There are a few restaurants around town that proclaim they serve Vietnamese food. The ones I’ve been to have either had Vietnamese dishes on the menu, but they’re not actually available, or have had regular central Thai menus. It was therefore with an air of skepticism that I went to another self-proclaimed Vietnamese restaurant last night. It was a simple place, shielded from the street by a screen of bamboo poles with cast concrete tables and benches, the tables topped with inlaid ceramic tiles.
There were quite a few customers there already eating, which is always a promising sign.
The menu when it came was all in Thai, and I’d forgotten my glasses, so I asked my companion to handle the ordering, adding a few suggestions from happy memories of past trips to Vietnam.
The first dish arrived quickly. It was simple, thin slices of pork rib topped with crispy fried garlic and a spicy dipping sauce.
Next to come was minced shrimp wrapped around a sugar cane stick accompanied by a large bouquet of herbs and leaves, some bitter, some aromatic, some peppery. I recognised coriander, mint and holy basil, but the rest were a bit of a mystery to me. There were also lettuce leaves and a large plate containing pieces of star fruit (carambola), sour green mango and cucumber, slivers of garlic and small, fiery green chillies as well as small coils of thin, cold wheat noodles. The idea is that you peel the shrimp mince from the stick and place it either on one of the lettuce leaves or on a larger herb leaf along with a selection of the other items. You then add a little hot/spicy/sour peanut sauce, roll the whole thing up, and pop it in your mouth.
Then arrived a thin, crispy pancake filled with stir-fried minced meat and vegetables accompanied by a small salad of cucumber and chillies in sweetened vinegar and another spicy dipping sauce.
And finally we got fresh spring rolls: thin sheets of moistened rice paper lined with lettuce leaves and topped with minced shrimps, lots of holy basil and tiny pieces of other vegetables and noodles, then tightly wrapped and sliced into bit-sized pieces. And, of course, there was yet another dipping sauce.
The food was pretty good. OK, they’d mixed minced pork with the shrimp wrapping the sugar cane to keep the cost down, and they’d used holy basil in the spring rolls rather than the more traditional mint and coriander (mint is quite difficult to find here I find). A Vietnamese traditionalist might have frowned, but for five pounds for two (including a large bottle of beer), it was excellent value for money and a very pleasant change.