After spending the first two days and nights in the port city of Vung Tau during my recent trip to Vietnam, I headed back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Known previously as Saigon, the former capital city of South Vietnam was as vibrant as always.
Thanks to the guidance of my local Vietnamese-Chinese buddy, I got the opportunity to sample some authentic Vietnamese cuisine at an outlet located in a small alley.
“You must give a try of seven-course beef dinner of Vietnam,” he said, pointing at a restaurant signboard enthusiastically.
It turned out to be a joint named Au Pagolac, which was famous for its “Bò 7 Món”, or seven courses of beef.
Rather than simple street stalls, we were welcomed into a neat aisle with red Chinese lanterns on both sides.
And we found ourselves in a private box with a full table of ingredients and cookware. One couldn’t help but wonder aloud: “Is it going to be expensive?”
But seriously, how costly can it ever be when you are in a country like Vietnam? My friend proudly told me that we can eat all we want by paying no more than the equivalent of 10 US dollars.
As the name suggested, seven ways of cooking were included, namely pan-frying, stir-frying, simmering, deep-frying, steaming, baking and quick-boiling.
The exact dishes were spicy beef salad, beef vinegar fondue, grilled beef wrapped in piper lolot leaves, grilled beef sausages wrapped in caul fat, grilled beef rolls, steamed beef patties and beef congee.
It was impressive that each of the beef dishes tasted distinctively, which I learnt was due to the fantastic use of sauces.
Fish sauce with lime and sauce with spices were my top flavors. Without them, it was hard to ingest the rice paper.
The Vietnamese rice paper and rice vermicelli paper were the “plate” for the night. In order to soften the plastic film like paper, it first has to be placed on a slightly wet towel and later moisturized further by the fish sauce.
Before leaving Vietnam, I rushed to a supermarket to help myself to a stack of rice paper and a roll of Vietnamese ham. They were good but I missed the wonderful tastes that come only with the fish sauce.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 7
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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