Posting will be sporadic at best for a wee while as I’m off and away. I’ve been promised some blindin’ food over the coming weeks from various spots around the planet and I will blog up a ‘best of’ upon my return. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with another in the noodlepie multimedia takeaway series. This time we hit the beach with – ‘Surfin’ Saves Soul’ – a 2 minute long, 4.7MB, MP3 recorded in Rugby, England in 1996. Written by a younger pieman, ‘Surfin’ Saves Soul’ features performances from members of three of the greatest bands to ever come out of the UK – Spacemen 3, Guaranteed Ugly, Free Love Babies & also Spiritualized. The harmonies, thumps, scratches & bumps sure shook the UK summertime charts circa ’96. Listen, reverberate & shake your tambourine to the sunshine beats of summer wherever you are. Peace et Bon appetite to you all. See you soon. xxx
Archives for August 2004
There’s one thing that’s becomes disturbingly clear after rolling around the food blogging circuit for a wee while. I, and by ‘I’ I suppose I really mean ‘we’, eat far more than we blog – well I do… I’m sure this is true for most scoff-bloggers. Here’s a prime example I’ve never blogged up before. Once a week or so, when I’m busy grafting, a lunchtime dish winds up at Pieman towers via our homehelp. I don’t always know what it’ll be, but I’m always game. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to gad about the city searching out hot new joints and so, the home delivery, surprise factor works well. I know this bowl of Bun Mam originated somewhere on Cach Mang Thanh Tam street, somewhere in District 10 or 3 and I know it cost 10,000VD for the big bowl, but that’s all I know.
Bun Mam is yet another… (yawn, yawn… Are these getting boring yet?) noodle soups which defy the definition ‘soup’. In among this lot I unearthed; prawns, pork, fish, aubergine, spring onion and squid. Oh… and a reasonably thick bun (vermicelli noodle). You not only get the herb plate above, which comprises; 10 different veggies including Bong Sung (a purple thing. And ‘No’ I have no idea what this one’s called in English), Cu Neo, which is the soft spongy fella, looks a bit like celery in the pic above and is a ‘must’ for a blindin’ Canh Chua Ca and then there’s Bap Chuoi, or banana flower. I had trouble with my definitions for this tricky chap on my previous Bun Bo Hue post, but I know my ground now. The soup is sweet with plenty of chili cutting through. In fact, this soup is utterly, gobfillingly gorgeous. Nothing short of a revelation. I cannot find fault with it. I promise to sniff out the address for this and blog in far more detail. It really is just too good to ignore the finer details on this one. I’ll keep you posted.
There’s two things you will never find inside a pizza box destined for Pieman towers – fruit or fish. Please don’t desecrate my dough. Pineapple, squid, anchovies, clams, shrimps, sardines, tuna or anything else oceanic or fruitarian is all fine – elsewhere. On the holy trinity – dough, mozzarella and tomato – leave it out. Fortunately, Cappuccino Ristorante, at 86 Bui Vien street in District 1 & 39 Vo Vuong Toan street in District 2, have a whopping great 34 pizzas to choose from on their enormo-delivery menu which boasts a staggering 321 different dishes plus drinks. Surely that’s a record for Saigon?
In my experience, bagging a decent pizza in Saigon has been more miss than hit. These guys churn out the best I’ve found thus far. Tonight we’re talking Pizza Chorizo, No. 98 on the menu. Pasted in among the mozzarella are bell peppers, chorizo and olives. Cappuccino pizzas normally arrive slightly moist and greasy on the surface, which I like. For some reason tonight’s was dry. I do like my pizza with a burnt underbelly. Hint of char adds a scofftacular harshness to the cheese and other toppings. Simple seems to work better than all-singing-all-dancing pizzas in Vietnam. I was a fan of this joint’s Pizza Mexico, No. 88. It came oozing with Chill con carne, bell pepper, onion and served with salsa, guacamole & sour cream on the side. Fab, fat scoff, but you should be able to turn a good pizza over with none of your topping heading southwards. Try that with a Pizza Mexico and you’ll end up with your breadbase in one hand and something resembling a placenta splat down below.
Cappuccino opened its first branch in 1992. In among the other elements of their extensive menu are burgers, cassoulet, moussaka, couscous, paella, Swiss specialitiies, Tex-Mex, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Pretty much all bases covered there then. You get one piece of ‘seasonal fruit’ free with every order – bananas appear to be in season year round. Order a large pizza and you also get a free Coca Cola. This (large) Pizza Chorizo will set you back 61,000VD or around $4 including delivery, although a tip is polite for your motorbike boy. The most expensive pizza on the menu is a Pizza Pepperoni for 71,000VD. One last hint – There are two phone numbers for Cappuccino. If you don’t speak Vietnamese, use this number only (Tel: 089203134). Never had to repeat anything to this guy. Not only the best pizza I’ve found here, but the best English speaking telephone delivery service.
