How a Mediterranean restaurant ended up in the heart of Hanoi
Meet the chef behind Daluva, one of Vietnam's most intriguing restaurants.
A Mediterranean restaurant in Vietnam might sound like an odd idea, but chef Shahar Lubin’s Daluva restaurant has been serving up a crowd-pleasing mix of Israeli cuisine and American pub fare in Hanoi for two years, to a mostly expat and tourist clientele.
Daluva, Latin for "from the grape," is a casual place reflecting the culinary influences of his upbringing in Jerusalem, and in Philadelphia as well as his travels around the world. You can find hummus, falafel and shakshouka alongside burgers, sandwiches, Philly cheesesteaks and a large selection of cocktails and brews.
“We definitely have a strong Mediterranean accent, but we’re not interested in making a museum piece of a restaurant, a copy of a cuisine from elsewhere,” Lubin told From The Grapevine. He describes his menu as “creative, seasonal and well thought out,” emphasizing local ingredients. “Vietnamese produce is excellent for Mediterranean food, with a great variety of herbs and fresh vegetables."
“Most of our menu consists of small dishes meant for sharing. We also offer very popular sharing platters that allow groups to enjoy 10 to 30 different items together,” explained Lubin, who tested a special Israeli-Vietnamese fusion menu recently and found the cuisines “surprisingly compatible. Some of the dishes from that menu have found their way onto our permanent menu.”
Lubin makes goat cheese, bread, ketchup and some spirits in-house, making the most of every ingredient. Cucumbers, for example, can be used in a salad, its seeds saved to mix with gin or cook with clams for a sauce. “I treasure frugalness and pride myself on the low waste in my kitchens,” he told us.
Born in Jerusalem and raised in a meditation colony on a mountain, Lubin is the son of an American man from Philadelphia who met his Israeli mother in Rome and moved with her to Israel. Growing up, the community’s children often cooked together, and today Lubin said he’s “happiest when my food smells and taste like the hills and countryside of my youth.” He goes back to visit his grandmother in Israel “more now than when I was in America.”
With no formal culinary training, Lubin began his restaurant career as a dishwasher, working his way up the ranks. He moved to Philadelphia 16 years ago, and was influenced by the cuisine there as well: “The food has to be ‘real.’ It can be creative, and you can use exotic and special ingredients, but it has to be practical on the plate.”
After working in restaurants there for many years, Lubin felt burnt out and in need of a break and an escape. “I decided on Southeast Asia as I liked the food, knew many people in the region from Philadelphia, and it fit budget-wise.” While in Myanmar, he was offered a consultant job at a restaurant in Hanoi, and although it fell through, he opted to stay. “There’s a vibrancy to this city, and a streak of anarchy, that appeal to me,” Lubin said.
As a person who feels at home almost anywhere, in Hanoi he’s equally happy to be “on a floor mat in a village eating roasted field rats, or at a rooftop martini bar.” He’s found that the locals are slow to catch on to a cuisine that’s not French, Japanese or Italian, and there’s a lot of turnover in his expat customers as they get sent for jobs elsewhere. Nevertheless, he said, the reception to Daluva has been good. “We are highly regarded in local media and by local foodies.”
Lubin’s future plans may include a chain of restaurants in Vietnam “like falafel bars or burger joints,” and he’d like to get involved in sales for food or alcohol companies. With a staff to do the actual cooking, he’s enjoying “being the mastermind and not the grunt” in the kitchen. “I enjoy challenging and teaching them all I know,” he said, “and experimenting on new ideas with them.”
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