Saigon Dinner Cruise
This modern three-level cruise ship with a capacity of 600 serves European-Chinese-Vietnamese dishes from 6.30pm before it cruises the Saigon River. There is also a buffet at 11.30am on Sundays.
This modern three-level cruise ship with a capacity of 600 serves European-Chinese-Vietnamese dishes from 6.30pm before it cruises the Saigon River. There is also a buffet at 11.30am on Sundays.
Southern Vietnamese cuisine relies heavily on sugar and spices and an abundance of herbs and fresh vegetables. This is not a problem in Ho Chi Minh City, as the tropical climate nurtures a long and plentiful growing season, sometimes two. Dish preparation is simple with many cooking techniques borrowed from neighbouring Cambodia, China and Thailand. To sample a taste of the south, read below.
Banh Xeo: These fried pancakes are made of flour, egg and salt. They come stuffed with meat, vegetables, prawns and pork, accompanied by herbs and garlic/chili infused fish sauce.
Bun Mam: The sausage of Vietnamese soups made with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Ingredients include shrimp paste, aubergine, squid, prawn and much more. Be warned, it's not for the squeamish or those with a sensitive nose!
Canh Chua Ca Loc: This sweet and sour fish soup is a visual feast with red, green and white colours floating in a dark tamarind-flavoured broth. Typically Canh Chua Ca Loc is made with Mekong fish, pineapple, tomatoes and okra.
Hu Tieu: A soup-based dish consisting of long, thin, rice flour noodles served with barbequed pork, shrimp and fish.
Bun Thit Nuong: A delightfully fresh and simple dish. Vermicelli noodles blanketed in herbs, peanuts, sliced cucumber and topped with grilled, marinated pork. This is an easy one to eat. In fact, it's hard to eat only one! All of the above dishes can be enjoyed at most Vietnamese restaurants and street kitchens in Ho Chi Minh City.
Dau Homemade brings the best of Hanoi’s traditional culture to guests of all origins. Enjoy amazing fried tofu and rice vermicelli cakes with an added treat—a classical water puppet performance—all in the heart of Saigon’s city centre.
When one discusses Vietnamese food, especially that of northern origin, dishes like beef Pho and Bun Cha, a barbecued meat vermicelli dish made famous by ex-president Barack Obama and late gourmet extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, are often mentioned. However, unbeknownst to many travellers, Bun Dau Mam Tom, which translates simply to “vermicelli, tofu and shrimp paste”, might actually take the top spot in the hearts of many locals.
Ms Giang, a true-blue Hanoian and cabin crew member for 15 years, decided to open Dau Homemade in Saigon to appease the demanding taste buds of local foodies and gourmet travellers. The restaurant has now expanded to a total of six branches. Every location of Dau Homemade features stunning Vietnamese-style imagery and wall art depicting the lives of locals, especially those of Hanoi.
“You’ll find a Bun Dau place in almost every alley and market in Hanoi”, Giang said proudly.
Bun Dau Mam Tom is a gourmet Vietnamese fried tofu specialty for many reasons. Frying perfect tofu isn’t child’s play. Dau Homemade makes its tofu in-house because it is practically impossible to acquire so it is suitable for the dish. It is traditionally made in Mo village, 20 km from Hanoi’s mesmerising Old Quarter.
Tofu at Dau Homemade is always fresh and never refrigerated: its centre becomes rigid when chilled. The chefs at Dau Homemade also assure that the oil’s temperature stays between 70°C and 100°C. No deep-fryers are used here, only traditional woks. The resultant masterpiece is pleasingly crispy yet both sweet and fluffy inside. Fragrant herbs and vegetables such as Vietnamese balm, perilla and cucumber—essential pairings that balance well with the fried tofu—are grown at a select farm in Lam Dong province. The dish is also enjoyed with sliced pork leg and pressed rice vermicelli cakes, something considered unique to Vietnam. The star of the show, Mam Tom, or Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste, is an extremely savoury dipping paste that has been considered the blue cheese of Vietnam, meaning it is an acquired taste.
