Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quan An Ngon Restaurant - Ho Chi Minh - Jan, 30th 2010

We have been to Quan An Ngon Restaurant in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) a couple of times in the past when it was in another location. I have to say their new location is fancier than the old place but the food is about the same. I think the place is nice but the food is not really the finest I have tasted in Vietnam and for being a fancy restaurant they treat you like cattle. The seating is terrible and the service not the most attentive. They need to step up the service experience to match the building, the building was spectacular but as a customer I did not feel spectacular. We even had to share a large table with other people, not very special. The food was good but the restaurant in Hue did it better. One thing that impressed me when I ate at the old location was the connection between the food being prepared and the customer. In the old location the cooking was done at small stations around the restaurant were the customers could easily observe the process. This connection gave the restaurant a more street food feel that was an experience that is lost on most customers at the new location. Yes, there is still cooking stations but the customer is not able to easily see them in the new location. I think they need to bring back that connection at the new location or go high class with a higher level of service. Please forgive my opinion as this is a great restaurant to give the average tourist a great introduction to Vietnamese food and I have my own bias as I have eaten a lot of local dishes all over Vietnam over the five times I have come to Vietnam. Review from TripAdviser.

Now to the food, first up was a dish that was my favourite in Hue; a stir fried clams with crispy rice crackers to eat the clams. As you can see the clams are not as tiny as the ones used in Hue as such the texture is not quite the same but the dish still had a good taste that was enhanced by the crispness of cracker. It was not as spicy as the dish in Hue but as this was made for a Saigon palate it was to be expected. The dish was technically corrected but it could not match the one in Hue for taste or presentation. I would suggest they chop the clams to give the dish the right texture. I think if we attempt this dish we will have to chop the clams as we will will never be able to get a consistent supplier of the clams we saw in Hue.

Next up for me was a traditional beef stew (bo kho) a favourite I have enjoyed for years. Their version did not disappoint as it hit all the proper favour points and the ingredients were good. As it was a stew there was not much to do with the presentation but they could have classed it up a bit. I love this kind of stew with rice and bread but of course I had to pick one so I had the bread. From the origins of this dish (French) I am always impressed with were the Vietnamese have taken the taste to; it is rich, meaty and so fragrant with the spices they use. I love this dish as it appeals to my ancestry while it tantalizes my taste buds with the exotic tastes of Asia; fusion food developed before the modern concept was acknowledged. It is the re-interpretation of an imported dish that lifts the dish beyond its simple beginnings. 

The group I was with had several dishes that they ate by themselves so I will not include here but one dish I tried after getting over a little reluctance. The dish was steamed blood clams, so called because the inside bloody looking. I tasted one but it just tasted like salty blood; sorry but I did not like them that much. The rest of the group loved them and ate them all so it must have been me and my cultural food bias. The picture is not the best as I was trying to take the picture as I ate.

To finish the meal I had a great tofu pudding drink that was soft and delicious. The texture and taste were heavenly and a great finish to this meal. Anytime I can find a way to enjoy tofu I am happy.


A quick meal in Da Nang

We stayed in Da Nang for a day before our flight to Saigon; we would have stayed longer but Da Nang did not seem to have much in the way of tourist areas or any special regional dishes. I am sure we were mistaken on both points but when you are changing flights you have to make your decisions quickly; plus it was raining (yuck).

So on to the meal, we selected a place based on our usual criteria, a small hole in the wall restaurant that was serving what we like.   The place we selected had a few dishes and the whole kitchen consisted of what you see in the picture. No refrigeration or wash station, just good food prepared by a skilled cook.    

Again we would never store our ingredients in this manner as we would never chance it as North Americans are not use to this method of cocking. I paid for my adventures several times over the course of stay in Asia.  It was worth the risk but it did make me a friend of the pharmacist.

We had two dishes, first a bowl of chicken Pho. It was a nice soup with a tasty broth and good meat but nothing different than any of the other chicken soups we have encountered as yet. It was exactly what it was suppose to be, a hot bowl of home made chicken Pho, comfort food for the common person.

