I’m convinced the unassuming entrance to the restaurant above is the sole biggest cause of traffic jams in District 10. Swing by between 6 and 7pm and you’re more likely to find every junction within a kilometre snarled and choking with carbon monoxide than not. Lang Nuong Nam Bo restaurant at 367 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street is full every night. Most diners arrive on two wheels, those that don’t arrive by taxi, or worse by minibus. The constant drop-off, pick-up action going on results in a majorly mangled poisonous guff of Hondas and Toyotas.
Pictured above is roughly an eighth of the total number of motorbikes in residence on this visit. My camera’s lens couldn’t fit the whole lot in. With so many negatives in the air, there must be something about this vast food hangar that attracts the punters to forego traffic hell to get here. I’m guessing one of the big draws is the size. One of the waiters told me there’s around 400 seats here. Another told me 200. And the guy who poured my Saigon beer guessed at 2000. Lacking any hard numbers, I’ll weigh in with a stab at between 500-600 at any one time.
The noise factor approaches unbearable and on the roughly ten visits I’ve made to this place over the years I’ve probably heard ‘Happy Birthday’ piped through the loud speakers an average of three times per visit. For all that, Nam Bo offers a superb insight into the bonkersworld of what I like to call Vietnamese Enormo-dining. There’s a lot of these joints around town and to be honest the food is not always that great. However, Nam Bo is one of the bigger and better ones I’ve tried. The menu reads like a zoo want list, Heo rung (boar), Nhim (porcupine), Cheo (Java mouse – deer), Chon (weasel), Cu dat (Turtle dove) and Duong (live worm). Through the motorbike park and on your right just before entering the restaurant is ‘the animal area’. Daily specials sliver, romp and bark in a series of cages. In stock during this feast were a couple of dogs, snakes and ‘countryside rats’.
Other that the more exotic end of the menu there’s plenty, maybe too much, to choose from. First up we have a plate of So diep nuong sate (Grilled scallop sate) for 20,000VD. It’s my favourite dish here and, like many other nuong (grilled) dishes, you can choose to cook them yourself on a table-top charcoal grill.
Be carfeul not to overcook them. These wee scallops come detached from the shell and soaked in a firebrand sate sauce, but cook them too long and they’ll re-attach themselves to the shell. A minute or two on either side keeps them a juicy, tender, sate saturated sea-snack.
Raw Tiger prawns are popular scoff here and go for around 150,000VD for 500g, depending on the market price. The waiters often try and freak out any stray foreigners who stumble in off the street by letting one or two leap out of the holding pen or off the red hot grill itself. I guess I’d do the same if someone sat my arse on the surface of the sun. However, the prawns usually come with their nervous system disengaged to prevent your dinner making for the exit, or the nearest beer glass to cool down. They couldn’t be fresher if you’d hauled them out of the sea yourself. Dipped in a salt, pepper and lemon dip, they’re a hit.
Staying with the seafood theme we opted for a plate of Muc nuong nam bo (Grilled squid South Vietnam style) 35,000VD. The squid is laced with a harsh five spice marinated which, like the scallop sate we tried earlier, doesn’t mess around with getting to know the sensitive end of your palate before it boots down the door and gatecrashes your gob. You won’t experience the subtler tones of Vietnamese cuisine at Nam Bo,
but you will have fun in among the din, bodies, grill smoke and spice.
We also tried the Bo nuong ngu vi (Grilled beef with five spices) 30,000VD – erred on the chewy side, same boisterous spicing as the squid – and the Bong bi xao toi (Sauteed pumpkin flower with garlic) 20,000VD, a soft green ‘n’ garlicky bit of shrubbery which doesn’t overpower or have you reaching for the toothpick like Rau muong xao toi (Sauteed Morning glory with garlic) often does. Of the other myriad dishes on offer, the Lau (hotpot) looked one of the more interesting and the grilled/steamed fish I saw on neighbouring tables could be worth a grind. Dinner for four, with drinks and rice, around 270,000VD. Service is very good, extremely speedy and efficient.
UPDATE: Thankfully, this place has moved to 285-C145 Cach Mang Thang Tham Street which eases traffic congestion immensely.