Giang explained the process of creating a perfect dipping sauce based on fermented shrimp paste: “Squeeze kumquat juice into it, [and] a little sugar, it has to be brown sugar! [And] also hot oil and a little bit of rice wine. Add some chillies if you like. That’s our secret”.
It’s a true food culture experience.
For diners who prefer a lighter dipping sauce, Dau Homemade also offers soy sauce and a light sweet and sour fish sauce mix. Vegetarians may request the chefs to fry the tofu in a new batch of oil so that they can dine in comfort with no worries about cross-contamination.
Lau Rieu, a slightly sour and highly savoury freshwater crab hot pot with beef is yet another gourmet dish served at Dau Homemade, a testimony to Giang’s dedication and love of food. Naturally-sweet freshwater crabs are ground, boiled, filtered and lightly sauteed with spices to create a pure and tasty base—most other places use fillers such a tofu and eggs. The impressive Vietnamese crab hot pot broth is finally completed with pork bones and special northern-Vietnamese vinegar. Enjoy this dish with fresh rice vermicelli, Vietnamese sausage and slices of beef.
Other exotic delicacies such as steamed escargots with pork, mushroom and ginger leaf as well as cha ruoi (grilled chopped clam worm), are an absolute favourite amongst Japanese and Korean guests. Finish your meal here with the pickled dracontomelon drink, yet another exotic beverage that could be described as a cross between plum juice and lemonade. Dau Homemade’s Special Sweet Soup appears in its dessert menu: the soft chilled tofu served with jasmine syrup is a delight.
Beyond food, Giang’s commitment to the preservation of traditional culture has led her to study traditional Vietnamese water puppetry with grandmaster Mr. Phan Thanh Liem, the seventh-generation descendant of a renowned Hanoian puppeteer family clan. Liem pioneered the mini-theatre for the traditional art and has thus performed in multiple countries abroad. He chose Giang as the only student outside of his family—the clan has never before accepted apprentices beyond the bloodline.
Giang also organises performances at primary schools on a regular basis, a core activity that has led her to become a member of Vietnam’s prestigious Center for Research Conservation and Development of National Culture (CRCDC), which strives to preserve and disseminate the beauty of local performing arts including the likes of Cai Luong theatre and music of ethnic minorities.
Guests at Dau Homemade can enjoy the shows for free at 8 pm every sunday at Dau Homemade’s outlet at 52 Le Lai, 50 metres from Ben Thanh Market.
Bun Rieu Nha is the perfect place to sample some of Vietnam’s most delicious street delicacies, which have remained under-the-radar for far too long. Located in Saigon’s bustling District 1 and a mere 150 metres walk from the vibrant backpackers’ and nightlife streets Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao, truly tantalising local flavours are literally a hop away.
Bun Rieu Cua is a rice vermicelli noodle soup made with whole freshwater crabs. The protein essence from the crab rises to the top of the broth during the cooking process, and this delicious and savoury layer of crabby goodness is known in Vietnamese as rieu. The addition of tomatoes is also an important component in an impeccable bowl of bun rieu cua, adding a light yet unprovoking tangy touch to complement the addictive broth. This contrasts heavily with Vietnam’s most popular soup dish, pho, through a broth that is based on the natural sweetness of seafood instead of beef or chicken. Bun rieu also contains no five-spice; an important component of the famous pho aroma.
At Bun Rieu Nha, guests can enjoy tasty traditional food in a casual environment, which combines a rustic wooden setting with a touch of modernity. During typical lunchtime hours, young, local office professionals fill most of the seats at the restaurant; a good sign of great taste and authentic Saigonese cooking. Bun Rieu Nha’s team of waiters and waitresses include a good number who can communicate in English, ready to assist foreigners who may be sampling this dish for the first time in their lives.