Next up was a beef stir fry on a very interesting deep fried noodle. The stir fry on top was good but it was the noodle that was really special. The rice noodle had been flattened and deep fried before being topped by the stir fry giving it a unique taste and texture. It was crunchy were the sauce had missed and the softened noodle still had the extra flavour that the deep frying imparted to noodle. I know that the oil was probably not the healthiest but it was tasty.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Mermaid (Nhu Y) Restaurant in Hoi An

Well on to Hoi An, after a search of the internet I found some good recommendations for a resturant in the old part of town called the Mermaid. Here is a review on the New York times travel site  and their own site Hoi An hospitality

Most of the reading I have done on Hoi An food talk about the influence of Chinese cooking on the traditional food of the city. I was sceptical  that the Chinese influence would be so apparent but as I was soon to find was that both the flavour and style are heavily influenced by Chinese cooking. Coming from Vancouver I could quickly pick out the influences as we have so much fine Chinese cooking available here.  

First up we had a prawn mango salad that came with crispy rice crackers. As they came together i assumed that the cracker was to put the salad on. The salad was great and when it was placed on the crisp the texture was enhanced by the crunch provided by the crisp. By its self the crisp was interesting but in combination with the salad it was brilliant, good on the cook on making the combination.

The salad was crisp fresh and the combination of mango, fish sauce and prawns, made for a salad that yielded surprising flavor combination. I loved how the mango added its sweet acidic note to the salad. I so want to reproduce this salad but I think that finding a consistent supply of the right mangoes will be difficult. Maybe as a special when we have a good seasonal supply of the right mangoes as preserved mangoes would not have the right acidity

We had a noodle dish with pork medallions that was good as the meat was lean and salad fresh. I have to admit that we did not eat it all as it was a complete meal on its own; we had more dishes to try so we just had a taste. It would make a nice light lunch with the right balance of noodles and meat. The salad, herbs and crispy crouton chips rounded out the dish perfectly.

The next dish first put me mind of Mexico but I will suspend the thought as this is suppose to be authentic Vietnamese food. I am sure it is just a case of different cuisines coming to the same place using different ingredients but with same results. Take one crispy won ton wrapper (Chinese influence) place a spoonful of a combination of minced ship and tomato and you have a Vietnam dish that reminds me of a nacho dish. Of course the comparison ends with the how the dish is put together as the taste is very much Vietnamese. This is a great appetizer as it is flavorful has a pleasant crunch but not filling. The combination of the fresh tomato and shrimp mixture with the crunch was spectacular.

Now to a very Chinese influenced dish or accurately a Chinese dish influenced by the Vietnamese. Steamed meat filled won tons with caramelized onions that are dipped in a fish sauced based dip. It was a successful combination though the dish did have the feel of a Chinese dish reinterpreted for a Vietnamese palate.

We then had a taste of a chicken and rice dish that again would make a good one dish meal. The dish is set up for the customer to mix the ingredients, chicken, rice, onions, marinated carrot and radish garnish, herbs with a lime. Again a nice dish that is a good variation on chicken fried rice with a fresh crisp flavour that is great as a main dish.

The next dish is a barbecued chicken dish; it was good, nothing was standout so I do not remember much about it.

The last dish was a banana crepe with chocolate sauce; it was tasty and a perfect end to the meal.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant, we had to go back and over eat again

We were so impressed with the food at KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant we had to go back to try more of their food. I can not impress upon other enough that this restaurant is worth finding and eating at if you are anywhere near Hue. We twice stuffed ourselves silly and we still wished we had more time to go back and eat more. I am sorry to say this was one of those time when my camera decided to not work well in low light and I was unwilling to use a flash in a busy classy restaurant.

The dish I did get was the stand out of the meal for me so it was not a complete waste of time. It was a dish of stir fried clams with deep fried rice wrapper. The clams were so tiny, not much bigger than a grain of sand, more like a minced meat than a whole clam. It was whole clams but I had to hold it up to my eye to tell that they where whole. The seasoned clams were cooked until the mixture was slightly dry with peanuts and herbs added.


The dish was eaten by using a piece of the crisp rice wrapper to pick up the clam mixture to eat. The result taste and texture was extraordinary, I loved this dish. The clam mixture was meaty with a spicy finish that was perfect with the crispy texture of the wrapper. I could have almost made this  my whole meal as I could have eaten a few plates of this dish. I would love to add this dish to our menu but getting the clams would be difficult. The dish had the perfect balance of taste and texture; I wish I could have a bite right now.

Second restaurant in Hue

Update: Back in Vietnam, in a Village west of Hanoi again. We had a good time in Thailand but I am glad to be back as Bangkok was so busy. We shopped till we dropped several times over the ten days we were there and I am happy to be back in the slower pace of Vietnam.

The second restaurant we went to in Hue was one of the many tourist restaurants in the the city that have a menu that includes some of the local Hue specialties. I was surprised that they made food as well as they did as they looked more set-up for making non-Vietnamese dishes for the tourists.

We started with a plate of salad rolls made with a fresh rice flour wrap, tasty with a nice texture provided by the fresh rice wrapper.


This was followed by a banana wrapped rice flour roll with ground pork and spices. It was very tasty but so think you had to scrape the mixture off the leaf; would have been better with more filling. And yes I did eat every bit of it as it was quite good.The cook should be proud of the taste if not the portion size.

We then had two squid based dishes, one with deep fried rice noodles and one stir fried with vegetables. The one with noodles had and interesting texture but the one with vegetables tasted better. It would have been better if the stir fry had been placed on top of the noodles. 

We next had a Vietnamese pancake much like what we have in the restaurant, the major difference was that it was not made with coconut milk which made their version not very tasty. It was very crunchy but lacked  richness that the coconut lends to the dish. The sauce was different than what we use at the restaurant it was not based on fish sauce rather it had a sesame seed flavour with garlic; not quite as nice as ours.

The next couple of dishes were not so great so I will just say that the deep fried egg plant was horrible and the Bo la lot had a grainy hard texture to the meat. Sorry to say there was nothing to learn from these two dishes so I will leave out the pictures.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Little street snack in Hue

We were were walking around Hue and we were approached by a older woman selling small dumplings. I wanted to taste them as they looked so good so we bought a small bag.

The vendor put the dumplings in a bag and covered with herbs and fish sauce. When I ate them I felt the full heat of Hue but delicious. Chewy with a small crunchy shrimp in the middle.

A simple snack that satisfied my hunger and burn a new hole in my stomach, just kidding but it was smoking hot.

Lunch in a market in Hue

(Sorry to say I have been unable to get on the net much as I am right now in Bangkok Thailand and have had no internet access until we figured out a way to use our internet stick from Vietnam.)

We stopped in a small local market to have a bite to eat as we were hungry and wanted some local eats at a good cost. I love market food, probably risky but worth it to have the taste.

As you can see the food is mostly precooked and sits in the display case until bought; not the safest way to keep food but it works.

The meal prep area was primitive but the owner was able to present very tasty cheap food.

The first thing we had an appetizer plate with Nem (raw preserved meat), barbecued pork and salad rolls. I did not eat the Nem as I do not like most that I have eaten but I did enjoy the pork as it was tender and nicely spiced. The rolls were the real treat as there were not wrapped in the usual re-hydrated rice wrapper rather the wrap was a freshly cooked. The wrap was soft and gave a contrast to the crunchy contents. The dip was a variation of a peanut based sauce.

I had a bowl of Bun Bo Hue (the only soup the place made) which was tasty but not what I would recognize as Bun Bo Hue. The broth was not as strong or as hot as I expected. The owner may have altered the soup as she thought I could not eat it if it was Hue hot. I loved the meat balls as they had a rustic texture and were very tasty. The blood was kind of plain but properly cooked; I would have liked a little salt added to the blood as it was cooked.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant, part II

Next was a beef dish made with La Lot leaves; it was
stir fried and tasted much like the Bo La Lot dish we have at the restaurant. The onions added a nice flavor note to the dish but the la lot leaves were the dominate flavor for the dish. The beef was tender and were a nice balance to the peppery taste of the la lot leaves.

The meal was accompanied by a clay bowl of rice that was baked. The cooking technique made the rice firmer and with a crunchy layer were the rice touched the clay pot. The bowl came with two serving paddles that I suspect were an authentic touch but for me it made serving myself difficult.

Next up was a great bamboo and pork stir fry that was very tasty with large chunks of bamboo.

KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant, the best Hue to eat

We were so lucky to have traveled again with sinh cafe (now called Sinh Tourist) Vietnam as they are not only a good company, their staff in Hue directed us to an excellent restaurant serving traditional Hue food. KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant should be declared a world heritage site as the look of the place and food represent the traditional Hue food so well. The place can be located here and it is worth the drive. It was so good we went there twice and would have gone there more but we booked a few tours that kept us looking at the real world heritage sites in Hue. As this mostly a food blog I will leave others to talk about the areas' attractions but I will say that Hue is a great place to get a feel for the history of Vietnam beyond the American (we call it the Vietnamese) war.

Now to the experience of Khong Gian Xua restaurant, we were impressed the minute we walked into the restaurant; the atmosphere was a reproduction of the the ancient buildings of the region that we have seen examples of during our tours. The main difference was the restaurant was in pristine condition with examples of Vietnamese art / culture on the walls. I took a couple of photos but the restaurant website has better ones to show the look of the place. I would love to do a restaurant in Vancouver just like this one as it is so impressive that it sets the perfect tone for the food to follow.

The table was set with an assortment of condiments for our meal, picked mustard leafs, picked egg plant, fish sauce based dipping sauce, and a fermented shrimp based sauce.

We started with a Bitter melon salad made with shrimp, it had a nice spicy fish sauce based dressing and caramelized onions on top. The bitter melon was not too bitter and was nice and crunchy. the sauce was a nice spicy balance to the fresh bitter melon. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and great with the melon. I am always happy to find dishes that are made with bitter melon that taste great and this is now one of them that I love. Bitter melon can take some time to gain a taste for but once you do it is a treat that is suppose to be good for you.

Have to stop writting right now as we are going to eat :) good reason to stop.

We have found our Hue (pronounced way)

I have been looking forward to traveling to the ancient capital
Hue to experience the food and sights that are only found in this beautiful city. Of course we first experienced the food, of course :).


First order of business after getting to the hotel was a stop at a nearby v
endor for a Vietnamese treat called che (ja). I have many types of che in the past but this was a new one for me to taste. The contents were great, tapioca coated coconut natal, sweetened red and yellow beans, roasted peanuts, coconut cream and sweetened tapioca flour paste. The best part of the whole drink was the toasted coconut on the top of the drink. The toasted coconut gave the drink a special crunch and added a lot of taste. The coconut gave an added texture not found in most other Che I have tasted and as it was toasted it stayed crunchy to the end. I will have to try making this toasted coconut for our drinks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our first street food

It has been almost three years since I have tasted street vendor food in Vietnam and it has been way too long for me. Street food is always something tourists are told to stay away from when traveling but I have learned that the taste is worth some discomfort. I have had my A & B hep shots and a course of stuff to stop me getting sick so I feel a bit more confident in eating on the street.

The first place we tried was a small street vendor that sold mainly chicken pho; it was recommended to us by the taxi driver after we told him we wanted to eat street food. The place was just a small tarp covered spot next to the main street. The place had a couple pots and a glass display case with the pre-cooked meats. Of course there was no refrigeration for the meat and I knew that the meat would have been cooked hours ago. It was typical of most of the very small places in that it did one or two things such as pho very well but that the menu was just one or two items. The seating and tables were the typical Vietnamese small size (we would use them for children to sit at) that I can not sit at as the seat will break; the owner gave me their one large chair to sit with so I could at least be able to eat.

My wife had the chicken pho which is pictured left .

I had the beef pho which was basically chicken pho with cooked beef added rather than chicken. It
was delicious but not what we would think of as pho as it was not spiced the same way. The beef I had was tender with a bit of a grisly crunch. The soup of course was a chicken broth but with the beef it took on a bit of the beef flavour. I eat every drop of this soup and loved it. A great reintroduction to the great taste of Hanoi street food.

The beef pho is pictured to the right, the picture is a bit blurry as I must have been to eager to taste the soup. Oh well the taste was worth it.

The owner was very happy to have me as a customer and asked my wife why I came to her restaurant. It was explained that I love street food and crave the real flavors that can be found in the small places in Vietnam.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The start of our journey

Small village an hour west of Hanoi

Arrived in Hanoi and made our way out to the village The village was near. Son Tay about 35 kilometers west of Hanoi. The trip was an adventure as it was all back road travel weaving in and out of traffic and taking the chaotic route in stride as our driver was certainly careful as he had a new vehicle.

Had a simple but wonderful meal of beef stir fry and ginger chicken. The really interesting and tasty treat was a noodle I encountered last time I was in the village in 2006. It was a thin rice noodle that had been allowed to slightly ferment. It was stuck together in bundles and served cut into smaller pieces. The taste was a touch sour with a bit of effervescence from the fermentation. It made the noodles seem alive and the plain rice noodle was raised in its taste profile from a bland noodle to a tangy treat that danced on the tongue.

I kept taking pieces of the noodle and just savoring the unique experience that would most probably be against the health board rules back in Vancouver.

Barbequed pork of my dreams

Also had some great barbecued pork roasted over a open fire and so delicious and crispy. I had been think about this pork since I had it two years ago. It is different than the southern style but it has its charm in that it is simple and tasty. It is less sweet than the southern style so I really enjoy it straight off the skewer.

The pork is normally put on skewers with pork fat between the pieces of meat but I asked for it to be made lean. It tastes better with the fat but I look better without all the fat :). The pork is marinated for about 30 minutes then cooked over a small fire.

After it is cooked it is either straight into the mouth or dipped into a little fish sauce.

We don’t need any stinking alarm clock, or how I wanted to stuff a rooster in a speaker!

Night in the village is relatively quiet with an occasional bike puttering by the house

Morning comes early in the village, very early, way too early. Around 3:00 am the roosters think it is time to wake up and they make sure you join them. One starts then it spreads across the village. The house rings with the piercing call of the rooster doing what roosters seem to do the best; wake me up. As they stop and you finally start to begin to enter dream land the church bell starts ringing and as luck goes I am just a couple of properties away from the church. The church has a very good bell that wakes you with the strength of its peals to get ready for church.

Again you wait for the bells to stop as they do but wait they let you start to drift off again just to have a couple of more rings to remind you that you should be going to church and not back to sleep. As I have been a visitor to the village a few times I know to just wait for the next reason not to go back to sleep.

At 5:00 am the local announcements start broadcasting across the village from speakers on poles set up around the village. I ask what the announcement was about and was told it was starting with morning exercises... all the exercise I wanted to do at this time was to take our friendly neighborhood rooster and stuff him in the nearest speaker. I focused on the rooster as he kept speaking up as each new interruption to my sleep occurred.

The speakers blasted out music and local announcements for awhile just long enough for me to think I could fall asleep with the music as background noise. But no, I had forgotten the family geese that decided they needed to greet the day with their honking; as they were just living outside our bedroom window they were loud. I think at the time I gave stuffing the geese in with the rooster serious thought until I remembered I was just too tired. I finally did fall back to sleep as the world outside quieted down and decided to get on with their day.