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A 'LIGHT' LUNCH

BY RITCH PICKENS
(No.6, Vol.6,Aug-Sep 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)



All the flavours of old Cathay at Tung Garden

The Eastin Grand, Ho Chi Minh City is a well located hotel. It is only a few minutes drive from the airport and equally handy for downtown which is only fifteen to twenty minutes away. Paris has long had the sobriquet of the ‘City of Light’ and I know of two famous football clubs that play in the ‘Stadium of Light’. This hotel I have dubbed the ‘Hotel of Light’. In the huge lobby you are met by bright lighting and decor of light colours. The Tung Garden Restaurant overlooks this lobby and has the addition of its snowy bright table linen. I sat down here with my sixteen year old daughter to enjoy my first Chinese dinner for quite some time.
We were seated at one of only two tables for two in the vast room. Manager Alan Kan from Hong Kong was at hand so we consulted him on which dishes to select. We took up his suggestion to include Peking Duck. I lived in Peking for three years and enjoyed it many times there. From Alan we learned that Tung Garden Restaurant has been operating only since March. However, it has quickly built up a following for its weekend all you can eat Dim Sum lunch (VND380,000 ). Recently there have been so many diners for this that they had to add extra seating.
As all the dishes we ordered were to come more or less all at once it soon became apparent that we needed to transfer to a full sized table. This proved to be much more convenient not only for space but also as it was equipped with a glass Lazy Susan - that turntable in the middle that you can rotate to get access to dishes. Near us was a group of office workers of various nationalities. We could hear every word they were saying and they were clearly having a convivial time.
First we tackled the winter melon soup which was served in the hewn out melon itself. Apart from the melon itself the soup contained shrimp.mushroom and pork. It was a refreshing kick off.
Next we tackled away at a half portion of the Peking Duck (VND420,000 ). Lazier even than Susan I ordered this to come already wrapped in pancakes like little sandwiches. Dipped into the sweet bean sauce which looked and tasted like plum jam there was enough for five of these each. There was a great taste of crispy duck skin and flavour some duckfat. In Beijing itself on outings with Chinese colleagues I remember nobody was particularly interested in the meat itself which was usually given to the driver. This dish to be a success is reliant not only on a great chef but also on the selection of a good rearer of the duck. The duck is slaughtered after sixty five days before being seasoned and roasted in a hung or closed oven. For us it really hit the back of the net!
Following this we tucked into another delicacy, pieces of deep fried scallop with mince, shrimp pepper and salt (VND450,000). They looked a bit like croquettes. Scrumptious stuff! Accompanying this was a dish of spinach with white of egg (VND125,000 ) enough to make you feel like a feasting Popeye.
Of course you can not have Chinese food without rice and here it came in a novel fashion. It was crispy having been stir fried along with globules of duck fat in the mix. All of this was couched in a large fresh lettuce leaf. As I have noted before unlike Vietnamese meal the rice in a Chinese meal comes toward the end. After having savoured a number of dishes the rice comes a the filler. That seems to be the idea.



From the dessert selection we chose the ‘Taro Milk with Coconut Pudding’ (VND55,000 ). Now this creamy purple tropical root is not found in Guangzhou (Canton) so the chef was showing creativity in adapting this creamy tropical root to his cuisine. Needless to say it went down a treat!
The service at Tung Garden Restaurant proved to be par excellence. Our waitress Miss Hoa was unobtrusive but always at hand. My cup never ran dry of delicious hot green tea. Hoa was always there to make sure it was always topped up.
Towards the end of meal Chef Fun from Hong Kong and his Vietnamese assistant Cuong came over to greet us. Chef Fun does not speak English so I was obliged to use my rudimentary and rusty Mandarin Chinese. It proved sufficient enough to put a broad smile on Fun’s face when I complimented him on his cooking and told him how much I had enjoyed it. We also learned he has been in Vietnam a number of years and previously worked at the ‘Legend Hotel’ here in Ho Chi Minh City. What a loss that was for that hotel!
When you tire of Vietnamese noodle soups and rice dishes it is nice to know that there is an Oriental alternative. Tung Garden Restaurant has all the world revered Cantonese cuisine has to offer. The experienced chef and his crew will ensure your entire satisfaction and the serving staff will pamper you. Now you have good reason to head out to the airport other than just to take a plane.

'Tung Garden Restaurant' is on the first floor of 'The Eastin Grand Hotel' at 253 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.

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