Cover Peter Cuong Franklin (Photo: Courtesy of Anan Saigon)

The Vietnamese-American chef-owner of Anan Saigon reminisces about his decade in Hong Kong and remembers some of his top dining destinations, from hole-in-the-wall eateries to buzzing bars and beachside restaurants

Peter Cuong Franklin’s restaurant Anan Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City was the sole representative from Vietnam on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, further cementing the Vietnamese-American chef’s reputation as a leading proponent of his nation’s cuisine. It’s interesting to note, though, that despite the esteem in which the chef is held––Franklin also appears on Tatler's Asia's Most Influential: The Tastemakers List 2021 list––his career has not always had a culinary slant. With a background in banking, it wasn’t until 2008 that Franklin swapped the stock market for stock pots, and went to culinary school, later opening his own private dining space, Viet Kitchen in Hong Kong before becoming founding chef at much-loved contemporary Vietnamese restaurant Chom Chom in Soho.

Franklin’s departure for Ho Chi Minh City in 2017 was a loss for the Hong Kong dining scene, but for Franklin it marked the start of something new and exciting. Ho Chi Minh City’s dining scene five years on is abuzz with a growing number of chef-driven dining concepts and compelling places to eat. Franklin himself not only boasts the award-winning Anan Saigon in his repertoire, but also runs noodle bar Pot Au Pho and 60s-style cocktail bar Nhau Nhau. Vietnam’s bar scene is thriving––three bars from across the country were listed on Asia’s Best Bars 51-100 list for 2021 including Hybrid in Nha Trang at number 96, Summer Experiment in Ho Chi Minh at number 77, and Ne Cocktail Bar in Hanoi at number 76.

Franklin’s return to Vietnam was also something of a homecoming. The chef left Vietnam as a child refugee in 1975 at the age of 12, when he was evacuated to the US and adopted by an American family. He went on to achieve a degree from Yale that led to work in the world of finance in a role that would take him back to Asia. By 2008, Franklin had decided on a career change––a course at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit in Thailand allowed him to embark on a second career focused on F&B in Hong Kong, a place that he still considers his second home and where, when time––and more recently travel restrictions––allow, he continues to return to frequently, visiting many of his favourite places, which he shares here.

Related: Why Ho Chi Minh City’s Evolving Dining Scene Has Never Been More Inviting

What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while? 

Even though I now live in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam is my new home, Hong Kong is near and dear to my heart since I lived there for more than 10 years. It is where I established my career as a chef, where I got married and where both of my children were born. I have lived in so many places that sometimes I am not sure what and where is home. If home is a place where you dearly miss the food, the place and the people when you are no longer there, then Hong Kong is also home.

Aside from the classic Cantonese dishes such as dim sum, BBQ and wonton noodles, I also miss the Hong Kong-style dishes that are a fusion of traditional Cantonese cuisine with British and other food cultures such as Hong Kong-style milk tea, pineapple bun with butter, scrambled egg sandwich with salted beef, and baked tomato pork chop with rice.

For Kee, the hole in the wall eatery on Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, is one my favourite lunch spots for the delicious no-frills ‘gold medal pork chop rice’, which consists of just-steamed white rice and a flavourful pork chop marinated in soy sauce. The corned beef egg sandwich offered here is also pretty damn tasty.

Related: 25 Iconic Hong Kong Dishes To Try In 2021

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

I used to work in Central so eat and drink at most of the places located in Central or nearby Sheung Wan. I usually start off with a bowl of shrimp wonton noodle at Mak’s Noodle on Wellington Street. The shrimp broth is clear and clean like a classic French consommé. It’s very small––rice bowl size––so more of a starter than a meal. I then follow up with a hearty bowl of roast goose drumstick noodles at Yat Lok on Stanley Street.   

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong––for fine dining and for more casual experiences? 

Since our restaurants were near each other and we all opened our restaurants around ten years ago, my favourite places are David Lai’s Neighborhood, Matt Abergel’s Yardbird and Vicky Cheng’s VEA. I like to pop into Neighborhood for a plate of pasta, a special of the day and a catch-up with David over a glass of wine. Yardbird is always busy so I try to get a seat the bar for some tasty chicken skewers and also to catch up with Elliot Faber over sake. Vicky Cheng and I got to know each other when we started our private kitchens in the same old walk-up building near Lan Kwai Fong about ten years ago. I am excited to come back and try Wing, his new restaurant that pays homage to Chinese cuisine.

If you have guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?

I like to take guests to City Hall Maxim's Palace for dim sum on Sundays. It’s massive, raucous and busy with great views of the harbour and the dim sum is served from trolleys so it's a fun experience to pick and choose from what comes by. People in Hong Kong are so busy all the time, so I like to see local families eating, relaxing and enjoying time together on Sundays.

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and drinks?

I have a few good friends who also work late so we often like to catch up at La Cabane on Hollywood Road for a bottle of natural and biodynamic wine and nibble on cheese and charcuterie plates, which are available until quite late.

Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Hong Kong?

I enjoy the laid back and friendly vibe at COA and great agave-driven drinks that Jay [Khan] makes. COA was not a well-known bar a few years ago so I’m not sure I’ll still be able to get a seat when I return now that it has been recently named the Best Bar in Asia [by Asia's 50 Best].

For tea and coffee I like to go to Nana Chan’s teakha, the cosy cafe on Tai Ping Shan Street in Sheung Wan. I love to wander and explore the area, too, to see what interesting stuff I can find.

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

I used to live in Shek O beach for a period of time, so I like to go to the Shek O Thai Restaurant for lunch and hang out around the beach and explore the village and catch up with old neighbours. It’s a nice escape from the bustle of life in Central.

What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?

Duddell’s airport branch serves up their roast goose with travel-friendly, leak-proof packaging.

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of Hong Kong where you live in Vietnam?

We have a lot of good Cantonese eateries in Cho Lon in district 10, the Chinatown area of Saigon, but unfortunately it’s a bit far away from District 1, where I live and work. My go-to place is Tiệm cơm thố Chuyên Ký which is located in Cho Cu wet market on Tôn Thất Đạm Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 and conveniently located within walking distance of Anan Saigon. This is one of the last surviving Chinese restaurants in the centre of Saigon with a 70-year history and serves rice in old-school stone pots that come with chicken, beef with ginger, or steamed lap xuong, the Vietnamese version of Cantonese lap cheong (Chinese sausage). The double-steamed baby black chicken with black seaweed and Chinese herbal medicine is pretty amazing––the broth is dark, flavourful, soothing and clean like the best French chicken consommé.

Related: A Taste Of Home: Emmy The Great On Where To Eat In Hong Kong