All the flavours of Vietnam in one Vietnam House

No 11, Vol.5, December 2015 – January 2016

If you are new to Vietnam and wish to learn about its culinary delights on its home turf and what is the point of coming from half way across the globe if you are not-the place to take your basic course and courses has to be Vietnam House on Dong Khoi Street just a stroll from many of the downtown hotels. I would consider myself a graduate in the subject but there is always need for revision so I went along for dinner taking along my fifteen year old daughter.The intention this time was to savour some of the fruits of the sea for which this restaurant is famed .
The beautiful building with green slatted French windows is distinctive. In colonial times it was the residence of a prominent family. Now,as we walked through the door the first thing we noticed were the aquaria at the back. Looking like gladiators in an aquatic ring the classic fish and crustaceans seemed to say- "Those who are about to be eaten,salute thee O diner."

We decided to take the stress out of choosing dishes and risking mismatches by opting for two set menus for one sharing them between us. As it happened we discovered if you have not got too ravenous an appetite one set menu only would satisfy two people. Each set was comprised of six courses. This is a really good way to spend an evening as it took a leisurely two and a half hours to enjoy the whole experience. Vietnam House is definitely not a fast food joint!
The drinks here are very reasonably priced considering what most downtown Saigon restaurants charge. A beer is 55,000 dongs ++ for a large glass and they obviously have learned Western preferences as they have draught Tiger beer for the same money. It was 59,00++ dongs for my daughter's apple juice; exotic in Vietnam. She also had a mojito cocktail priced at 99,000++ dongs. This contains vodka so I was waiting to see her face turn purple. But no she drank the whole thing with no bad effects. It must have been the European genes in her that makes her alcohol tolerant: many Asians I know are allergic to alcohol. I need to add that there is also a full range of grape wines to accompany your meal starting from 690,000 dongs for a Chilean red as well as wine by the glass.
The dishes were more filling as we went along. For starters there were fresh spring rolls ad a spicy beef salad garnished with a large red chili pepper which looked too hot to eat. The next two dishes were also light. They were deep fried squid rings with sesame and minced prawn on a sugar cane stick-a Vietnamese kebab!- both were truly scrumptious.
On to the more substantial dishes now as along came a large bowl of steamed clams in lemongrass and slices of sauteed chicken breast in a mushroom sauce-further delights for the palate.
Things really started to heat up when a whole lobster cooked with salt and chili and a whole crab bathed in a tamarind sauce arrived at the table. My daughter found the crab absolutely delightful but being the first time for her to eat lobster a strange experience. Not so I having eaten it frequently during my five years in Mozambique during its civil war when tourists were non existent and we aid workers got it at rock bottom. However I never got it so deliciously prepared as now. Now a confession I am a Lionel Messy of a dinner and despite the finger bowl with this kind of food the my side of the table was not looking good. However thanks to the attentive staff in their fine traditional uniforms paper towels were provided. I soon cleaned up and a new table cloth was laid.
The last main dishes were two hot pots-of crayfish; a tasty fresh water crustacean which looks like a small lobster and the other of seafood and mushrooms. There was banana flower, bamboo shoots ,morning glory stems and bun(rice vermicelli noodles to add to the water. All of this led us to have little room for dessert which would not have been a problem in a normal Vietnamese meal as usually just fresh tropical fruit is served but here they lay on things really special for the foreign guest. What could be more special than eating vanilla ice cream with fresh cream and chocolate sauce in a scooped out coconut? It really reminds you are in Southern Vietnam. My daughter had the more daunting task of downing two banana fritters with ice cream. She only managed the one fritter. We both ended the meal as stuffed as Christmas fowls.
These two set menus cost around a mere two million dong which is around only forty seven US dollars a head. This is exceptional value for money and probably unbeaten in the downtown especially in the hotels. Of course you can arrange a substantial meal for much less money from the a la carte menu which has an amazing one hundred and fifty dishes to choose from. The three regional tastes of north, central and south are all well catered for. There is also a wide selection of imaginative vegetarian dishes on offer. If you are lucky you may be able to meet the renowned executive chef Lam Thi Thu who has been with the restaurant since it opened twenty three years ago.
In a nutshell,Vietnam House gives superb value for money and proudly presents the whole vast array of one of the world's best cuisines to visitors taking into account the needs of Western diners and with very attentive English speaking servers. It also delights old Vietnam hands like myself and native born Vietnamese such as my daughter.n

Vietnam House Restaurant at 93-95 Dong Khoi Street, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City Tel. (84) 8 3829 1623

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