Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tempting Nyonya food in Saigon

I have been to Malaysia few times, I have a friend who took me around, treated me to different amazing food, he surely mentioned about Halal, but I probably didn't pay much attention or that word quickly blew with the wind from my mind...until last night, when another friend suggested me to go to Halal restaurant in Saigon on Đông Du street, in very short distance from Sheraton.

              The old Chinese street in Penang (?), where the Nyonya cuisine is originated.  

It's small, quite cozy place with a lot of paintings on one wall and on another - a huge photo of an old Chinese street, could be somewhere in Penang (Malaysia) as the cuisine Nyonya originated from the Chinese community living in that region.

My friend ordered a curry laksa, I first tried laksa in KL. I even tried to cook laksa back home, when I got with me a pack of this famous noodles soup ingredients. Won't tell you how was my Laksa but here in this Nyonya place - it was awesome. It's so tasty, the soup itself is so rich in flavors and colors - coconut based curry soup, fish, chicken, shrimp, cockle, sweet, spicy...indescribable combination of tastes.

                   Famous curry laksa, soup is extremely tasty, rich in flavors and quite spicy. 

But we failed to order the 7th on the list of top 50 world's most delicious foods (by CNN Go in 2011) - Assam laksa. Seeing a poster at the entrance, we asked the waitress, she said "Today, we don't have!".Ok, another time then.

My order was my favorite fried noodles - Char Koey Teow. It was very good and according to my friend, who is not Malaysian, but spending a lot of time and eating a lot of food in Malaysia - the best Char Koey Teow in town from this restaurant! Ok, I trust him, but I would love to try it somewhere else despite the choice is not really big in Saigon for Malay food.

               Popular Char Koey Teow - stir-frying noodles with shrimps, clams, egg, bean sprouts...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chicken at "Garden Mai" - Gà Vườn Mai

I realize that Vietnamese love chicken much more than beef or pork. Chicken is an unavoidable item for any traditional celebrations, this "bird gives birth every day" always has a special place on the altar during any of family anniversaries.
And whenever we talk about chicken - it should be "Vietnamese chicken" (gà ta) or "garden chicken" (gà thả vườn). These two phrases means a kind of chicken being kept freely in the farm, not in a huge industrial cage, they are not fed with special industrial bran, but anything they find in the garden, from human's leftovers, rice to the earthworms. Those "free" chicken are smaller in size, give less meat but their meat is far better, tastier than the"industrial chicken".

                Gà hấp hành - steamed chicken with green onion, superb good, flavored with onion. 

Last night I've been to a place - called "Gà Vườn Mai", an eatery - famous for their seven chicken dishes (only garden chicken!): steamed chicken with green onion (gà hấp hành), roasted chicken with garlic (gà rôti), chicken with Vietnamese mint (gà hấp rau răm), sour and sweet salad with chicken (gà bóp thấu), steamed chicken with fermented tofu (gà hấp chao), with salt (gà hấp muối)...

                    Head to toe chicken - costs you 230.000 VND (by Mar of 2013) 

When they serve, not a plate of few pieces of chicken, but a whole chicken. So either you go there alone or with friends they always serve a full plate. Better be in company, if you don't want to end up with a lot of leftovers on the table.
                     Roasted chicken with a lot of garlic. Very tasty. 

                    I really like small golden ground garlic, so garlicky, so tasty, crispy and flavored with fish sauce!

                    same as others chicken dishes, always in whole - from head to toe...  

                  and from toe to buttock, by the way, chicken's buttock is a favorite part to many foodies. 

We couldn't order all seven chicken dishes in their menu, I would love to try others, so I surely come back here one day. The only problem I have is how to get here! It's a real tricky, the place looks very spacious but located in small alley that we do need a guidance. But believe me, it's worth trying!

                    Chicken "Garden Mai", Mai means those trees on the left hand side, our symbol for Tết.

