|Inviting ambience: The restaurant's decor and cuisine give regular customers a feeling that Italy is not far away.
A few years ago if you had walked into any Italian restaurant, you would have spotted -- yes, you guessed it -- mostly foreigners. Today these restaurants are full of Vietnamese.
Most are young people enamoured of anything Italian - fashion, music and dance, and food that have been popularised through books, magazines, and films and TV programmes.
The Italians and their native dishes have begun to whet the appetite of HCM City's biggest high-end group -- young women.
One of the best places in the city to sample Italian food is Ciao Bella.
The restaurant's decor and style of cooking make many of its regular customers, mostly Italian businessmen and Vietnamese colleagues, feel that "the country is not far away," says Hoang Uc Mi, who visits Ciao Bella twice a month.
She finds the atmosphere and menu similar to her favourite Italian restaurant in Auckland, where she worked as a part-time kitchen hand for three years during her time at university.
"Many restaurants and cafes around the downtown area offer tiramisu but Ciao Bella's cool tiramisu is the best. Once you taste it, it leaves an indelible impression on you," she gushes.
"Tiramisu means 'pick me up' in Italian. It's a very light chocolate pudding; very light. Its taste is dreamy, smooth, and includes the rich aroma of strong coffee."
|Try me: Tiramisu at Ciao Bella is cool and, once tasted, leaves you wanting more.
Some Vietnamese affectionately call Italians "people from tiramisu country," she says.
Ciao Bella serves tiramisu at VND135,000 (US$6). The secret of its delicious taste lies in the thin layers of mocha-flavoured whipped cream added to the cake.
"Not heaviness but substance - you know, the kind of fullness that is rich but not cloying," Mi explains.
"When you bite it suddenly you get a teeny explosion of chocolate on your tongue that disappears in a flash.
|Appetising: Risotto served with Parmesan (VND265,000 or US$13) is a good start before ordering main courses.
But the restaurant is not just about tiramisu; it serves nearly 50 traditional Italian dishes, including usual suspects like risotto, ravioli, pasta, and pizza.
A dish of risotto served with Parmesan costs VND265,000 ($13) and is a good primo before your main course. The Italian rice dish is cooked with spices in a broth to a creamy consistency and contains butter, wine and onion.
To have it the Italian way, try the dish with some cheese slices on top.
Then there are beef, seafood, and vegetable pastas. A traditional Italian spaghetti called pomodono (VND110,000 or $5) comes with tomato, mushroom, beef, and black pepper.
Address: 11 Dong Du Street, District 1, HCM City
Tel: (08) 3822 3329
Hours: 11am - 11pm
Comment: Luxurious restaurant offers traditional Italian food at reasonable prices.
Served in a large white plate and topped with slices of fresh cheese, the dish is sour, bitter, and sweet in turns.
To finish you could try the ravioli (VND150,000, $7), the popular dumpling made with a filling of chicken breast and vegetables between two layers of thin egg pasta dough and served in a sauce.
During the meal, a glass of homemade limoncello, the refreshing Italian liqueur made from lemon, is served free.
Considering the quality of the food I had, I saw no reason to beef about the restaurant's prices (VND110,000-300,000). — VNS