Feb 2008

Ngự Viên – Ho Chi Minh City

Ngự Viên—take three.

Slowly, but surely, we’re gonna eat our way through Ngự Viên’s extensive, Hue-inspired menu. Read about our first account here and our second one here.

Cathy’s mom was in town a few weeks back for the Tet holiday and desired traditional Vietnamese rice dishes for lunch. After little debate, Zach, The Astronomer and I decided that Ngự Viên would be the perfect place to satisfy her craving.

We ordered two of our standbys (ca hu kho and goi mit) and tried four new dishes—clockwise from top left: hen xao (54,000 VND), chao tom (30,000 VND each), bo xoi xao toi (21,000 VND), and canh chua tien (48,000 VND).

Like all standbys ought to be, the ca kho and goi mit were superb. By the way, the best way to distinguish a good ca kho from a great one is the uncontrollable desire to sop up every last bit of caramelized goodness with rice once the fish has disappeared. Mmm, boy!

Of the new dishes, the canh chua tien was a true standout. While the most common version of canh chua (sour soup) is mildly tangy and heavy on pineapples, this version was spicy and contained thin slices of rough bamboo shoots. The soup’s fiery hotness came courtesy of some strong chili powder that really hit the back of my throat.

The hen xao—small clams sauteed with glass noodles and herbs—were served with sesame rice crackers as an appetizer. Perhaps a little too similar to goi mit to be eaten side-by-side, the hen xao was tasty nevertheless.

The chao tom—grilled shrimp paste wrapped around sugarcane—took a good 45 minutes to arrive because Ngự Viên makes them from scratch. Fair enough, but our waiter insisted on coursing the meal with the slowpoke dish second. As a result, we spent over half an hour staring at an empty table after polishing off our appetizers. Timing aside, the chao tom were definitely good. However, at 30,000 each, they were not worth the price or wait.

Cathy desired some greenery and ordered the bo xoi xao toi. None of us knew what bo xoi was and our waiter could not provide any insight. The leafy greens tasted like a cross between morning glory, spinach, and bok choy and were slightly bitter. Sauteed in copious cloves of garlic and oil, the mysterious bo xoi served its purpose well.

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4 thoughts on “Ngự Viên – Ho Chi Minh City

  1. Ca hu Kho I presume is Ca Kho To up here in capital…

    …in which case definitely a winter warmer fav for me and I know what you mean about mopping up every last bit. Man alive. A bit of banh my helps very nicely in my book.

    Hanoi-wise Highway4 (Hang Tre, Mai Hac De, Kim Ma) does a good one and a stand out Thit Kho To as well. Chim Sao on Ngo Pho Hue does a few killer claypot dishes too, btw.

    Oddly both those places were founded by foreigners, but both cater for a predominantly Vietnamese crowd (as well as a loyal, long term expat crowd) so no fear of a lack of authenticity.

  2. Hello Teddy – “ca hu” is the type of fish, but the basic dish is “ca kho to.” And THANK YOU for the Hanoi eatery recommendations! You know what would be even better (and easier)? If we met up for a meal 😉

  3. Hi just to help you out, the veg in ‘bo xoi xao toi’ you mentioned in the blog is spinach, it’s just a bit more bitter in VN because of the soil I think.

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