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Chowing down on sumptouus Chinese cuisine

(No.1, Vol.8,Feb -March Vietnam Heritage Magazine)





Few would argue that Chinese cuisine is not among the world's very best. Being such a vast and varied country, we should be talking about Chinese cuisines. Most would agree that China's haute cuisine is reached in the culinary tradition of Canton with its the rich flavours, inventiveness and attractive presentation. Ho Chi Minh City is blessed with a number of top-class Cantonese restaurants mostly in downtown areas where rents are high. If you wish to enjoy a top-quality Cantonese dining experience at an affordable price, I would suggest heading out toward the airport to the Tung Garden Restaurant at the Eastin Grand Hotel which with its Hong Kong chef serves mainly Cantonese style.
Another factor leading to the remarkable value for money could be the minimalist decor. Most places of this nature tend to overdo it with the Chinoiserie; lots of dark red tropical wood furniture, ornate screens, willow pattern pictures, large ceramic jars, statues of storks and tortoises and perhaps an aquarium with koi carp and other exotic fish. There is none of that in this dining hall; only pastel shades of the walls and a light green matching table cloth. Just as a Protestant Church is devoid of imagery in an attempt to concentrate the mind on spirituality, here there is nothing to distract from the savouring of the dishes and enjoyment of the conviviality of your company here. Much attention has been paid to the lighting of the hall which together with that streaming in from the vast lobby below provides a uplifting and joyful ambiance.
On the weekends, there is a choice of selecting dishes a la carte or taking the all-you-can-eat Dim Sum buffet-those steam buns and other small bites with a multitude of fillings which the folks in Canton and Hong Kong like to take with tea. The latter is a bargain draw at only VND380,000 per head. We wanted to try as many dishes as possible but also included two from the Dim Sum list. My company on this occasion was my wife who is Vietnamese and not only a brilliant cook herself, but also highly knowledgeable about food in general.
The table was set with sauces and appetisers of prawn crackers and deep fried whitebait all on a 'Lazy Susan' that turntable which facilitates passing the dishes around and helps you be attentive to your dining company. A table with only two is a rarity in a place like this. Indeed that Saturday lunchtime our fellow diners were all families and business groups. Had we been with others, we would undoubtedly have ordered a whole crispy and glazed Peking Duck, several of which we noted being brought to tables and at quite good value at VND850,000 for a whole duck. Instead we ordered a portion of the same.
What to drink? When eating Chinese food the green tea, both refreshing and delicious for me, is all I need. However, there is an extensive wine list with a bottle starting at VND1,200,000. There is bottled beer, but most Westerners would be happy to know that draught Sapporo and Tiger are available here at just VND55,000 a glass. Soft drinks are priced at VND65,000 and fresh juices at VND85,000. My wife enjoyed the bright green kumquat juice.
One by one, like a slow-motion carnival of sybaritic friezes, the victuals arrived at the table. First came the dim sum, consisting of cream custard-filled dumplings in the form of cute hedgehogs-something to please the children or the child in you. There were also little crusty pies in the form of a crab stuffed with seafood. Not deviating much from normal Vietnamese fare came the main vegetable order of stir-fried garlic spinach. Then the one I had been eagerly awaiting-the portion of succulent and tender duck. I always think the taste of Chinese duck derives from star anise, but my wife remarked it was saffron that hit her palate most. If you are reading this and are a vegetarian, do not worry you would be well-catered for here; there was an extensive list of meat-free dishes on the menu.
My wife certainly knows how to order and with her husband's tastes in mind too. Having savoured the best of the land or the paddy fields, at least we now focused our attention onto the fruits of the sea. I had not eaten cod, which is practically the national fish of my native country England for many a long moon. The Vietnamese call it 'snow fish' which I find rather 'cool'. Scrumptious it was too, but somewhat unrecognisable from our battered cod. The Cantonese give it a regal treatment baked in terriyaki and mint sauce. It came with a layer of rich fat on its skin, no doubt considered a delicacy by the Chinese in general. Knowing the Omega B benefits of fish fat, I am never one to pass it over that. Given its high price in Vietnam, the lobster, our last try, which came in generous portions was the piece de resistance. It was given the same treatment now in vogue for oysters-baked 'au gratin' (in breadcrumbs and cheese sauce).  
One can not but think as one is eating Chinese fare that you are eating history- the result of old Cathay's cooks creativity adding to and tweaking recipes handed down by generations over thousands of years. There are plenty of things to do a weekend. What could be more convivial than meeting up with friends, family or colleagues over a lazy meal seated around a lazy Susan chatting and enjoying great Chinese dishes cooked by an excellent team and served by attentive but unobtrusive staff? At the Tung gardens this you do without the demands of your tongue and palate costing you an arm and a leg.


Eastin Grand Hotel
253 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
Tel : (028) 3844-9222
www.eastinhotelsresidences.com


By Ritch Pickins
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One can come to photograph, to hire a boat and enjoy the lotuses, have a cup of lotus scented tea or simply enjoy the aroma of lotus being spread ...
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