Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Modern" Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City

The boon of tourism in Vietnam has led to a bevy of modernized restaurants to pop up in the major cities, catered to tourists who enjoy a beautiful ambience with traditional Vietnamese cooking.

One of the more romantic restaurants you could pick in Ho Chi Minh City would be Cuc Gach Quan. The restaurant is tucked away in an alley (making it a little hard to find), but you'll know it when you get there. There are two locations mirroring each other from across the alley - try to go to the original, which is just a smidge more intimate and lovely than the other.

The fresh fruit drinks are beautifully presented here with plenty of exotic flavors like soursop, guava and more.  I can never turn down a fresh mango drink though.  A small vial of honey and simple syrup is served alongside to sweeten the drink to taste.

Love the plant stem straws.
The menu is a literal book - thick with pages of Vietnamese options to pick from, though the house favorites include the following:

Canh chua - sweet and sour soup with catfish
Lemongrass tofu - brilliantly tender
Tamarind squid - tender and tangy
Thit kho - braised pork belly with eggs (a bit dry here, so I'd recommend not ordering this)
Squash blossoms stir-fried with garlic - fresh and tender
We ended up ordering a bit too much, but enjoyed most of the dishes and especially the inviting space.

Another festive spot popular with the tourists is Hoa Tuc, tucked into a cul-de-sac of cute little restaurants.

What you'll find in Vietnam is that it is easy to make anything look quaint and adorable by just stringing soft lights everywhere.  I'll fall for it every time.

The menu is also far-reaching here, focusing on lots of small plates.

The banh xeo is petite and adorable.

The fried baby squid are adorable too.

Oh and also the banh khot (known to Diana as "shrimp cups").  My mom has always warned that her shrimp cups are different than Vietnam's, where they are made with turmeric powder and hence yellow in color.

The cups are still crispy and fine, but nothing can ever rival mom's homecooking, right?

Clams are obligatory for us everywhere because 1) they are always ridiculously cheap (less than $5), and always so much more flavorful and tender than you would get in the States.

Dessert brought a couple of intriguing options - sesame balls

with black sesame filling (and that is the sound of Diana squealing with jealousy).

One of my favorite Vietnamese desserts are the rice dumplings, glutinous rice wrapped around a bean filling in ginger syrup.  So chewy and good, I can eat a million.

We ended up running into our Halong Bay shipmates at this restaurant, just proving that the tourist scene in Saigon is a small one indeed.

Another afternoon, we found ourselves hitting up a spot ol' Anthony Bourdain put on the foodie map called Com Nieu Saigon (CNSG, as the cool kids like to call it).  They just changed locations to a spot down the road that is spacious and amazingly shaded with wide-limbed trees.  (Note the soft globe lights that will make this place a real cutie by night.)

Have I mentioned how you can never get a bad cup of Vietnamese coffee anywhere?  It's because that crucial ratio of condensed milk to espresso coffee is like a country-wide mandate.

The dish that got famous here is the claypot rice.  Rice is cooked in a claypot until crisp and crunchy at the bottom.

Then standing a few paces apart, one server will shatter the claypot,  the disk of rice will fly into the open plate in which the other server will gracefully catch into a plate.

He will then brush off the catch as no big deal and proceed to dress the disc with black sesame, white sesame, and sweetened compote of green onions.

And what is a meal without some clams, right?  We're hooked!  We can't help it!  Don't make me clam up about it! (Ha!)

There's no lack of dining options in Vietnam for those who want to rough it on the streets alongside motos and diesel fuel or those who want to eat in lush gardens lit by hanging lights.  It's hard to mess up a meal, and it's just fun to try it all.

10 Đặng Tất, Tân Định, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

74 Hai Ba Trung Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Com Nieu Saigon
19 Tú Xương, 7, 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

1 comment:

  1. there is an amazing amount of black sesame in this post, and i am salivating beyond salivating. GAHHH. GORGEOUS photos.