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True to region and season

(No.2, Vol.2 Feb 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Mua Dining & Café has recently opened its doors in Ho Chi Minh City. Its name, Mùa, in Vietnamese, means ‘season’ and its philosophy is to serve fresh food in season from the three main regions of Vietnam, North, Central and South. The motto ‘Taste of the season, taste of the region’ appears on the paper place mats. Although somewhat off the beaten track, in a corner of District 3, this spotlessly clean venue was packed with a mixed clientele of locals and foreigners when I went along for lunch. 
The decor is simple but emanates a homely atmosphere. Houseplants in wooden frames adorn whitewashed walls. The furniture is of dark tropical hardwood and the chairs have  lime-coloured cushions. The staff are in uniforms of the same hues. It occurred to me that they would make good colours for a football team - ‘Mua United’ perhaps.
There are two set luncheon menus, at the snip of a price of 45,000 dongs. You can have either stewed spiny goby fish (cá kèo) or stewed pork and egg. Both come with rice, mixed vegetables, a sour vegetable soup and fresh fruit for dessert.
The à la carte is extensive, including chicken, duck, pork, beef, fish and seafood. If you are with friends you might like one of their hot pots for 205,000 to 230,000 dongs. Among the more
exotic dishes, I found two of my old favourites, pig's ear, at 78,000 dongs, and chicken feet steamed or grilled, for 58,000 dongs.
Easy-listening Western music of the sixties played quietly in the background. Tom Jones, Skeeter Davis, Don McLean and Mary Hopkin, which was just right for an old-timer like myself. I tucked into a plate of hot sweet-potato chips (French fries, as our American friends quaintly term them, although as every European knows it was the Belgians who invented them).
Miss Thao, one of the owners, brought the chips to the table and urged me to dip them in the accompanying sugar and butter. I know this is the way  Vietnam’s southerners eat their chips but I politely informed Miss Thao that culinarily speaking I came from a Central Vietnamese household and usually used soya sauce. I did have them the Southern way when I first came to Saigon, but now, eleven years on, I pointed to my fat middle-aged belly and told Miss Thao that I was not about to stick a calorie bomb down my throat. Then suddenly I remembered I was British and asked for salt and vinegar. I had to do this in Vietnamese as vinegar is not a common condiment in Vietnam and the word was not in Miss Thao’s vocabulary.
I sprinkled the salt and vinegar on the chips and downed one or two. Miss Thao looked on in amazement, seemingly not believing such a thing was possible. I offered the lady one, using the back ends of my chopsticks, as is the custom in Vietnam. She accepted and made no comment but the look on her face clearly indicated she had undergone as bizarre an experience as I had in contemplating the sugar and butter.


Ha Long squid
Photos: Mua Dining & Café


Fruit and yoghurt.
Photos: Mua Dining & Café

To drink, I had a refreshingly delicious creamy mango milkshake (42,000 dongs). Soft drinks were available at 20,000 dongs, as well as grape wine. Australian wine sold for 98,000 dongs a glass or 480,000 a bottle and Chilean at 78,000 and 360,000 respectively.
A large plate of spring rolls stuffed with crab enveloped in egg came next. This time the dip of chilli-flavoured mayonnaise was in small doses, safe enough for me to eat. Quite scrumptious! This was enough to leave my stomach replete. I rounded off the meal with watermelon and a coffee the way like it. None of your fancy Starbucks creations for me. I like my coffee simple so it tastes of just coffee.
Mua looks set to take its place among the finer of Saigon’s eateries. The simplicity of the dining surroundings and philosophical approach to serving up the best of what this amazing country has to offer means they are surely on to a winner. This is truly a restaurant. I left Mua restored, with a happy stomach and feeling every bit as relaxed as after I visited the massage parlour the other day.n

Mua Dining & Café
63B Tran Quoc Thao St,
Dist.3, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 6673-3350 - 0984888123

 

By Pip de Rouvray
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