If you happen to find yourself stranded and starving in HCM w/o an inkling of where you can satisfy that tummy grumble, I’ve got a good spot to recommend.
Off the city track [that’s out of District 10 for you], tucked away in an isolated lane is a gem of a find – Cuc Gach Quan. Frequented by long-living expats in HCM, it’s a place that you can only find if recommended to.
Occupying the ground floor of a tube house, the restaurant will take your breath away upon entry. A visual treat, the owner has treated the space with such careful consideration that the narrow and tight space that is typical of a tube house cease to make its mark.
The entrance lures you in with its intimate and antiquated touches, bidding you to enter, much like a visit to a long-lost friend’s home. We couldn’t resist exploring the space, capturing the images on film despite the hunger pangs.
The visual treat only gets better – at least it does for me, indulging my love for all things that harks back to an age i can only read or learn about, but not live it.
It gets even better. With the promise of a Vietnamese meal, we settled at our table to give the menu a once over before deciding to leave our host the honor of selecting the dishes for us. After all, she’s been here more times we can count on both hands.
Cuc Gach Quan is a tribute to the owner’s grandmother, where the “true values of a ‘countryman’ are reigning under the motto “eat green, live healthy”, every action designed to demonstrate respect to our environment.” Perhaps it’s that sentimental value coursing through the space and dishes that appealed to me, but boy was i captivated.
Craving a drink to refresh from the day’s brutal heat, i settled on an order of guava juice [Nước ổi ép] that came served in such a unique manner, i was kept occupied for a while, remarking at the ingenuity of it all. Served in a glass jar, the bottle was corked with a strip of leaf held together by a wooden toothpick carrying through the theme of paying respect to the environment. Keeping the drink true to the fruit’s natural flavor, a side serving of honey accompanies the drink if you’re craving for a sweeter taste.
As i placed my lips to the straw for a sip, i noticed that this was no straw. Instead, it was a fraction of the stem that we Chinese know as “kong xin cai” or water spinach in English. I’ve since learnt that this is also referred to as morning glory. Am no vegetation expert and stand corrected, so do let me know if it’s a case of mistaken identity.
Rollin’ on the chow, we started with lotus root salad [Gỏi ngó sen] which was perfect to beat the heat from the day. Refreshing, light, crunchy and sweet in a single bite, the dish prepped us for more to come.
Very much the Asian style of dining, we had a variety of dishes consumed with a healthy serving of rice. At Cuc Gach Quan, order the brown rice for a fragrant and healthy experience. The grains served here is fluffy with bite and nutty flavor to boot. Do not miss it.
The one dish that got us coo-ing after was the crispy sea bass with passionfruit Sauce [Cá chẻm chiên giòn sốt chanh dây]. This is where my friends will start to question my sweet-savory dislike but this dish packed a punch. Fresh sea bass, deep-fried and tossed in passion fruit sauce. The end result is a riot of flavors and texture with added crunch from the passionfruit seeds. This dish is a definite must-order.
Accompanying the star of the night, but not falling short in the flavor department included bitter melon with pork [Canh khổ qua hầm thịt], sauté morning glory [Rau muống] and fried tofu with salt-pepper and lemon sauce [Đậu hũ trứng chiên giòn muối tiêu chanh].
A meal is never complete without dessert and i present you the Vietnamese version of goreng pisang. Be sure to request for a side serving of condensed milk to be consumed with this banana delight to end your meal on a sweet note.