We landed in Ho Chi Minh just in time for a late dinner. Our tour bus picked us up from the airport to take us to our first meal in Saigon. We arrived at Song Ngu Seafood Restaurant, one of the more expensive and surprisingly few seafood restaurants in Vietnam. Song Ngu has been around 20 years and has created a menu advertising not only traditional seafood recipes, but also a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian.
I had no idea that this was a restaurant frequented by businessmen, well-off travelers, and the Vietnamese upper-middle class; I think it was the neon signs glowing in an otherwise dark street, like a Vegas liquor store beckoning, that threw me off. Female servers greeted us in áo dài, the Vietnamese national costume. A tight silk tunic splits at the rib cage to highlight the smallness of the woman’s waist, and is worn over pants. The men wore áo, or tunics, as well.
My mom and I eagerly waited for our vegetarian meal. It’s always interesting to see how chefs fiddle with the menu to accommodate vegetarians. We were first served deep fried lotus seeds as our appetizer. It came on a woven plate with a banana leaf to absorb some of the oil (I’m guessing?). This might have been one of the best discoveries on this trip. These things were so addicting. I think we finished the entire plate before any other dish arrived…
Next was a noodle salad reminiscent of Thai green papaya salad: with cilantro, ground peanut, deep fried shallots, and some red chilies.
A small bowl of soup came after. I was skeptical at first because of the fishcake-like things, but my mom taste tested it and assured me it was konjac. It was very thick and lightly-flavored, and unfortunately not all that memorable.
And then came the spring rolls :D.You can’t ever really go wrong with spring rolls. Deep-fried goodness stuffed with crisp, fresh veggies, (veggie) meat, and the occasional vermicelli. The spring rolls came with a side of veggies: cucumber, pineapple (!), basil, and lettuce. There was a plate of deep fried tofu cubes as well, with thick, dark soy sauce. Neither of us were sure what the “correct” way to eat the 3 dishes was, so we just made up our own way of eating it. Fried food is always delicious. Especially topped off with some Tiger beer.
The carnivores had a much more luxurious feast by far. Cua rang me–sauteed crab in tamarind sauce; crispy grouper; fresh clams in coconut milk. One of their dishes was “Drunken Tiger Prawns”: enormous and fresh prawns are cooked tableside by lighting the entire bowl on fire with alcohol. I’m sure there’s a joke about the consequences of drinking somewhere in there, but I’m too lazy to come up with one.
An unamused, solemn-faced band serenaded us on zithers, with the Dan Nguyet–two-string guitar, also known as the “moon lute” due to its shape–as accompaniment.
Our entree was a claypot of mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, carrots, cilantro, and more ground peanuts. While I enjoyed the abundance of veggies, I couldn’t help but feel that our vegetarian meal was so plain in comparison. But of course it’s always good to have food to eat regardless :).
So concluded our “seafood” feast. We headed back to the Sheraton Saigon Hotel for the night. I was surprised to see Christmas lights and a giant Christmas tree in the hotel lobby: perhaps a vestige of French influence.