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Village fare, City style

Located opposite the Independence Palace, one of HCMC”s top visitor attractions, Quan An Ngon 138 appeals easily to tourists and local people alike in its unique concept: presenting the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine from different regions in a village market style.

The restaurant is set in a large new building, which from its external yellow appearance is reminiscent of an old European castle; but inside its space is designed as an ancient Hue ruong house. The restaurant is also remarkable for its sophisticated wooden art carvings combining lacquer and inlay with mother-of-pearl featured on subtle details of balconies, stairs, tables and chairs and screens.

The decorations on the walls are beautiful collections of Bat Trang ceramic paintings showing Vietnamese folk landscapes such as temples, buffaloes and boys or banyan trees and river wharves. Green banana strees, large water with wooden tables and chairs, However, the upstairs is far more fun, although not it you aren”t familiar with sitting sross-legged on the floor for a length of time. It may be uncomfortable for those with bad knees, short skirts or tight jeans.

The food was quintessentially northern Vietnamese, ranging from various salads, Vietnamese soups, fish, beef, chicken, fried seasonal greens, hotpot and steamed white rice. The English translations of dishes rarely do them justice:  the tofu with salted egg” was actually a delightful dish of cubed, bettered tofu that was flash-fried for a crisp exterior (at VND 70,000/large dish for  two), Lotus rootstock salad with shrimp and meat is VND50,000, Fighting-cok sauteed with citronella and chili is VND95,000 and mountainous sticky rice, which is served with a sprinkle of crispy fried garlic is VND30,000. The restaurant alse boasts a good selection of rice wine to go with it.

We started our lunch with Bo nuong la lot or grilled beef rolled in lot leave (Piper lolot). Ten rolls of beef were placed on a terracotta dish, decorated with herbs and a tomato flower and the rolls were light without any excess oil. It was really a very tasty and well prepared dish.

Next, we tasted the Vit xao rau hung or duck meat sauteed with basil. The meat from the leg of the duck was cut into small pieces, aromatised with the herbs then cooked over a high heat. It was cooked perfectly and the Vietnamese spices of basil, citronella and chili gave the dish the flavour it needed. We were impressed with the size of the servings. The platers were quite large but the food almost covered them. We accompanied them with steamed white rice. Everything tasted freshly made and prepared with care too. My only criticism of the main courses is that they leave no room for a dessert!

The price of the food made the lunch a good deal for an ordinary customer. Our total bill was around VND300,000 for two persons, with drinks included. It”s not often that you leave a restaurant immediately thinking about what you will order the next time around, but Chim Sao will definitely have you begging for more. For those who don”t have Vietnamese friends in Hanoi, The Guide recommends the restaurant as the closest you would get to a home cooked Vietnamese meal. Open: 11am-2.30pm; 6pm-10.30pm daily.

Jars,  fruits contained in bamboo baskets and the food, displayed in lines of simple clay pots, are all reminiscent of the traditional atmosphere of a Vietnamese village. The restaurant also features food stalls arranged as in a Vietnamese village market (only cleaner and more luxurious) where every stall offers a dish with colourful ingredients displayed and the chef perpating the dish before your eyes.

Quan An Ngon 138 is well known as a home of Vietnamese cuisine with a diverse menu of over 200 dishes from the three regions of Vietnam. There is a variety of goi (Vietnamese salad), Vietnamese noodles including bun, pho, hu tieu, banh canh, kinds of savoury cakes such as banh xeo, banh beo, banh nam, banh bot loc, barbecues, rices, hot pots, seafood and specialities such as shells, frog and eel, as well as a wide selection of sweets for dessert.

The menu is written in Vietnamese and English with a picture of each dish to help guests easily know what that dish includes. The list of goi (Vietnamese salads) is very impressive with some 15 different kinds including green papaya salad with dried beef, onion salad with red clams, lotus rootlet salad with shrimp and pork, beef salad with vegetables in spicy sauce,  banana flower salad with chicken and Nong salad with jelly-fish.

Bun(noodles) is a very popular dish throughout Vietnam, but in each region bun is cooked in its own style. Quan An Ngon 138 takes you on a journey to experience a diversity of bun flavours from the north to the south of Vietnam, such as Bun Cha Hanoi (noodles served with ground pork meatball served with fresh berbs and fish sause in Hanoi style), Bun dau nam tom (noodles served with fried tofu dipped in shrimp paste), Bun ca Hai Phong (noodle soup with fish origination from Hai Phong), Bun bo Hue (Hue beef noodles), Bun nuoc leo Soc Trang (seafood & roasted pork noodle soup from Soc Trang), Bun Man Chau Doc (seafood and roasted pork noodle soup from Chau Doc in Makong Delta) and Banh Canh Trang Bang (noodle soup with pork originationg from Tay Ninh).

It is said that Saigon welcomes allcomers, with people from every region in Vietnam comverging to live and set up in business. Quan An Ngon 138 is an interesting corner, reflecting the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine, where foreigners can enjoy both Vietnamese culture and cuisine while locals can find their own hometown”s favourite flavours in the heart of Saigon.