Here's the address 958/10/13/18 Lac Long Quan, Tan Binh district, (one "/" means one alley, so we need to turn right or left at least three alleys to get there!)
Anyway, just in case, here is a number, 3864 3123, if you have a problem to find the place.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chinese noodles stall in Saigon

Not far from my place, there is one noodles stall, right in the corner between Hung Vuong and Le Hong Phong, how many times I pass by, always crowded.
One evening, I tried to order some noodles takeaway, two waiters seemed so busy and ignored my order. I decided not to come back, never ever... until today.

Today on the way back home with my old friend, having different thing in mind but when we passed by this noodles stall, I suddenly mentioned to my friend about what happening before, look at the stall, just opened, still empty. We decided to give it a try. Only typical Chinese noodles: yellow noodles and wonton.

As many other stalls somewhere else in Saigon, they also have their own homemade noodles in a tiny wooden drawer - that could be one of their secrets to keep customers coming back.

My friend ordered a "dry noodles" without soup, actually a small bowl of soup served separately. What I like is a thin, crispy, golden shrimp cake on the top, but not the crunchy pork rind (tóp mỡ - dried piece of fat).

                    I didn't see this deep fried shrimp cake on top of noodles for long! 

My order - just a bowl of noodles with soup, we still want won-ton but not ready yet! Good and very surprisingly clear soup. I forgot to ask them not to add a spoon of fat, but it was too late!

                    The soup is so clear as water, with some shining rings of fat, slices of cooked pork meat. 

                     Noodles here are good, not too soft, a bit strong as we expect.   

After we sat down, ordered, just few minutes later, all tables were quickly occupied, it was around only 5:00 pm at that time and they do business until late at night.

                    Pickled chili, two bottles of black vinegar and soya sauce. No any veggies.

I did have some posts about yellow noodles in my blog, here is a quick review of another traditional Chinese noodles stall in Saigon. I like the old cart, decorated with different characters from Chinese tale.
By the way, I heard there is a noodles stall near to Tân Định market, on Nguyen Huu Cau street, over hundred year old, a third-generation family business, still at the same place. Hope will share with you very soon.

Chinese noodles stall at 297 Lê Hồng Phong, district 5, business hours from 17:00 to 23:00. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dinner at far away "shrimp hot pot 5 Ri"

This place should be my nephew's all-time favorite, it seems he has very few places like this in his mind. Whenever he has a chance to dine out, he always suggests this eatery to's not in Saigon, it's in Bien Hoa, another province, about 40km away. 
As it's called "Shrimp hot pot 5 Ri" but I may say the best from here is not really hot pot. It's another one - shrimp surimi (shrimp paste on sugarcane - chạo tôm). 

                    Shrimp hot pot - a lot of shrimps but some fresh, some - too dry for me! 

                  Only three kinds of veggies: giant elephant ear (bạc hà), okra (đậu bắp) and water spinach.  

                  Sour, sweet, spicy soup like Thai hot pot...with a lot of shrimps, without lemongrass flavor. 

                   My favorite from this hot pot place - chạo tôm, shrimp surimi, deep fried not grilled.  
Chạo tôm here is very tasty, but quite oily, so I need a lot of veggies (mostly lettuce with some herbs) to go with. I would prefer if the chef could offer the grilled one as an option in the menu.
Chạo tôm is originally from Central area, smaller in size, shrimp paste is wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, quickly steamed first then grilled, served with herbs, veggies, rice noodles and sweet, spicy fish sauce. Here at 5 Ri, chạo tôm, deep fried, served with another kind of rice noodles - bánh hỏi.  

              Bánh hỏi - a kind of rice noodles, thinner, braided as a net, topped with greased green onion.

                  My bowl with a whole piece of chạo tôm, lettuce and bánh hỏi, where is dip sauce? 

The next one is famous expensive sea snail, we call Perfume Snail (ốc Hương). Used to be one of my favorites before not now, because they are getting more and more expensive, a plate with a dozen of cooked snails costs around 300,000 VND (15 USD). The meat of this snail is soft, a bit strong and with a no mistaking flavor. Usually it's cooked with lemon grass, but what we have today is grilled snails.     

