Must-Try Mezze

Red drapes and technicolor red and blue orange booths conjure up distant bazaars at this festive spot where crowds pack in for expertly crafted Middle Eastern cuisine

Mezze Saigon (5th Floor, 215 Ly Tu Trong, D1, facebook.com/mezzesaigon) is the latest addition to the moderately shortlist of Middle Eastern restaurant lounges in Saigon, which is remarkable since shisha or hookas seem to be omnipresent at clubs and bars all over the city. The word “mezze” or “meze” means “small plates” or “tapas”. Maybe Middle Eastern-inspired establishments are on the brink of becoming en vogue in Ho Chi Minh City. Before the dust had the chance to settle on the newly constructed restaurant, another unaffiliated Middle Eastern establishment is in the midst of building a lounge directly one floor beneath Mezze. You won’t receive any objections from me. The more, the merrier I say.

In true Byzantine fashion, Chef Karim Zorlu, originally from Turkey, brings the flavors and cooking traditions that makes Turkey the intersection between East and West. Leading this is Chef Vinh. The combination of cuisines from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey—too diverse to list here—are all rendered masterfully. I gauge the quality of a Middle Eastern restaurant by looking prime towards their hummus. Chef Karim must share the same sentiment as three samples of hummus sit on the pinnacle of the menu. You can pick from the classic version of hummus, hummus harissa, and the hummus spinach.We decided to order the Mezze Saigon Platter (VND520,000) as it has a desirable mix of the menu items, which comes with the classic hummus. Mezze’s hummus is smooth and airy but still retains its earthy grainy character.

Sepzali pide

The baba ganoush comes with a pomegranate reduction, which produces a sweet citrus flavor. The platter also comes with kofte, kebbeh, tabouleh, chicken shawarma, and shish kebabs. It’s ideal for sharing and sampling. The sepzali pide (VND140,000/VND170,000) is a Turkish version of a veggie pizza. A crispy, crunchy crusty bread topped with cheese and fresh seasoned vegetables. My regret in life is that it has taken me this long to discover this fantastic dish. If you love all classifications of pizza and if you love carbs, this is a must-order. Finally, we also had the grilled haloumi cheese with chili jam (VND75,000). The proper amount of dairy fat with the accompaniment of spicy and sweet never goes awry in my book.

Mezze Saigon Plater

The wine list is an assortment of Old and New World. While the beer selection has a smattering of local brews including an offering of a great Indian beer called Bira—a choice of either a white wheat ale (VND81,000) or an IPA pomelo (VND92,000). Both are sessionable and a welcome change if you feel that microbrews tend to make you bloated. You can, of course, order the stand-bys: Tiger, 333 and Saigon Special.

Grilled haloumi cheese with chili jam

The dining room decor is subtle and distinct. The red veils draped overhead the booths and tables are an alluring touch, being seductive and providing an illusion of intimacy. There are features of the atmosphere that lean on the clichés linked with that region but without being pretentious. As the restaurant is still embryonic, I am eager to see what type of diners it will attract among the Saigonese. On that Friday night, it was jammed with friends and family of a couple celebrating their anniversary, the table beside us had a European tourist couple dining, and a nearby table was entertaining a girls’ night out full of Viet local cougars outfitted like teenagers from the ‘90s. Fun indeed!

Whichever reason you choose to dine at this establishment and no matter what type of palette you might possess, there is certainly no disputing that the food will delight. I am excited to see a Byzantine dining subculture emerging in Saigon that already boasts a considerable representation of different cuisines.

Images by Vy Lam

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