We’ve covered this gaff – Quan An Ngon – before so I won’t go into the histrionics of the restaurant, but I will say it’s well worth poking your nose in here if your time is limited and you want to check out a very wide selection of nosh under one roof… errr… make that a banana tree or brolly actually. In the pic above, you can see the chef with a firey hot pan of oil dishing out the Banh Tom Ho Tay – again, we covered that yonks ago, so no need to prattle on more about it here, but it is indeed a fab fried thing. For today’s lunch I dipped deep into the soup menu and plumped for Mien Luon (Eel soup with translucent noodles).
The eel is chopped into small chunks and fried beforehand before landing atop the translucent mien with a few sprigs of spring onion and finely chopped spring onion for company. On the side plate you’ll find Quai, Rau Ram, some sliced onions, a bowl of nasty chili sauce and a squeeze of lemon. All in all, that’s all you’ll need to make your Mien luon sing with flavour. Personally, I hit the lemon first, chuck in a few ripped up herbs and get stuck in.
The soup itself is clear and very lightly flavoured. A splash of the chili would move things up a gear, but Vietnamese chili sauce is rank. It’s the texture of the eel and noodle combo which I find appealing, much like in a Chao Luon (Eel rice porridge), but it’s not for everyone. In fact some find the whole internal experience downright creepy. Not pieman – yum, yum. Gimme more eel dishes please. 18,000VD a bowl or just over a dollar. It’s cheaper elsewhere, but this is the only southern rendition I’ve ingested so far.
Since I last blogged by Ngu Vien at 40 Ky Dong street in District 3 I’ve returned three or four times and had delivery to Pieman towers the same amount. I’m still working through their voluminous menu, but I thought it might be useful to round up a few new found faves. First up is the chap above, Chinh Nuong La Chanh (Grilled eel with lemon juice) 75,000VD. It’s simply slices of fresh eel (they have live eels in the aquarium near the entrance) grilled to spectacular succulence with the heavy scent of lemon juice and charred lemon leaves. The flesh is soft, just avoid the central bone as it can cause a nasty clunk mid munch if you’re not careful. There’s a salty, lemon dip too – just in case you haven’t had enough citrus. Eat simply with rice.
In the green corner is this sauteed stunna, Bo xoi xao toi (Sauteed spinach with garlic) 18,000VD. They use really fresh spinach here and with the garlic punch it’s a vegetarian virtuoso performance from the boys at Ngu Vien. Again, scoff this fella with plain rice, well I do, you do what you want. The other veggie of choice in Vietnam, Rau Muong xao toi (Morning glory with garlic) is equally super, but a bit more work in the toothpick department apres stuffing.
Carnivores who have a penchant for carpaccio will find the Bo Tai Chanh (Rare beef in lemon juice) 35,000VD of interest. Loaded with lemony fizz and garnished with raw onion and strings of red pepper, it’s a ‘rare’ treat. I’m a little wary when it comes to raw dishes in Saigon, but this has never caused any ‘consequences’ even when delivered to Pieman towers. The heavy duty use of lemon does make this an ulcer unfriendly platter, but if you’re not suffering, this is a blinder. Highly recommended.
Last up for this edition of noodlepie meets Ngu Vien (we’ll be back for more, don’t you worry) is Canh Mung Tui (Malabar nightshade soup) 25,000VD. As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m a big Canh fan, although the spinach in this one is a bit glutinous and gloppy. Like scoffin’ a slug. It’s earthy stuff and there’s plenty of greens in there to keep you regular. However, I’m still ploughing through their Canh menu as I don’t think I’ve hit their sweet soup spot yet. Any tips, lemme know. Dinner for two with drinks came to 185,000VD, about $12. View the business card and in Vietnamese.
It’d be a snitch to miss Pho Vinh Quang at 19/13B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street. It’s hidden off the main drag down a wee alleyway. The only hint of a beef noodle soup lurking nearby is the sign hanging on the electricity pylon. It’s a front room pho set up, just next door is a Bun Rieu which is a similarly homespun affair. On the evidence of this visit, Pho Vinh Quang looks like a popular haunt. Although, pushed for time and with the toad in tow, I opted for the take away option today.
No snaps of the bowl, so you’ll have to make do with the restaurant. Like I said, very ‘homely’. In fact it is a home, I think. Looks like this place doubles up as Vinh’s front room. There’s only Pho bo on offer, no fowl in sight, and I opted for the Pho Bo Tai (Raw beef noodle soup). As with previous takeaways, they fairly pack their noodles in here and scrimp on the soup. And that’s never a good thing.
