the can.

I lay in agony for hours. It reminded me of two Christmases ago when I lived in Berkeley. That Christmas Eve was spent with some friends at Clooney’s Pub in San Francisco. I had a few pints and a shot of Fernet. I woke up the next morning vomiting uncontrollably. Sick the whole day, I finally decided in the early evening to go to the E.R. I took the last available taxi to the wrong hospital and some generous people, who had been visiting a friend, took me to the correct hospital for care. There I was diagnosed with a virus.

Well here, once I began vomiting green bile I knew it was time to get a GRAB car to the international hospital, which fortunately is very close to me. Within an hour I was admitted and diagnosed with gastritis. FUCK. I was in so much agony at this time. I began to long for the U.S. because I just didn’t believe they knew what to do with me. I thought I would have at least gotten stronger drugs for the abdominal cramping at this point.

Administration bothered me about insurance. I gave them my card but I had forgotten my passport that was conveniently laid out on my dresser for this occasion. It just never made it to my pocket. At first, I thought, how rude. I’m in all this pain and all you can do is bother me about decisions. I ended up choosing a room shared with four people, because I didn’t know what insurance would cover. I couldn’t believe I was being checked in. In the States I would have been hydrated and sent home with a few scripts. I must have got something serious going on. They pressed on my belly, did some ultra sound tests while I continued to puke and writhe in pain. FUCK.

I was eventually wheeled into a room and there was only one other patient. I made more noise than him puking into my bucket and moaning in pain. Each time a nurse asked me how I felt I wanted to lash out, “How do I fucking look?! I feel like shit!” I didn’t though.

They sent food to my bedside and I wanted to kick it over. It looked nice, but the smell sent me over the edge. My stomach would flop at the idea of putting something into it. There were times I would lay on my back looking at the ceiling reminiscing about my times as an electrician. I was fascinated how the curtain rods were fastened to the T-Bar itself and not extending to the ceiling beyond. We wouldn’t do that in the States, especially in California, due to earthquakes. It’s funny how things and structures are secured in this country.

I slept a bit but in fits and spurts. Nurses would come and go from the room. Every two hours or so vitals were checked and in my case that included blood sugar. The lights were bright and nausea kept me just on the edge of falling into a real sleep.

I started the second day feeing extremely poor. I forced myself to take a shower. It was the best thing I did for myself. I at least felt human again. I felt I had gained just the smallest amount of strength, but no appetite. I had to be careful drinking water. Drinking too much at once sent me retching minutes later. I weakly spoke to my doctor in the afternoon wondering when I might feel better. Here he explained to me that I was used to certain germs and contaminates in the U.S., but there was a lot in this country that my body couldn’t handle at this time. We just had to wait and see. Rationally, it made sense, but it didn’t help me feel better emotionally.

The room began to fill up with patients. There were about seven hours I had the whole room alone, as the other patient was discharged. Now, it was jammed packed with patients and visitors. They had no qualm opening my curtain to stare at me. They spoke loudly and used electronics as if they were in their own private homes. I really wished I had asked for a double or maybe even a single room. What made it worse is that because I had no idea I would be admitted I brought nothing with me to entertain myself. I had been alone with just my thoughts. I had no one to call to bring my passport or even a book.

The third morning, a miraculous thing happened. I woke up feeling soooo much better. I didn’t have a huge appetite, but thought that I could at least eat a banana. I craved a banana. I was thinking of the BRAT diet. For some reason there were none to give me. SADS. It was good to communicate to my doctor that I was feeling better and he said that if the good feelings continued through the night to tomorrow I could look to going home the next day at some point. I needed to make that happen. I also needed my passport for insurance purposes, as hospital admin were calling my bedside hounding me for it. I didn’t want to pay out of pocket to file forms with insurance later. Then, I decided I felt good enough to go A.W.O.L.

I needed a few things other than my passport. I hadn’t brought clothes to change into. I needed my scrub towel to have an even better shower later. My phone battery had lasted a long time, but it was about to die. I wanted my iPad. My body hurt from laying in bed the past few days and it would be good to sit up and read for a bit or watch some movies. I called a nurse to my bed and asked her about leaving. It was hard for many to understand that I DID NOT have someone to call and help me. She said she would go and ask someone if I could leave. Well, she took too long for me to wait anymore. I had it in my head to go already. As I got onto an elevator I made eye contact with one of the nurses on the floor and slipped into the lift.

I got a GRAB car to my apartment. Someone from the hospital called for me on my cell phone and I explained I would be back within half an hour. It was truly a fast trip. I got the same driver back to the hospital after grabbing some clothes, a charger, iPad and a book. I’m glad I made the trip. I was now able to drown out the voices of others. I longed to surround myself in English. I’m not worried about them speaking about me, it was just so loud, so yeah, I grabbed my headphones too.

I was quite insistent on leaving the next day. I even told the school I would make it back to teach my class in the evening. I passed the time watching music videos and started reading Casual Vacancy, by J.K.Rowling. The way the book introduces the characters I found myself a bit lost, but it solidifies soon enough for the reader to not be too impatient.

I took another shower in the morning, dressed and waited until noon for the okay. I received a few scripts to continue taking for the next few days. Insurance covered everything and I was refunded half of my deposit. So in short my co-pay for the E.R. was 1.5 million VND ($65 USD).

