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.
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.