“Are you sure the food is good here? Will you bring your girlfriend here to eat?” demanded my boss to the cool and collected concierge at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. “Yes, m’am, it is very good. I tell everyone to go there for good Vietnamese food,” replied the unflappable chap. So off we went in search of the famous Nha Hang Ngon restaurant. As it was just two blocks away from the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon where we were staying for a business event, we decided to walk. Using the Notre Dame Cathedral as guide, the restaurant was easy to get to, not to mention that the street it was on – 160 Pasteur Street – is named after the French chemist Louis Pasteur no less.
The place was huge and crowded, but we hardly had to wait more than 5 minutes for our table. From the outside, it looks like a brightly lit open air food court with air-conditioned seating in a big house, so big that it has a giant pool right smack in the back hall (above) with more seating around it. Another cool thing is that the cooking areas are lined against the sides of the restaurant, providing an open kitchen concept if you will.
What shall we start with? Cold beer in a city of 32C would be good. Heineken (30,000 vnd), besides being one of my fave beers, is huge in Vietnam, followed by their very own beer, Bia Saigon (27,000 vnd). The latter, with a cute stout little bottle, is alright but I find it a bit too light for my taste.
The menu was extensive but even with English words, knowing that there is “bread, salad, prawns, beef, etc etc” just can’t help you to really decide which are the ones you should try and the serving staff aren’t quite fluent in English (and they get quite upset when you are not quick with your orders ‘cos customers flow in like water in this hot “tourist spot”!) Well, thanks to some quick surfing through the Net, we rattled off a few recommendations by a local food blogger and the first dish to arrive was the Banh Xeo (58000 vnd, above), a Vietnamese rice pancake filled with shrimp, chicken and bean sprouts, with a sweet Thai-chilli-like sauce to dip in. This was lovely. It was kinda like eating a crispy Indian dosa but with Chinese-food-like ingredients. We didn’t eat the greens that came with it as we read that generally veggies that are not cooked (at any establishment) may not be as clean as they seem.
Next up was this wonderful dish Ngheu Hup Xe or Lemongrass Clams (90,000 vnd). Hot and steaming when it arrived, the clams were rich and delicious and really went down well with our rice. Would have order another round if we didn’t want to try more dishes.
What comes next was supposedly their signature dish, the Nom Quan Ngon or Pork Salad (120,000 vnd) that has pork bits mixed with shreds of carrot, bean sprouts and cucumber. Along with the prawn crackers that lined the plate, it was like eating yu sheng with pork. It was okay and a very pretty looking dish but but taste wise, it can’t beat the Banh Xeo.
Finally came the dessert, the Chuoi xao (hap) or Banana Pudding in Coconut Milk (24,000 vnd) which made us regret not ordering plain fruits instead cos it was as heavy rich and creamy as it looks. Took us a while to down a few pieces after all the earlier dishes and beer and hate to say it, we had to abandon finishing it off half way through.
Al in all, a very good experience in trying out authentic Vietnamese food fare at a nice and clean place and at decent prices too. The kitchens with all the cooking ingredients and work being done was an added attraction as well. Highly recommended if you are ever down in Ho Chi Minh City!