Too much drooling in front of the stuffed to the gills, ever hungry FatMan Seoul blog got the better of me and I finally chased down a Saigon kimchi connection. The naffly named ‘VIP’ at 68-70 Dong Du Street in District 1 is sandwiched between the plush 5 star, 23 floor, Sheraton Hotel and Saigon’s only mosque (which also doubles up as a rough and ready lunchtime curry diner – more on that soon).
I have tried 5 or 6 Korean restaurants in Saigon, all of which are run by Korean expats catering mainly to Korean expats. On this visit to VIP, I was the only non-Korean present. Yonhap television news blares out constantly in the corner, the walls are littered with Korean advertisements for Korean products and the Vietnamese waitresses greet you with a bow and speak ‘restaurant-Korean’. VIP is split in two. Pictured above are some of the 8 Korean floor style tables and on the other side, which isn’t visible here, there’s your regular chairs and tables option.
VIP serves up some interesting Korean standards including Korea’s hottest dish, the monkfishtastic – Ah Gu JJim (350,000VD). I went here for a hit of Chonju’s finest – Tolsot Bibimbap. A rice, vegetable and egg dish. The Tolsot is the stonkin’ hot stone bowl into which the mixed rice and vegetable dish – the Bibimbap – is cooked and served in. The non-tolsot version comes in a crappy plastic bowl and takes away half the fun. VIP offer a whopping great 13 side dishes which include; cabbage kimchi, seaweed soup and cockles in a sesame dressing. I generally throw the kimchi into the tolsot along with a healthy dollop of the hot red pepper paste called kochujang and plough the lot up together.
This rendition is a rock solid copy of Bibimbap served up in non-specialty restaurants all over Korea. However, get nattering to any Korean about Bibimbap and without fail they will chorus ‘Chonju Bibimbap is the best’. There’s a very good reason for that – it is the best. A ‘real’ Chonju Bibimbap should have 30 or so ingredients and you won’t find even half of that little lot anywhere outside Chollabuk-do province and certainly not here in Saigon. As a Korean fix goes, VIP fits the bill.
The climax to any good bibimbap meal for me is the crust. Having eaten the innards, you are left with a ring of hardened rice pictured above. If the tolsot is really, really hot on arrival I often chuck in a spoonfull or two of whatever broth there is on the table, listen to the sizzle and sniff the beany fumes. Although this can cut down on your crust quantity quota.
The crust should flake off the tolsot fairly easily. Although I do remember having to really gouge this stuff out in the best Chonju bibimbap restaurants.
What you end up with is almost a rice cake, with hints of everything that was in there earlier, especially the kochujang. It makes for scrunchy, memorable masticating. Well worth checking out. VIP serves this up for 70,000VD. For an indepth study on how to cook bibimbap visit the great bibimbap debate. View the business card and directions.