Saigon Food Tour – Stop 2 – Vietnamese Coffee

From the Banh Xeo, remaining in District 3, our Saigon food tour took us to the oldest coffee shop in Saigon. Nearly 80 years ago a man named Vinh Ngo founded this small shop using a very old traditional method to make his coffee. Today his 3 daughters run the business with very little change.

Cheo Leo, “high and dangerous“ from its early days in a then nearly uninhabited neighborhood for its exposure.

The coffee was served with the usual sweetened condensed milk and was fabulous. I haven’t had anything less than a stellar cup of coffee in Vietnam yet, but this stood out above all others. We got a tour of the method in the tiny kitchen from one of the sisters.

It begins with very old clay pots on the original charcoal fired burner. The finely ground coffee goes into the pot in a cloth strainer. There’s a lot of pouring of one pot into another.

What I loved most about this place however, is how basic and unassuming it was. No lighted sign proclaiming “best coffee in Saigon”. It was a tiny little–very popular–place in an old neighborhood and all five tables were filled.

Cheo Leo is not fancy, or trendy; but, it is as popular today as it was 80 years ago!

In fact, if you insist upon a shiny Starbucks-type venue, you’re apt to be disappointed by the paint chipping on the wall where the yellowed newspaper clippings hang in frames. But this was exactly why I had come here.

Michael and I with one of the 3 sisters who operates Cheo Leo today

I’m not sure this would appear on any tourist map, and if it did you might get to it and think this can’t be the Place, but that’s exactly what was so wonderful about it! The coffee is robust and rich, as is the atmosphere.

As I sat in this coffee shop listening to the sounds of the neighborhood and the music that played I just couldn’t imagine being anywhere better at that moment.

TT

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