Bun Rieu Nha’s signature bowl of Special Bun Rieu features al-dente, medium-sized rice vermicelli, crab, shellfish and a sizable cut of melt-in-the-mouth pig trotter and Hanoi-style tofu, which is best enjoyed with a customisable dip containing shrimp paste, chilli, lime and a small serving of sugar. Smaller options are also available with only shellfish and/or crab. Guests who desire heat will be pleased by Bun Rieu Nha’s homemade Vietnamese-style satay chilli sauce, which is fragrant but be warned - very spicy!
If noodle soup is not your thing, be sure to try the special deep-fried, square spring rolls stuffed with an irresistible mix of minced pork, shrimp, crab and carrots for added crunchiness. These rice paper spring rolls are served with vermicelli, fresh vegetables and a tangy dark sauce. As with many Vietnamese classics such as bun cha and bun thit nuong, this dish is best enjoyed tossed together in a bowl for a symphonic burst of flavours.
For hungrier or larger crowds, Bun Rieu Nha offers a hot pot where guests can dig in together for an Asian do-it-yourself party vibe. Beef shank, Vietnamese pork roll and an assortment of vegetables are cooked in Bun Rieu Nha’s signature crab broth. When the broth grows richer in flavour with the help of the ingredients that are being added, be sure to soak up all the goodness with a serving of rice vermicelli or Hanoi-style banh da, flat rice noodles.
Guests who are looking for a light, yet exciting, option may opt to try the Nom Cuon rolls, a culinary innovation that is unique to Bun Rieu Nha. These large summer rolls, stuffed with root vegetables, green papaya, eggs, pork, toasted rice powder and various herbs are served with an irresistible tamarind and peanut based dipping sauce. Vegetarians may also opt for meatless and/or eggless Nom rolls. Another equally delicious and exotic side dish is Bun Rieu Nha’s Northern Vietnamese style steamed escargots stuffed with minced pork and mushroom, which are served with a homemade, sweet, preserved ginger sauce.
Last but not least, Bun Rieu Nha’s wide selection of desserts are homemade on a daily basis. The popular sweet corn congee made with glutinous corn, coconut milk, rock sugar and pandan leaves is an indulgence for anyone with a sweet tooth. Healthy drink options including lime juice with chia seeds and black jelly drink with chia seeds are also a great pairing with Bun Rieu Nha’s traditional cooked delights.
Owner Ms Yen is a self-proclaimed fan and addict of bun rieu. She decided to open Bun Rieu Nha because she struggled to find a stall that served a bowl of bun rieu that was equally tasty and hygienic at the same time. This classic dish is mostly found on the street, sold by local vendors. It is exceptionally rare in restaurants perhaps for the simple reason that it is traditionally known as “street food”. Ms Yen shared her vision with us: to serve high-quality, healthy and delicious Vietnamese street cuisine in a clean, comfortable setting at reasonable prices and at a highly-accessible location to locals and foreigners alike!
The rustic style of recycled wooden planks used in the restaurant’s decor create a homey charm to the restaurant while touches of turquoise and citrus paint on repurposed antique shutters brighten the mood. The deep terracotta tones of the brick walls, bamboo lanterns and antique tables add just the right touch of cosy. All these elements will make you feel at ease. The atmosphere at Ngoc Chau Garden is as if you’re being invited into the traditional southern-Vietnamese home of a close friend.
Ngoc Chau Garden’s extensive menu of over a hundred items is a blend of the best of Vietnamese classics and in-house creations. The Ngoc Chau stir-fried beef with the addition of baby corn and snow peas is a light and perfect pairing with rice. We’re pretty sure it’s destined to be an international favourite.
If stir-fry is not your cup of tea, the signature beef and lime leaves salad is quintessentially Indochinese. Crunchy white onions and semi-ripe wild starfruit add an amazing tanginess that readies your palate for more dishes, a splendid appetizer!
Up for more salads? The dried gourami fish and mango salad combines the natural sweet and savoury flavour of dried seafood with the crunch and addictive astringency of unripe mango.
For fans of fruity flavours, there is also a revitalising display of Vietnamese fruit wines made with an assortment of ingredients such as mulberry, strawberry and persimmons.
