Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dim sum in Chinatown in Saigon (by Duc Le - my guest posting)

Since relocated to Saigon  4 years ago, I've always been scouting for a good local dim sum restaurant.  Saigon is not lacking of the sumptuous Chinese breakfast places.  On the contrary, there are plenty of Dim Sum restaurants such as Ocean Palace Restaurant, Hoang Long Restaurant, Royal Garden, Shang Palace, Li Bai in Sheraton, Windsor plaza, Kabin in Renaissance Riverside or the famous Singaporean chain Crystal Jade in Legend Hotel, to name a few.  But mostly these restaurants are high-end and a bit pricey for an average Vietnamese to enjoy. Some of my local friends suggested me to explore Chinese cuisine in District 5 (a.k.a Cho Lon) area.  District 5 is well known for Chinese Vietnamese community settlement.  It is literally the "China Town" equivalent to San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles' Chinatown.  

In the States, If you need to have good Dim Sum or traditional wonton noodles soup, you go to Chinatown.  If you want to find good shredded pork with thousand-year-old black egg porridge, you go to Chinatown.  In Saigon, its the same.  If you crave for good Chinese dessert with affordable price, you go to district 5.  You want to find an authentic Chinese noodles soup, district 5 is where you should go. You got the picture.  

Back to the local dim sum quest.

Last night, we were staying up late watching the El Classico game between Barcelona and Real Madrid.  Nguyen, the Vietstreetfood blogger (he is one of my long time friends from childhood) suggested that we should go for Dim Sum for breakfast tomorrow.  I asked him if he knows any local good one.  Nguyen reminded me of one  Dim Sum place which my dad used to take us there more than 30 years ago.  And it's in District 5, right across from Hung Vuong Plaza area.  

Back in the old days, my Dad took us to many hidden-gem local restaurants.  There were no advertisement and marketing business back in the 80s.  Words of mouth are the only way to spread out the news about your business establishment.  And the only way to make customers coming back is to provide excellent food quality and extremely affordable prices.  

I don't want to touch services area since it's a cultural behavior.  So if you  score the first two parts: good food and cheap price, people will ignore the services.  Its not so true now but back then it was the case.  That's the reason why I'm always looking for the restaurants that have been established more than 40 years ago.  If their restaurant is still running well, that is the testimonials of quality, price and hopefully services success.  

Back to the local dim sum quest

I told Nguyen that I literally couldn't remember which Dim Sum place he referred to.  The only way to refresh my memory is to go there for breakfast. Which we did. 

The moment we arrived at the restaurant, it brought back memory almost immediately.  Dad used to take both us here for Dim Sum. And if I remember correctly that was the only place that we could have Hong Kong Dim Sum in Saigon at the time.  I mean the local affordable one.  And most of the people had no clue what Dim Sum was in the 80s.  Anyway, the place looks different now since they went through major renovations.  

As usual, Nguyen whipped out his camera ready for Vietstreetfood photo action while I was rummaging through the menu.  We ordered around 8 different dishes plus 2 more orders of Har Gow (or Ha Cao as Vietnamese call it)  and Shaomai (or Xiu Mai)  to go for my wife.  Price is around 1.5 to 2.5$US for each dish.  Service is fast and accurate on the order.  I'm giving them good credit for keeping the order properly for clients given the craziness of patron traffic on Sunday breakfast time.  

For me, personally, one way to test whether the restaurant is up to my taste is to stick to the basic dishes like Har Gow and Shaomai.  These two are the signature of any Dim Sum restaurant.  Statistically, if the restaurant can't get this one right, then I doubt that I will enjoy the rest of the menu.    

Luckily, Har Gow and Shaomai are good. Not excellent but enjoyable for the price you pay.   Its unfair to compare them with Ocean Palace's or Crystal Jade's since their price is 1/3rd to 1/4th of the price.  Other orders such as Taro Dumpling, Shredded pork with thousand-year-old egg congee, Pork Noodles Soup are right at the bar.  Just as I expected from the local Dim Sum restaurant would be. 

Nguyen took a few more pictures of the place.  There were lots of people.  It was jam-packed.  It has up-stair as well since I saw stream of people flowing down from the staircase at the back.  Just as we suspected, these kind of long time established Chinese restaurants only open for a short window time in a day.  We checked with the waitress and yes she confirmed that restaurant only opened to Noon everyday.  

The restaurant looks very clean and well run.  It's very Hong Kong style.  If you are familiar with Hong Kong Dim Sum scenery, you will feel right at home here.  I guess I finally found a good local Dim Sum place.  And I'm sure that I will be coming back more often in the future.  

After paying for the bill which was around 360, 000VND (18$US) for 10 items and took to go any left over, Nguyen took a few more pictures of the facade and I chatted with the manager.  She said this one had been renovated more than 15 years ago.   No wonder every piece of memory of this place has been a mismatched in my head.  Not a trace of the original restaurant structure remained.

I owed Nguyen for taking me here and give me a chance to refresh our memory of an old eat-out place we enjoyed immensely with my Dad.  But at the end, Nguyen and I both agreed that we owed it all to my Dad who had a very good knack for finding hidden-gem local restaurants without an aid of Internet Google Search or TV advertisement or even e-mails.  

On a good Sunday full of reminiscence. And thanks Nguyen for letting me post this on

Restaurant name: Tien Phat Restaurant
Address: 18 Ky Hoa, District 5. 
Phone: +84 8 38536217
Website: N/A
Direction note:  across Hung Vuong Plaza, takes Phu Dong Thien Vuong toward Tran Hung Dao street.  Make right turn around 50 meters from Hung Vuong street onto Ky Hoa.  The restaurant should be on the right side and you can't miss it. 

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