Satisfied by the level of care and attention, even the food I could eat, I went home to rest for my evening class. I hope I never get that sick again. I am confident in the level of care in that international hospital. I probably left even stronger after being inoculated with whatever Vietnamese bug I got.

I ate all the breakfasts and relished American English

Order anything at the Cove on Castro that has Lorenzo in the name…


One of the first questions a person asks me about living in another country is, What do you miss the most about the United States? I miss American breakfast. And just recently I recognize how I miss American English.

Missing food from you country is kind of a given when you live in a faraway place. It’s not like I don’t like Vietnamese food. I love it. I tend to be adventurous about it, but breakfast has always been my favorite meal, so when you go to a country that doesn’t actually have breakfast foods then you miss what you are familiar with.

I live in a country where there is no particular distinguishing between meals. They eat food for breakfast and there isn’t a structure as to what is consumed at any given meal.  Donner Kebab? Breakfast, lunch and dinner… phở? Breakfast, lunch and dinner…bánh mì? Breakfast, lunch and dinner…fried chicken with fried rice? Lunch or dinner. I can say that you will not find fried chicken for breakfast, except maybe at Family Mart, which is like a corner/ convenience store.

Most restauarants that do serve western style food, well, let’s just say that the American style breakfast isn’t one of the styles easily found or delicious. There are some things you have to let go of…I live in a foreign country and my food is going to taste foreign. So be it. Vietnamese food is great though. Korean food is good, because it’s made by Koreans. There are a lot of Koreans in Vietnam. They basically have their own district in HCMC. So, yeah, breakfast. It happens to be my favorite meal style. I once had a fantasy of owning a restaurant that only served breakfast food. I would have called it Breakfast, Brunch and Brinner. I could reveal other ideas inside of that concept, BUT since I’m still considering it, I shouldn’t reveal too much.

If you are ever in these following towns during breakfast service you should try a meal there. Look further than what I ordered, the menus can be big like the servings. But always delicious.

Esaus, located in Carpenteria, California is a definite stop I make every time I am visiting. It has a classic diner set up. It’s full of booths and counter seating. The servings are very large and so are the flavors.


IHOP. The International House of Pancakes is found in most U.S. cities. If you’ve never been to a IHOP, I recommend that you do. As a child I remember the commercials for their Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity. I always wanted to try this pancake order. To be honest I just like them regular and unadorned except for butter and syrup. There are choices of syrup flavors. I think that is just as good as the other additions you can make to your order.


Another great spot for pancakes is Eddie’s Cafe. It’s located in an area called Western Addition in San Francisco. It reflects what made San Francisco. There are stickers all over the place, along with SF Giants baseball paraphernalia and a collection of coffee and tea mugs chosen especially for you. I recommend the three pancake combo that comes with eggs and another meat like bacon or sausage. Their menu includes hot links, pork chops and grits. They always have some old school jams playing in the background like, Prince, Donna Summer or Tina Turner.

The Grind offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I mainly go in for the french toast. It’s located in the Lower Haight area of San Francisco. It was so close to my home that a free morning meant taking my iPad to watch Korean dramas and slowly consuming my delicious egg dipped Texas toast. This restaurant will keep it’s window open on a nice day. You can watch the world wonder by. The menu takes the American palate to a new level with familiar ingredients that you can pronounce.

Cafe International is not really a place to get food in my opinion. I like this cafe, because the owner and her daughter have been familiar faces from the time I arrived in the city. I like overhearing her conversations with different people in the neighborhood. She’s sassy and opinionated. I appreciate the liveliness. I used to give English lessons in this cafe. What I do like on the menu is the iced coffee. She totally gets it with adding coffee ice cubes to the drink. There is no watering down of the drink. It does make it seem like the drink is never ending. It is a powerful drink. Take a chance to sit on the patio and enjoy the mural and wall plants on the back patio.

The Cove on Castro is basically my second home. I’ve eaten there from the beginning of my days in the City. There was also a short time I was employed as a cashier. I have watched it grow and change. It’s been owned by the same family since the early seventies. It offers up the best comfort food in town. The roast beef plate with mashed potatoes was the most awesome welcoming when I first arrived back.

As far as language goes, in Asia, most schools are using books that teach British English. I have picked up some sayings in British English, but I miss the familiar accent, pronunciation and particular American sayings, even how we might talk about language. I just miss my language. In that I miss my co-workers. I worked with some nice, smart, English geeky, quirky and wise people.

There isn’t too much conversation about language in particular. Maybe differences in English from different English speaking countries comes up, but as I will explain more on my teaching blog, we don’t teach grammar. We try to get them to communicate and practice their oral fluency more. They look for more activities than lessons. So I miss talking about the use of language, especially with another American. It’s interesting enough because there are so many places to be from in the United States that American English is even more varied with arguments of standard. RANTS! The teacher’s room was a great place for not just as a language resource, but things that are relevant to me culturally.

This was to be my last visit for a good long time. Knowing that I wanted to listen to every conversation. I wanted to collect and compare idioms. I kept my ears open and thankfully the conversations I heard weren’t ridiculous and as mundane as before I left. I listened with different ears. Ears that relished and hungered for the familiar sounds as much as I hungered for familiar tastes.

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