Ngoc Chau Garden allows diners from and beyond Vietnam to sample the best dishes of the South, Central and North of the country. Perhaps the best item on the menu to represent Hanoi is Ngoc Chau Garden’s Cha Ca La Vong, fish marinated with turmeric powder and sizzled lightly in oil with a good dose of dill and green onions. This unique Northern Vietnamese classic is irresistible when tossed with fresh rice vermicelli, a spoonful of toasted peanuts and a dash of fish sauce or for truly hardcore culinary absolutes, a few drops of pungent and purple mắm tôm (fermented shrimp paste).
Southern dishes are well represented here with Ngoc Chau Garden’s wide range of claypot simmered menu items. The grass carp simmered with galangal and caramelized fish sauce brings the Mekong Delta culinary traditions to a whole new level. Non-seafood choices including simmered young pork ribs or cow’s tendon are also available.
Ngoc Chau Garden’s extensive range of fried rice is also mesmerizing. The rare Chinese-Vietnamese classic, Hoang Kim Golden Rice, offered here requires the chef to carefully coat individual grains of rice with a thin layer of egg yolk before frying it to perfection…too much or too little egg yolk often results in an imperfect serving.
Ngoc Chau Garden’s signature fried rice exudes a mysterious green hue but comes with a completely natural and appetising backstory. Just like many Indonesian and Malaysian desserts and cakes, pandan leaf juice is used to color the fried rice and also give it an alluring fragrance. For a healthy choice, opt for Ngoc Chau Garden’s brown fried rice.
No Vietnamese meal is completely without hot soup. In what we consider to be the true star of Ngoc Chau Garden, the sour soup with snakehead fish and Egyptian river hemp (Sesbania sesban) blossom is both delicious and exotic. These delicately sweet and bright yellow blossoms cultivated primarily in southwestern Vietnam are also a feast for the eyes, a must-try.
With a team of polite and enthusiastic young locals dressed in traditional beige-toned southern Vietnamese garb, guests are unlikely to encounter issues with language since many of the staff at Ngoc Chau Garden are experienced with interacting with foreigners and are proficient in basic English. Feel free to ask members of Ngoc Chau Garden’s service crew for recommendations and the freshest ingredients on any given day.
With a consistent 4.5 out of 5 rating on both Google reviews and TripAdvisor, we’re quite certain that consistency, in terms of both flavour and service, is highly valued by the proprietors of Ngoc Chau Garden. Light bites such as spring rolls and pork skewers were particularly popular with reviewers.
All in all, the uncomplicated yet non-repetitive character of each dish offered at Ngoc Chau Garden offers an eye-opening glimpse into the world of Vietnamese gastronomy. Regardless of whether guest are first-timers or seasoned veterans in terms of Vietnamese cuisine, Ngoc Chau Garden is able to deliver!
Seafood runs deep in Vietnam’s roots. It’s everywhere and in every form, notably in coastal cities like Nha Trang and down south in the Delta. Ho Chi Minh City gets more than its fair share from both ends.
While street joints fill with all manners of fried and skewered sea life, distinguished Vietnamese restaurants specializing in crustaceans and fish fare are not as abundant as one might think. Fortunately, those with some cash to burn and a craving for refined seafood in a comfortable environment have Song Ngu as an option, which won TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence award for 2015.
For nearly 20 years Song Ngu has been serving traditional seafood recipes, grouping Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and a number of other cuisines into a nuanced menu.
While the focal point of Vietnamese eateries has been “fresh” seafood ad naseam, the statement appears kitschy coming from a country where processed food is more expensive. Song Ngu takes a step in the right direction by instead highlighting technique, timing and preparation rather than the evident freshness of its food; the restaurant’s hygienic kitchen is also a more palpable selling point.
Simply put, it’s great seafood at dignitary prices (think VND 800,000++ or more per person).
