Archive for the 'Thit Heo Quay' Category

Meatless in Saigon

Mock Meats and Tofu Treats—clockwise from upper left: bean curd with mustard greens, thit heo quay, xoi ga chay, canh chua

One would imagine that in a society where roughly 85% of the people are practicing Buddhists, vegetarian restaurants could be found on every corner. While this may be true in some parts of Asia, it is certainly not the case in Saigon, where eateries specializing in com chay are few and far between.

Exceptions to this general trend appear on the first and fifteenth of each Lunar Calendar month, when all Buddhists shy away from meat. On these particularly auspicious days, nearly all workers’ lunch establishments (com binh dan) serve vegetarian options.

Whereas vegetarian cuisine in the West often means a bland plate of grilled vegetables or strange faux meat products, Vietnamese vegetarian fare sticks to familiar flavors and ingredients. Unlike scientifically derived products such as Tofurkey and Boca Burgers, which tend to leave eaters feeling deprived, the fresh vegetables and soy products employed at com chay restaurants are skillfully transformed into wholly satisfying delights.

One of the best features of vegetarian establishments in town is their extensive menus. From rice entrees to noodle soups, it seems that every Vietnamese dish can be deliciously vegetarian-ized.

For those seeking meatless fare for dietary reasons, religious leanings, or just personal preference, there are a handful of well-run and exciting Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants in the city worth getting to know. Just a warning, there is a good chance that you will be dining next to a group of Buddhist nuns or monks while digging into a hearty plate of meatless goodness.

Quan An Chay
174 Calmette Street, District 1
This vegan-friendly eatery features a casual buffet where diners can pick and choose items that suit their fancy. The buffet selections change daily, which always keeps things interesting. The price of the meal depends on the weight of food.

Huong Vien
101 Vuon Chuoi Street, District 3
Huong Vien’s specialty is vegetarian renditions of Vietnamese classics such as pho, lau (hot pot), and bun rieu. The xoi ga chay (sticky rice with “chicken”) is especially stellar and unbelievably similar to the meaty xoi ga and xoi man sold street-side. A plate of xoi ga chay is priced at VND4,000. Another winning dish is the banh hoi thit nuong (vermicelli noodle cakes topped with grilled “pork”). The meaty mouth-feel and smoky marinade of the soy “pork” is nothing short of excellent. A heaping portion of banh hoi thit nuong is priced at VND10,000.

Lien Hoa
004 C/c Doan Van Bo Street, District 4
Lien Hoa serves Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine at rock-bottom prices. At VND10,000 per dish, one can eat healthily and economically. House specialties include banh beo chay (steamed rice cakes) and banh bao chay (steamed buns).

Giac Duc
492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3
A must-try treat at Giac Duc is the thit heo quay (barbecued pork). The dish looks and tastes so ridiculously pork-like, it is hard to believe that no swine were harmed in the process. The true genius of this dish lies in the tapioca film that brilliantly fakes the layer of fat found in real thit heo quay. A portion for two is priced at VND10,000. Giac Duc also makes one of the best canh chua (sweet and sour soup) in town. The VND5,000 bowl of soup is brimming with okra, elephant ears, tomatoes, and bean sprouts.

Tiem Com Chay Phap Hoa I
200 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
Extremely popular with the local crowd, Phap Hoa prepares a large selection of Vietnamese specialties and dishes employing mock meat. Although the ambiance is bare bones, the friendly staff and solid food more than make up for it.

Thanh Luong
545A Ba Thang Hai Street, District 10
Although Thanh Luong’s menu is slightly limited compared to the others, the quality of the food is first-class. The best way to enjoy Thanh Luong’s offerings is by ordering a variety of dishes and plenty of steamed rice. The dau hu xa (lemongrass tofu) and bean curd with mustard greens are solid choices. “Sardines” wrapped in seaweed, one of the more interesting menu items, taste surprisingly fishy for a creation made entirely inland.

An Lac Chay *CLOSED*
175/4 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1
In the heart of the backpacker quarter, An Lac’s main clientele are travelers and local families. The restaurant prepares both Vietnamese and international cuisine and according to locals, An Lac’s pizza is most excellent.

