August 18, 2007
7 Cao Thang Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Com Hen (25,000 VND)
Com Am Phu (25,000 VND)
Goi Mit (25,000 VND)
Cuon Nhip (20,000 VND)
The Astronomer: One of the great things about being in Vietnam is hanging out with The Gastronomer’s extended family. Knowing some locals ensures that we’ll be introduced to the best eating establishments that the city has to offer, from fancy restaurants to her great aunt’s dining room. Of course, we haven’t been doing too badly wandering around blindly on our own either…
Last Saturday we met up with Huan, one of the younger family members, and his girlfriend for dinner. After extensive research, I have determined that he is a second cousin. In any case, he’s a nice guy, and for his part, he said we were de thuong (easy to like). Unfortunately, our friends didn’t speak much English, and my acquisition of Vietnamese is proceeding at a snail’s pace, so I was often left to guess at the topic of conversation. Nevertheless, I had a good time.
We let Huan choose the restaurant—he selected an attractive establishment specializing in food from the city of Hue. We were led up the stairs and seated at a table by the window. The cool breeze was a blessing and we had a nice view of the bustling street below.
The Gastronomer, Huan, and his girlfriend, Thu, all ordered the Com Hen—a warm rice dish with sauteed clams, pork and clam juice, while I went with the Com An Phu—orange rice with shrimp and chopped cucumbers. Within my first few bites, I regretted my decision. The Com An Phu was nothing special and less flavorful than a number of rice dishes I’ve eaten at dirty hole-in-the-walls. However, after I doused the whole thing in fish sauce, things began to look up. Honestly, the proper application of nuoc mam can make just about any dish delicious.
The Com Hen was really unique—served in a deep bowl instead of on a plate like a typical rice dish, it boasted a cool combination of flavors and textures that nicely complemented the hot ground chili mixed in. I was quite impressed by my first bite, but soon realized that the spiciness was too much for my weak-ass American palate to handle. If The Gastronomer hadn’t removed about 90% of the crushed chilis originally included in the bowl, I think I would have died. Being infinitely stronger than me, The Gastronomer thought her final concoction was quite perfect.
In addition to our main courses, we shared a plate of Goi Mit—a cool salad made of young jackfruit, herbs, and minced pork. It is eaten with banh trang (crunchy sesame crackers). The Goi Mit was the highlight of the meal for me. I really love salads that mix sweet and savory, and the banh trang was an excellent vehicle for delivering it to my mouth. I probably consumed more than my fair share and by the time everything was gone, I was stuffed.
Huan and Thu, on the other hand, were hungry for more. They ordered some cuon nhip-–pork wrapped in lettuce leaves and tied with a chive blossom. The peanut dipping sauce didn’t look terribly appealing to me, so I decided to pass. The Gastronomer reported that the rolls were nothing special, but the sauce was very good.
All-in-all, I had a pleasant experience at Mon Hue, although I was a bit disappointed by my entree. The atmosphere was comfortable, and prices, while higher than the typical street-side eatery, were still stunningly reasonable. I’m looking forward to re-uniting with Huan and Thu for another meal in the coming weeks.