Inset past a pair of green walls are two bridged French villas. The interior is quoted to resemble the style of the Cham people, although it’s more reminiscent of the Viet-Franco art deco you see in Dalat than a Cham hut. The crowd is polite – mostly Asian and American businessmen or upper-middle class families (hence the abundance of private rooms that seat 8-50 people). Unless you’re sat by a company dinner party, expect a quiet meal. Prepare for a formal atmosphere and dress business casual, though the restaurant accepts most manners and styles of dress. Beginning at 7 p.m. a live band navigates the restaurant playing traditional Vietnamese songs on classic instruments such as the t’rung, a type of bamboo xylophone.
The staff is accustomed to dealing with high-profilers – prime ministers and other dignitaries have eaten at Song Ngu on occasion. So expect courtesy, prompt service and a professional attitude. The wait staff speaks little English but pointing to an item on the large menu should suffice. A fair warning: water is not served here in any other form other than bottled, which is a bit of a setback. On a more positive (read: boozy) note, cocktails are around the VND 70,000++ mark, which is oddly affordable for the fine establishment. And yes, they are quite good, as are the mocktails. They also have free Wi-Fi.
Seafood is the heart, soul, blood, bones and marrow of Song Ngu. In other words, you’re coming here because you are determined to splurge on crustaceans made with the precision and skill of a samurai swordsman. This doesn’t mean skimp out on the other offerings. We began with a Song Ngu Style house cocktail, consisting of vodka, orange curacao and pineapple juice, and two fresh spring rolls. The cocktail was balanced, not overly sweet and (we had to do a double take) VND 70,000++, while the rolls (VND 40,000++ a piece) went down clean with homemade peanut sauce. You can also order fried spring rolls of your choice for VND 40,000++ each. If we had to choose one, we’d pick the seafood spring roll four times over. The roll is breaded and fried, a tad crunchy and filled with squid, shrimp, scallops and banana bits. The banana gives the filling a soft texture and semi-sweet savor. The roll pairs well with a mayonnaise dip. After the appetizers, we moved on to the three main courses of seafood.
As our host pointed at something behind us, we turned our necks to a waiter promptly lighting a bowl of skittering shrimp on fire, then sliding the critters into a clear pot of Chinese cooking wine over a dancing flame. The shrimp were then taken back to the kitchen to be boiled in water. The wine adds some bitterness to the shrimp while the boiling water takes the acridity to a more balanced level. A short while later we were brought the finished tiger shrimp on a platter. The best way to eat these guys is to take the rostrum (the horn-like part atop the head), pull upwards to break the upper shell and suck out the juices.
This giant shrimp is quite rare outside its peak season (between the first and second quarter of the year). They’re typically VND 2 million++ per kilogram, so expect to pay a minimum of VND 400,000++ per dish. Mid-season, try and ask for a mantis with eggs – they’ll be the ones with coagulated red “yolk” inside. The recipe is quite basic. The shrimp is fried in garlic and served with a side of salt and lime. But as our host explained, the art lies with timing and preparation. You may want to ask one of the waiters to show you how to eat a mantis shrimp. We were able to get a mantis shrimp with the eggs still inside. The coagulated red substance was waxy, like hardened yolk, and quite protein-rich – it may be an acquired taste for some. The meat was soft and buttery, with a subtle hint of garlic, which cooked through the shell evenly. With a bit of lime and a dash of salt, this was our favorite meal of the afternoon.
The tilapia is cooked in pork and chicken stock, radishes and onions. While the fish is soft and relatively flavorless, the stock is reminiscent of a somewhat spicy tomato and vegetable soup, and has a rich, smooth mouthfeel. If you’ve had fish soup in central Vietnam, this is a less intense, more accessible alternative, and quite addictive. By this point we were full, but ordered a fruit platter to clear the seafood smell. Complimentary green tea is given at the end of each meal as well.
From over 40 reviews, Song Ngu averages 4 out of 5 bubbles on TripAdvisor. Reviews praise the excellent seafood, in particular the mantis shrimp. There are few complaints, and even those are minor. People don’t seem to mind the high prices, asserting that the quality of food is worth it.