              A plate of dozen of Perfume snails (ốc Hương) can cost you nearly 15 USD or more.  

             Use a small folk to take the meat out from shell, dip in salt & pepper with lemon juice. Yummy!

We came to this place around 20:30, it's quite late for a large dinner, but my nephew's hunger seems bigger so he ordered three grilled big shrimps ( we were four but I have allergy to shrimp, esp. at night, so not for me!). To my nephew's disappointment, three shrimps looks much smaller than usual, so his hunger seems hungrier, he continued with deep fried fish cake order.

                   Three big shrimps but they are actually smaller than usual, 70,000 VND per piece. 

Our last dish for dinner was deep fried fish cake, I have to say fish cake here is good, strong (i.e a bit chewy, and it's considered good for this kind of dish), but the dipping sauce is quite strange, a combination of mayo sauce, tamarind flavor and chili! To be honest, I don't like it - the sauce.

                  Deep fried fish cake (chả cá), tasty and strong, served with quite strange to me dip sauce!

Finally, our dinner came to end, it was actually a nice treat to one of my nephew's friends who I happen to know long in the past, he came to Saigon from my mother homeland, Quang Ngai, for business and nicely brought some gifts for me.  

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Sky sushi - sushi on the street!

Today I would love to share with you a new eatery that I've just been there for a quick dinner with my friend - 30' minute ago - Sky sushi - sushi on the street.

                  I was about to say to this group of tourists "it's good, try it" but they already sat down.

Whenever we talk about Japanese food, especially those popular like sushi, sashimi we always think having it in either cozy Japanese style restaurants, noisy with those familiar sound like "Hai, Hai"... or classy ones with superb quality, superb fresh tuna, salmon...right from the Tsukiji market! And the price at both places is always high, not affordable to many youngsters.

               Never remember names of different sushi - crispy from the outside, tasty with mayo, avocado. 

                   I took this photo some days later, when I've been back to Sky sushi with other friends. 

But this Sky sushi - a new discovery in the backpack area (Nguyen Thai Hoc street) could beat any other places in Saigon for the price, and the quality is very good!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Rice noodles, deep fried tofu and shrimp paste (Bún đậu)

One of the most trendy rice noodles dishes in Saigon! I don't know why! Originated from Hanoi, but recently became a sensation among the youth in Saigon, people keep posting on their Facebook as proudly announced that"I just tried it - a Northern flavor!"

                  Bún đậu - rice noodles with deep fried young tofu and shrimp paste at 55 Phất Lộc, Hanoi.

Today I will take you to taste this simple traditional dish, not anywhere in Saigon but in their real homeland! Hanoi! The original bún đậu in Hanoi.

I love tofu. Not because of my diet.
I love shrimp paste. Because of its strong and unique flavor.
I love rice noodles, too. Better than rice!

                Fresh rice noodles in Hanoi, braided as a leaf (bún lá) different from southern ones.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Three caves (Tam Cốc) - Halong Bay on earth

I usually travel during our Lunar New Year, but over the past few years, I mostly stayed at home, and only travel after New Year celebration. This year my first destination or as it's called in Vietnamese "Du Xuân" (i.e Spring Journey) is Hanoi and then Ninh Binh, I really want to go to Sapa but my flight schedule has been fixed, so I have no choice to delay again my plan to another time.

               Ngô Đồng river leading us to one of the most famous sightseeings in Vietnam.  

Ninh Binh is nearly 100 km away from Hanoi in the south, and this place used to be our capital in the 10th century, in different dynasties from the Đinh, the Lý to the Tây Sơn dynasty. There is many historical places that we learned from our history hours in school, but we've never been there, so it's time to go!

Ninh Binh is famous for one of the most important tourism destinations in Vietnam - "Tam Cốc" or literally means "Three caves". It have been considered as "The Halong Bay on earth" due to its majestic views of mountain and river scenery.    

                     The dock where our journey by boat to Three Caves begins... 

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