October 13, 2007
4 Su Thien Chieu Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Lau Ca Keo La Vang – Keo Fish Hotpot (50,000 VND)
The Astronomer proclaimed today that the neighborhood surrounding the EMW office in District 3 offers the best Vietnamese food in the city in terms of variety and value. Although I never thought about it before, I think the boy’s got a point!
Whereas District 1 caters to the touristy/ex-pat crowd and District 4 is slightly on the down-home side, District 3 strikes a perfect balance between the two—baby bear if you will.
To be fair, we’ve only explored a handful of Districts—1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10 and Binh Tan. But from what we’ve seen and tasted, D3 is tops.
A three minute walk from the office is the city’s unofficial lau ca keo row. Su Thien Chieu Street is barely 100 meters long, but has at least five multi-story eateries serving up this variety of hotpot.
The Astronomer and I headed to “the row” for lunch last Saturday after an unsuccessful “vintage” shopping excursion nearby. Although this is a little off topic, it must be stated that the selection of clothes in Vietnam is terrible. Carrying on… From the scores of identical ca keo joints, we chose Mua Rung because the crowd inside was rowdy and the restaurant’s name/theme was especially fabulous—Rain forest!
Whereas the majority of restaurants in town would score a big fat zero in Zagat’s “atmosphere” category, Mua Rung actually puts some effort into their ambiance. The walls of the main dining room are decked out in plaster molded foliage, while “rain” constantly falls along the entrance. My personal favorite touch is the ceiling water misters, which brings about a foggy forest feel. The only thing missing is little monkeys carrying disease, swinging all over the place.
The menu at Mua Rung is extensive and strictly in Vietnamese. While I tend to avoid restaurants offering more than their greatest hits, I think it’s the nature of these hotpot spots to offer a lot of variety for boozers’ sakes. The Astronomer and I stuck with the house specialty, lau ca keo la vang. A small pot goes for 50,000 VND, while a larger one costs 80,000 VND.
Our waitress placed a portable stove atop our table on high heat with a large pot of broth on top. The broth boiled for five minutes, while she brought over a plate of vermicelli rice noodles and a pile of greens. The best part was when our waitress brought the ca keo to show me they were super fresh (i.e. still very much alive). They were jumpy little buggers and a few even managed to escape their container! The waitress scooped up the runaways and rinsed them before adding them into our boiling hotpot.
The broth is the most important component of a good lau and this one was right on the money. The la vang, which I am unable to find much information about, creates a broth tinged with sweet and sour notes. The citrus-y broth ranked high in both my and The Astronomer’s book.
The greens were decent and a good contrast to the steaming broth and fresh noodles. There was one especially bitter leaf out of the bunch that I was not a fan of. It was probably rau dang, which actually translates to “bitter green.” Figures.
The ca keo were plentiful and tasty as far as little fishes go. Once we got the hang of removing the flesh from the bones, they were more pleasurable to eat. However, neither The Astronomer or I could stomach the little fish heads.
Lau ca keo was a great introduction to hotpotting in Saigon. I think an eel hotpot without rau dang is next on my “to try” list.
Click here for a good Vinglish article about lau ca keo.