Giving thanks at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon

It’s about this time of year when North Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday borne out of a tradition of communal feasts following the fall harvest. Many families have the custom of relating what they’re thankful for while enjoying a cornucopia of home- cooked favorites.

However, in an age where we mindlessly “like” Facebook posts, “heart” Instagram photos and “favorite” tweets dozens of times a day, it’s ironically harder to express gratitude for our own offline lives. Enter the “Gratitude Journal,” a trend that’s taken off in the last few years as a way of expressing thankfulness for the little things that happen every day and not just on holidays. Benefits include increased psychological well- being, enhanced positivity, reduced blood pressure and better sleep. Oprah herself kept one for a decade and while her list of 5 daily things to be thankful for have included predictably fabulous events like “Maya Angelou calling to read me a new poem”, you don’t have to be friends with world-famous Grammy winners to come up with your own list.

So it was that we found ourselves one autumn night at the festive buffet at Viet Kitchen at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon (8-15 Ton Duc Thang, D1), ready to add another entry to our gratitude journal. Granted, it was not hard to feel blessed sitting in the industrial chic space, vintage lighting casting a soft glow on sleek walls of polished stone and ceramic tiles, listening to strains of upbeat, live music coming from the nearby lobby RBar, and watching the traffic zip by through floor- to-ceiling windows overlooking busy Me Linh Square and the Saigon River beyond.

I thought about how important it is to savor the simple things in life. In Saigon, that could be scooping out the flesh of a fresh coconut or a biting into a juicy mango that drips down your chin and hand. Tonight, it’s a hot spiced mulled wine with a stick of cinnamon that tastes just like autumn, instantly transporting me back to warm sweaters, changing leaves, and long walks.

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Journaling about everyday moments often involves noticing small acts of kindness by strangers, like the fruit lady on the corner who always throws in an extra tangerine or the guy at my favorite noodle place who remembers to bring me a little bowl of sate sauce unbidden. Tonight, I’m thankful for our young waiter who noticed that we forgot dipping sauce for our jumbo peel-and- eat shrimp, part of a visually stunning cooler of all manner of artisanal salads and deli items, from a roasted pumpkin and feta salad to gorgeous prosciutto and a mouthwatering assortment of cheeses. Before we could say a word, he brought over little bowls of salt and pepper and lime, the quintessential Vietnamese seafood condiment. Clearing our carnage of plates, he then considerately laid out finger bowls with slices of lime.

I’m also thankful for living in beautiful Ho Chi Minh City. Yes, the monsoonal rain, illogical traffic and endless honking can wear you down, but I’m grateful to live in this part of the world, with easy access to so many of the world’s best cuisines. We visited Viet Kitchen’s live seafood station where everything is cooked to order and challenged the chefs to take us on a regional tour using products so fresh, the crabs were literally clawing their way out of the display baskets en masse. Soon enough, we were gorging on clams and shrimp in a spicy Thai broth, grilled cockles and New Zealand mussels in butter and garlic, lobster in a sweet chili sauce, and the aforementioned crabs flash fried in chili and salt.

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Keeping a gratitude journal has also made me more mindful of saying “thank you” to people, especially to close friends and family, the people you tend to take most for granted. As we feasted on festive roast turkey smothered in silken gravy with all the trimmings including roasted corn and fall vegetables, creamy mashed potatoes, and a soul-satisfying stuffing, I thought about how a traditional turkey dinner is almost always enjoyed with family and close friends. Because roasting the turkey to golden perfection and putting all the fussy sides together is such a time- and labor-intensive task, if someone takes the time to make you a turkey dinner, it’s usually out of love. As we enjoyed a final plate of iced sugar cookies and cappuccinos, I looked back on a wonderful evening spent with a dear friend and felt thankful that a long, leisurely festive dinner provided the perfect occasion to remember to always be thankful.

The Festive dinner buffet is available on Thanksgiving Night (November 22nd), and then starting from December 22 – December 31 at VND1,590,000++/person including free flow house wine, beer and soft drink.

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For a more intimate dinner at home, Viet Kitchen offers “Turkey on the Run”. For just VND2,588,000 net, enjoy everything you need for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home, including a 6-7kg roast turkey, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and two sauces: red wine and cranberry. A complimentary bottle of Australian red wine is sure to set a festive mood. All that’s left for you to do is deciding who’s doing the dishes afterward. The “Turkey on The Run,” is available from November 22 – December 31 and must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance.

Images provided by Vy Lam and Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon