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.