What there is of the soup (not a lot…) is quality stuff, meaty and thick. A takeaway order comes with a small bag of premixed Hoisin sauce and chili sauce (which I didn’t bother with), a minimal three leaf herb selection and a bag of freshly chopped red chilies. The meat was slightly chewy. The more I search for the perfect Pho, the more I realise meat tenderising is an afterthought in Vietnam. Having said that, I’m gonna return here. It’s just a stroll up from Saigon zoo and I have a feeling that eating in house would reap better results. Also, I want to check out the Bun rieu next door. A takeaway will set you back 10,000VD.
Been meaning to blog this for ages. Taken at the market in Sapa, near the border with China. Not sure if we’re talking buffalo, cow or horse here. In one way it’s a hideous shot. All a bit Damien Hirst. But I find it the perfect advertisement to either eat meat or never eat meat again.
If you can navigate your way across the street above you’ll find yourself ensconced at Hong Thang Dac Biet Com Ga at 378 Hai Ba Trung street in District 1. Com ga means rice chicken, Dac biet means special, Hong Thang’s the name of the gaffer. But the chicken theme is a bit of a misnomer, this shabby shack also shifts duck, pork, chicken and beef. Each of them of the long cooked, roasted, glazed variety. In true oriental fashion, all carcasses are on show front of house, glistening in standard neon format. There are several other Com ga restaurants on this stretch of Hai Ba Trung street, but for some reason, it’s this spot that has the reputation. If I find out why, I’ll let you know.
Despite the name, it’s the pork or the duck I normally plump for. The thinner the sliver the better in my book, although many Vietnamese customers like their meat lardy. There’s no fanciness involved at Hong Thang, the aluminium trestle tables are out in force, the floors are a bit scummy and the service friendly, but slipshod. All dishes come with a forgettable sidedish of kimchi style veggies and a nuoc mam (fish sauce) meat dipping bowl. The meat is plonked atop a bed of chicken stock flavoured rice, sliced cucumber and spring onion. There’s also a Canh (soup), more of which in a minute.
I buggered up the order and ended up with the thick, fatty pork I didn’t want. Lacking the word for thin slivers of pork sans blubber, I thought "Sod it" and got stuck in. The best part of this style of roasted pork is that layer of crunchy, crispy gristle of the outer rind of the pork. Well splendid, even with any potential cardio vascular crisis attached. Reminds me of Britain’s top pub snack – Pork Scratchings, or the crispy rind, called crackling, from a traditional Sunday Pork Roast only better.
The canh is a big, big Pieman fave. Like all the very best canh in Vietnam it’s stupidly simple. Pork or chicken stock, pondweed, smidgen of minced pork, chopped spring onions and a tad garlic. Not sure what the pondweed’s name is in English (or Vietnamese for that matter) but, it’s so good I regularly collar this veggie down on Ben Thanh market and rustle the same dish up back at Pieman Towers. It’s earthy and perfect with the chicken stock flavoured rice, so long as they go easy with the MSG, which I must say is not a given at Hong Thang. I recommend this spot, but stick to the duck or thinly sliced pork. Just over a buck at 16,000VD a plate, the canh adds 5,000VD to the bill. View the business card and reverse side info.
The ramshackle rear end of the Central mosque at 66 Dong Du street in District 1 is home to Saigon’s hottest halal diner. There’s an eclectic clientelle. On any given day you’ll find Malaysian expats sidling up next backpackers in birkenstocks, Japanese tourists, a sprinkling of Vietnamese, the odd infidel and a couple of cats. They’re all here for one thing, no-nonsense curry. The ‘Mosque Restaurant’, as it is known, is a fuss-free open air tables and chairs affair more soup kitchen chic than classy curry house.
There are seven curry dishes; including squid, fish, crab, mutton, vegetable and chicken numbers. There’s also fried chicken on offer. Your mosque meat comes with turmeric tossed mixed rice, a roti (kind of bread) and a plate of bananas. There’s no messing around here, all dishes are delivered to your table immediately. First up is the crab curry pictured above. Not strictly a ‘mange tout’ crab, I scoffed the lot anyhow. I find neanderthal pleasure in the denture destroying cracks of crab shell. The curry itself, as with all curries I have tried here, is reasonably flavour full, but mild, in a Malaysian manner, and quite greasy.
The chicken curry didn’t work quite so well as the moorish crab. The poultry was bit chewy and, to my tastes at least, slightly synthetic. On previous occasions I have had the squid curry, but that also ventured deep into chew territory. The one below was the winner on the day – okra and tomato curry. In fact it was so good, we ordered another one. The mild curry sauce was as near as makes no difference the same as all the other curries we tried. I doubt there is any variation in the spicings and seasonings of the different curries on offer, but I’ll be back to check if the chilies lurk elsewhere on another visit.
OK – so you’re probably not gonna find the best curry this side of Karachi within these walls, but the ‘Mosque Restaurant’ is a peaceful pitstop for munchies from the Malaysian peninsular. It’s also cheap. Curries go for between 5,000VD and 35,000VD a nod. Lunch for two with four curry plates, rice, bread, iced tea and napkins came to a slim 92,000VD.