The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City is named after the revolutionary socialist leader who united North and South Vietnam. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 May 2018

The surprising halal delights of Ho Chi Minh

  • As its the gateway to the “real” Vietnam and its stunning natural beauty, golden coastlines, rural culture, great food and war history, most travellers rarely spend more than a day or two in HCM
  • Here in the ‘capitalist’ south, HCM’s abundance of glassy towers, business centres and wide boulevards lined with popular Western brands

LONDON: Forever ‘Saigon’ to many, Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) — named after the revolutionary socialist leader who united North and South Vietnam — curiously ‘feels’ like Vietnam’s capital city, but it isn’t. That would be Hanoi in the ‘socialist’ north.

Here in the ‘capitalist’ south, HCM’s abundance of glassy towers, business centres and wide boulevards lined with popular Western brands — absent in the north — represent modern Vietnam. There is another curious difference between the two cities. Whilst it is almost impossible to find a mosque or properly certified halal restaurant in Hanoi, HCM, home to nearly a tenth of Vietnam’s 65,000 or so Muslims, has a mosque in almost every district and plenty of halal food options.

As its the gateway to the “real” Vietnam and its stunning natural beauty, golden coastlines, rural culture, great food and war history, most travellers rarely spend more than a day or two in HCM. But the city has plenty to occupy you for that time.

For a start, you can immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of a typical Vietnamese market inside the covered Binh Tay. Originally built by French colonialists in the 1880s, then rebuilt by Chinese philanthropist Quach Dam, it’s a delightful atmosphere in which to grab your morning coffee, maybe a souvenir or two, and dip into the apparent chaos of Vietnamese life.

No trip to Vietnam is complete without eating Pho; the delicious noodle soup made by cooking sliced thin strips of beef in boiling broth, topped with local green veg and garnished with a freshly squeezed lime. For Muslims, Nguyen An Ninh, a ‘halal’ street off the western edge of Binh Tay, is the place for Pho. Try Halal Osman Restaurant, Kempung Melayu and Restaurant Basirah, or if you’re really lucky you might stumble across one of the rare local halal Pho foodcarts. This street is also a great place to meet Vietnamese Muslims.

After your fill of Pho, take a short walk northeast towards the River Saigon and listen out for the dhur adhan emanating from four ornate minarets. Saigon Central Mosque was built in 1935 by South Indians on the site of an older mosque and is a colourful mix of bright lime-green and pink on whites and blues. Perform your wudu in the large pool, before stepping in to join the small congregation.

From the mosque, you can head directly north for 20 minutes to the city’s botanical gardens — a colonial legacy of wonderfully lush and exotic greenery, and the perfect place for an afternoon stroll with the family. If you have children, there is also an onsite zoo with an impressive variety of animals, including African rhinos and Madagascar lemurs — though their living conditions need improving. A visit here is also easily combined with the History Museum, which is literally next door and the best place in which to learn about Vietnam’s cultural evolution. Their exhibits include artifacts from the period of the Champa — the only local rulers to embrace Islam.

We’d recommend ending your day by following the river back south to The Bitexco Financial Tower, which shoots 262 meters into the sky with a round ‘tambourine’ 48 floors up — the impressive ‘Skydeck’, offering the finest views across the city, particularly at sunset. Jumping into the vertigo-inducing lift and heading to floor 48 is the best way to end your time in HCM.


5 reasons to add chia seeds to your diet

Updated 16 min 30 sec ago

5 reasons to add chia seeds to your diet

DUBAI: Learn all about the superfoods that will help you live a longer and healthier life. Devinder Bains, personal trainer and nutrition coach, fills you in…

Chia seeds might be tiny in size, but they pack quite a punch when it comes to nutrients. Blend them into superfood smoothies or oatmeal for breakfast, sprinkle them for a crunchy topping on an exotic fruit bowl or healthy bake, or soak in water or milk for a tasty chia pudding base. Find out how they can help keep your mind and body in top condition.

High in plant-based protein

With four grams of protein in every two tablespoons (28g), chia seeds are an excellent source of plant-based protein for non-meat eaters. Protein is key component for everything from building and repairing tissues to making enzymes and hormones. It’s also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Although the same amount of chia contains 12g of carbs, 11 of those are actually fiber, making chia a great low-carb, high protein option for plant-based and meat-eating athletes alike.

Bone health

High-protein diets have been linked to decreased bone fractures. (Shutterstock)

Chia seeds are high in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and protein — all essential for bone structure and growth. With 18 percent of the recommended daily intake of calcium in two tablespoons of chia, the amount of calcium gram for gram is higher than most dairy products. High-protein diets have also been linked to decreased bone fractures.

Anti-aging properties

Being rich in antioxidants and omega-3 oils makes chia seeds a superfood for the skin. They contribute to the anti-inflammatory properties that have been linked to both prevention of wrinkles and calming of inflamed skin. They also help treat a number of skin disorders, can help reduce acne scars and keep skin looking radiant. Chia seeds can also be applied topically by making a homemade face mask when mixed with coconut oil and lemon juice.

Brain health

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which protect the brain from damage. (Shutterstock)

As mentioned, chia seeds are stacked with omega-3 oils, which have been linked to fighting depression, improving sleep, increasing memory and concentration, protecting against cognitive decline, as well as increasing learning in children and adults with ADHD. Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which protect the brain from damage, and in minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and zinc which are all necessary for different brain functions.

Aid weight loss

The high protein, high fiber content of chia seeds make them great for keeping you full and away from the naughty snacks. Because of the high soluble fiber content, chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water, expanding in your stomach and increasing the feeling of fullness — and in turn leading you to eat less and lose weight. Studies have shown a high protein intake can reduce obsessive thoughts about food by 60 percent and the desire for night-time snacking by 50 percent.