ON OFFER: VIETNAM’S HOMESTYLE FARE
For Vietnamese food lovers — who form a substantial portion of foodies in Beijing — a new Vietnamese casual dining restaurant has just popped up in the Chinese capital.
Last week, Saigon Mama, a restaurant chain that has been operating in Shanghai since 2015, opened a branch in Taikoo Li in the bustling Sanlitun area, showcasing some homestyle fare.
The restaurant chain was founded by Kevin Chu, a Vietnamese Canadian, and the recipes have been followed by the families of Chu and head chef Hung Ham’s for at least three generations.
Vietnamese food is very popular in many countries as compared with other Southeast Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food typically has more sauces and fresh herbs and vegetables to go with the main dish, creating complex flavors.
Saigon Mama shows its diners the ideal way to eat the dishes so as to bring out the flavors, says Chu, whose family also run a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco.
As fresh vegetables and low amounts of oil are used in the preparation process, Vietnamese food is also seen to be healthy, he says.
Chu chose Sanlitun for his first restaurant in Beijing because of the mix of both local and foreign customers.
“It’s a good place and opportunity for us to introduce our food,” says Chu.
“We call it homestyle Vietnamese because the recipes and the way we eat and serve the food is how we would eat home.”
Blend of flavors
Chu says that over the years, Vietnamese food has evolved and changed to such an extent that most people are often not aware of the original recipe.
But he adds that while the restaurants are not afraid to evolve and modernize, they will never compro- mise by adding ingredients that are not Vietnamese.
The food at Saigon Mama is a blend of northern and southern Vietnamese food, and the restaurant’s expansive menu features many items that diners may not see elsewhere, from various pho noodles to sandwiches and salads.
He says that many of the ingredients are homemade, such as the hams and the pate used in sandwiches, and the sauces.
Chu also says that his restaurants mainly use ingredients that are either imported from Vietnam or from other countries.
As for menu recommendations, Chu points to the egg rolls for starters.
The egg rolls, which are fried in a special rice wrap, should be eaten with wrap of fresh herbs and lettuce, dipped in the house fish sauce, which gives them a unique flavor.
For the noodles, Chu recommends oxtail pho. The pho is slowcooked for over 12 hours and seasoned that the meat falls off the bone. The rich beef flavor, in a very light and refined soup, is very savory.
For a stronger and spicier kick, Chu recommends the bun bo hue, the only spicy noodle on the menu. The pork and beef broth for the dish is made with lemon grass, herbs, spices and shrimp paste, and has a very savory and distinct taste.
Chu says diners in Beijing like the oxtail pho, and more often than not go for strong-flavored dishes, including bun bo hue.
No meal in a Vietnamese restaurant is complete without Vietnamese drip coffee, but Chu recommends drinking it cold as after having the hot soups, diners are very likely to be sweating.
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