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Hẻm Gems: Tokyo Moon Cafe Introduces Homey Korean Flavors to Japan Town

Stepping into Tokyo Moon is like venturing into a world of wonders, neatly packed within a mere 35-square-meter space.

Tucked inside Saigon’s Japan Town on Lê Thánh Tôn Street, Tokyo Moon is run by an older Korean couple who has been serving tea and sweet treats for more than six years. The cozy cafe has been a time-honored Saigoneer favorite ever since we featured it back in 2018. About a year ago, a new Tokyo Moon location opened nearby, so we decided to go and check it out.

Tokyo Moon II is unfortunately closed.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at the new location, we found out that it had closed, seemingly permanently. We lingered there awkwardly for a while and captured some snapshots of the shop’s elegant pastel-pink facade. Then, we took a short walk to the original Tokyo Moon in the maze of alleys on Thái Văn Lung to see if it too had closed. Luckily, the OG cafe is open.

The tiny corner of Tokyo Moon in Japan Town.

Once inside, I immediately felt the snug and cozy atmosphere for which Tokyo Moon is renowned. Our group of three was just enough to occupy the largest table in the shop. Classical music was playing in the background, and from time to time, the owners would let out the common Korean expression “Uwaaa!” in delight whenever familiar Korean patrons entered the store.

Our drinks came with mismatched cutleries and glasses.

We picked an array of options from the menu, mostly tea-based beverages. After a brief wait, our order arrived. Alongside our drink was an additional ginger tea presented in an odd-looking ceramic teapot that piqued my curiosity. A Google Search informed me that the unique vessle was a “Yokode kyusu” teapot. The Japanese teapot with a distinctive cylinder-shaped handle is quite different from the usual pots I've seen.

The ssanghwacha comes with an egg yolk.

According to one of the owners, Madame Moon, the Tokyo Moon tea was steeped with various Chinese herbal medicines. The brew had a brownish hue, with tiny jujube slices and pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top. As I slowly sipped the hot tea, a warm, lightly sweet, gingery taste lingered in my throat — a comfortable feeling indeed. The cup of Tokyo Moon tea also came with a small spoon to scoop up the garnishes and have a nibble.

I also chose to try yulmucha, mainly because of its name. A type of Korean tea made from powdered adlay millets (hạt ý dĩ in Vietnamese), yulmucha fit well in Tokyo Moon’s roster of healthy beverages. What surprised me about this drink was that, while originating in Korea, yulmucha felt so familiar. As soon as the cup was brought to my table, the tea’s aroma reminded me of the of the instant nutritious cereals I used to have as a kid. After having a taste, I realized that the liquid had a thicker consistency than a regular drink; its nutty flavor and creamy texture reminded me of chè mè đen. The inclusion of jujube slices and pumpkin seeds meant this tea could be both a drink and a warm, light snack for the afternoon.

Knick-knacks and keepsakes fill the space at Tokyo Moon.

But tingling your taste buds with healthy tea beverages is not all that there is at Tokyo Moon, because you can also immerse in the cafe’s vivid decorations. We sat beside a wall-mounted shelf full of books, vintage film cameras, ceramic figurines of kittens, etc. Even on our table, there was a tray that contained colorful chocolate candies, and a notebook with the owners’ handwritten menu and adorable pencil sketches.

Mr. and Mrs. Moon behind the counter.

“Many of the decorations here are gifts from our customers, even things like the coasters and cups are handmade by the customers too,” Madame Moon shares with us. When we first walked into the cafe, we were greeted with a wall full of polaroids of the shop’s past visitors, and it seems like one of the factors that make this place look so charming is you get to see small traces of patrons who had enjoyed their stay in Tokyo Moon through the years.

The wall of Poraloid shots preserving generations of customer visits.

Other than the perceivable things that adorn the cafe, the sounds also contributed to the soothing atmosphere at Tokyo Moon. The playlist is handpicked by Mr. and Mrs. Moon, and their preference for classical music is because “back then, Mr. Moon’s dream was being a maestro in an orchestra.”

Due to the small space, Tokyo Moon discourages laptop use and limits visits to 1.5 hours.

Madame Moon let us in on some of their plans for the future, telling us they recently opened a new cafe in South Korea. And just like how Tokyo Moon was named in honor of their family name and Mr. Moon’s Japanese roots, they combined personal identities to come up with the name Ssanghwacha & Cafe Saigon. They are hoping to introduce some Vietnamese beverages to South Koreans, “something like ‘cà phê muối’ for example,” Madame Moon explained of the planned menu. We also got an explanation behind why the new Tokyo Moon was permanently closed: it was simply too overwhelming for the couple to run three cafes at the same time.

Many decorations here were gifts from past patrons.

Before going to Tokyo Moon, I came across an online review commenting that Tokyo Moon carries a very Studio Ghibli vibe, and I wholeheartedly agree. Enjoying a cup of tea in the middle of many whimsical, appealing decorations and velvety classical music makes it a calm and relaxing space to forget about the worries of the world for a few hours, just like watching a Studio Ghibli film. I got so lost in the atmosphere that when was time to leave, I forgot to take my bag with me. Luckily, Madame Moon was quick to notice and brought it to me when I was about to hop on my bike. It was a small but funny moment to cap off a day full of good tea, charming sights and memorable interactions. 

Tokyo Moon opens from 10am to 10pm every day.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 3.5/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 5/5

Tokyo Moon

8A/1C2 Thái Văn Lung, Bến Nghé Ward, D1, HCMC


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