Two Huong Vien regulars enjoying a meat-free lunch

Mien & Dung's Wedding

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Vietnamese weddings are so damn cool.

I attended my first one, and sadly probably my last, a couple weeks ago at the Saigon Star 2 Restaurant. Mien, my grandma’s sister’s son’s daughter, got hitched to a fellow named Dung and they were nice enough to invite me to the celebration. The couple officially tied the knot in a Catholic ceremony a day earlier, so this evening was dedicated to partying.

The two hour reception was filled with great company and plenty of cold beers—Heineken was the bia of choice.

I arrived a bit on the late side and was greeted by the bride and groom on the staircase leading up to the banquet hall. I congratulated them on their big day, we snapped a picture with the professional photographer, and then I made my way into the dining room. I’m pretty bad with estimations, but I’d say there were somewhere around 200 guests at the shindig.

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The evening began with dancers performing a little number in silky, all-white ensembles. I initially thought they were Mien or Dung’s friends, but my aunt informed me that they were hired by the restaurant.

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Following the dancers, the bride and groom were introduced to the enthusiastic crowd.

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Next, came the in-laws—here is my Uncle Hai and Aunt Phung.

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Following the introductions, the bride and groom performed a champagne ritual. Ten minutes and three bottles of champagne later, the glasses were finally filled. Unfortunately, the bride, groom, and in-laws were the only ones who got to drink the bubbly. The dry ice brought about a mystical element to the ceremony don’t you think?

After the champagne came the food! The six-course feast was served family-style and was very tasty as far as wedding food goes.

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Appetizers: Onion Salad (goi hai san kieu Thai), Stir Fried Vegetables with Cashews (so diep xao hat dieu), Crab Dumplings (cang cua bach hoa)

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Seafood Soup

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Steamed Shrimps in Young Coconut

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Banh Hoi

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Thit Heo Quay

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Seafood Hot Pot – lau Thai hai san

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Tropical Fruit Gelatin

The last wedding I attended had a buffet dishing up seven layer dip and crudités; this was definitely a giant step up. Although palatable, the food was far less memorable than the festivities. Standouts include the crab claw dumplings on the appetizer platter and the tropical fruit Jello dessert.

As guests dined, the happy couple made their rounds and greeted each table. They must have been smashed by the end of the night because every table raised their glasses.

And somewhere between all the boozing and food, the Karaoke started up and went on for the rest of the evening. My Uncle Minh sang the first song—he was completely toasted.

Saigon Star 2
Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Phone: 088117844

Giác Đức – Ho Chi Minh City

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September 18-20, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Vegetarian

492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 088356161
Website: none

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Boiled Water Spinach (3,000 VND)

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Braised Tofu with Vegetables (5,000 VND)

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Stuffed Eggplant, Tomato, and Bitter Melon (5,000 VND)

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BBQ “Pork” – “Thit” Heo Quay (10,000 VND)

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Stir Fried Cabbage (3,000 VND)

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Canh Chua (5,000 VND)

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Sauteed Green Beans and Carrots (3,000 VND)

I’ve been going to lunch at Giac Duc at least twice a week for the past two weeks. I’m on a vegetarian kick because I need more veggies in my diet and less refined flours and meat. Plus, it’s totally delicious.

My three favorite dishes at Giac Duc are the BBQ “pork,” sauteed green beans, and canh chua.

The BBQ pork is hands-down the best mock meat dish ever! The taste is spot-on and the texture is unbelievably thit heo quay-like. We’re talking mock fatty pork skin! How do they do that? I think it may involve tapioca and science.

The green beans are prepared simply with butter, salt, and plenty of black pepper. With vegetables this fresh, it doesn’t take a lot to make them tasty.

The canh chua is spiced nicely and brimming with tomatoes, bean sprouts, pineapple, bac ha, and okra. I really could (and sometimes do) eat canh chua every day.

My only complaint about the eatery is that the price of the food seems to change every time I dine there. When I ate at Giac Duc with a fellow Viet Kieu, the price of the BBQ pork was 5,000 VND, but when I dined with The Astronomer, the price jumped to 10,000 VND. WTF, right? I don’t mind being gouged a little because I’m a foreigner, but at least be consistent about it.

I’ll keep coming back for the “pork.”

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