Secrets from Saigon

Posted on June 4, 2013

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Missing her home food, a former Vietnamese model and her Japanese husband have opened Saigon Recipe to bring authentic Vietnamese flavours to Bangkok diners.

Sandwiched between rows of shop-houses within the new Piman 49 complex, Saigon Recipe instantly stands out with its brightly painted yellow walls and brick facade. The patio in front of the entry way is flanked by two metre–high potted plants and a red Vietnamese cycle-rickshaw.

Inside, a wooden bench and an antique mahjong table welcome you to the high-ceilinged dining space. The false tiled canopy that protrudes out from the wall and 70s Vietnamese music give the restaurant a whimsical charm. The decor here is a perfect union of a vintage cafe and home-style bistro. The aged wooden tables are enhanced with Vietnamese touches, such as plaid napkins called khan ran (Khmer headscarf) and imported blue ceramic crockery. The laid-back vibe here is courtesy of the bright palette of colours found in the low hung hoi an lanterns, cushions, and fresh carnations gathered in antique vases. Mirrors on wooden frames and distinctive artworks, such as communist propaganda posters and maps made with rice, embellish the walls. The homey eatery is ideal for families. Separate floors allow private parties, and intimate corners are perfect for dates.

The three-tiered restaurant is the first dining venture of Vietnamese Tien and her Japanese husband Masa. After living in Vietnam and running a jewellery business, the couple moved to Thailand five years ago. Tien, a former model—an etched photo of her, which can be found on the leather-bound menu and on the wall, was chosen for the poster commemorating 300 years of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in 1998 and has since become iconic—says that the idea of starting a restaurant came up because she missed Vietnamese food, and felt the restaurants in Bangkok did not serve authentic dishes.

The Must Trys

The menu, designed by Tien, is cooked by their two Vietnamese cooks and features dishes that were her childhood favourites and traditionally served in central and southern parts of Vietnam.

We started with a mix of glutinous rice dumplings topped with dried shrimp and minced pork (B160). The hue-style dumplings looked strikingly similar to our Thai khanom tuay (custard in a cup) but had a richer and creamier taste. Tien said it is best eaten with generous amounts of fish sauce. Next, we ordered some typical dishes, such as chao tom (charcoal grilled pork and shrimp cake wrapped around sugarcane sticks, served with noodles, fruits, rice papers, and herbs, B220) and pho (pronounced fuh) noodle soup, served in a traditional bat trang (noodle bowl) with steamed beef. The pho comes with an option of chicken or pork (B160). Tien recommended adding in a few drops of lime and their homemade soy bean sauce for a tangy taste. Next, we went with the lotus root salad (B220), which came tossed with shrimp and pork, crushed peanuts, mint, and plenty of fish sauce. The crunchy salad was refreshing while the heat from the chillies added a nice kick. Masa also brought out a special  this month. We tried bi cuon chay a spring roll filled with tofu, glass noodles and vegetables, along with banh xeo tom thit (B160), a crispy rice pancake with mushroom, corn, and bean sprouts—and served with a dip made of fish sauce and grated radish.

The Libations

Masa suggested I try one of their fresh homemade juices—watermelon, pineapple, and orange (B70),with no added sugar or water. Also available are sugarcane and pandan juice, and soy bean milk (B70). A small selection of wine is also on offer. Masa recommends Prosecco (B1,450) with Vietnamese food. I skipped the booze and went with traditional Vietnamese coffee served with a drip filter on top (B60). Tea lovers should try the chrysanthemum and jasmine tea, and the unusual artichoke tea, all served in a pot (B50).

46/5 Piman 49, Sukhumvit Soi 49
Open daily 11am–10pm
02-662-6311, saigon-recipe.com

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Published in Masala magazine, June 2013

PDF Secrets from Saigon

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Posted in: Dining