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Hẻm Gems: A Japanese Bánh Mì to Win Over Fusion Food Skeptics

When it comes to discussions of cuisine, I'd argue that "authentic" is the most overused word in writing and marketing, followed closely by "fusion."

I'm setting aside that first term, as dissertations could be written on it, so let's focus on fusion food for a minute. Chantal Martineau wrote in The Atlantic in 2010 that Macau could be considered the birthplace of modern Asian fusion — and let's be honest, fusion almost always involves some fort of Asian cuisine, as you would never see a restaurant advertising French-Namibian or Polish-Peruvian fusion.

During the roughly 100 years that Portugal ruled Macau, Martineau asserts, "Macanese culture as we know it came to be — and, along with it, a cuisine that expresses not only the traditions of both ethnicities living there, but the flavors of other Portuguese colonies, from Brazil to Mozambique."

In that historical context, fusion makes sense. Other times, it's less rational. You can't really take haggis, pour soy sauce on it and call it Asian fusion. (I'm being somewhat facetious, but hopefully you know what I mean.)

Oni-Oni, on the outskirts of Binh Thanh District's absolutely wonderful Japantown, is another example of fusion that makes sense.

The open-front restaurant on Huynh Man Dat Street (not the District 5 one) is run by a lovely Vietnamese-Japanese duo, and the interior features posters of Japanese ads, rattan mats, a kimono, toy paper planes and a table full of Japanese candy and arcade knick-knacks.

Open since January, the menu features a number of fried goodies (eggplant, croquettes, pork skewers and more), grilled chicken and sausage, chicken cutlets, chicken ramen and more.

A more recent addition, next to the grill made out of a 55-gallon drum cut in half, is a bánh mì cart, though you won't find ốp la on the menu. Four types of bánh mì are available, each a wonderful marriage of Vietnam's iconic bread and Japanese flavor: croquette, BBQ chicken, fried chicken or chicken cutlet, all coming in at under VND30,000.

I went for the bánh mì thịt gà nướng (VND28,000), consisting of a fluffy baguette stuffed with juicy thigh meat, lettuce, mayo and a smoky sauce. Staunch bánh mi traditionalists may take offense at this alteration of Vietnam's national sandwich, but this is fusion I can get behind, and the price for a portion that will definitely fill you up can't be beat.

I also snacked on some plump croquettes (VND10,000 each), whose crispy exterior hides a gooey, delicious inside.

The rest of the menu is just as reasonably priced, while Sapporo goes for VND40,000 and sake and sochu are also available.

Oni-Oni is yet another feather in Binh Thanh's cap, and also proves there is reason to look beyond Pham Viet Chanh and its string of excellent restaurants (I know, that can be hard; it's probably my favorite street in all of Saigon) for Japanese food. Plus, its menu gives writers a reason to bloviate about dining concepts in order to fill out their word count. What more do you need?

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

Japanese food

14 Huynh Man Dat, Binh Thanh District


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