Renowned for its street food and cafe tours in the alleys, Vietnamese visitors often make the mistake of neglecting their more upmarket restaurants.
But while street food will always occupy the heart of the country, his soul now resides in the exquisite culinary experiences that can be experienced in the new wave of gourmet restaurants. These young, enterprising chefs create a new identity for their own Vietnamese cuisine.
By combining elegance, quality ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, fine Vietnamese cuisine selects the best dishes from street food and brings them to the restaurant table with a touch of class.
Teach the basics
Of course, it is essential to master the basics for any successful chef and kitchen – as can be seen at the Ho Chi Minh City’s Mai Sen Bistro and the Maisen Vocational Training Center (56 Nguyen Van Lac, District from Binh Thanh), who teach Service and Cooking are aimed at young and aspiring Vietnamese chefs and restaurateurs, and allows them to cook in the best Vietnamese cuisines.
“Crucial techniques such as braising, grilling and boiling are all part of three years of school training,” said one of his students, Minh Phan. He explains how they are also taught the importance of presentation, which can often be overlooked in street cooking.
It is the combination of these traditional skills and modern techniques that gives the best of fine dining, as well as the subtle combination of flavors and textures that can only come from generations of refinement.
Popular street foods like pho and banh mi contrast crunchy raw or marinated vegetables to the softer texture of cooked meat or pâté. To go further, gourmet restaurants add their own flair. The Residence in Hue, for example, offers a salad appetizer with a sweet pomelo, sun-dried grilled squid and a crispy shrimp cracker.
Similarly, Saigon’s Restaurant offers dishes that balance textures, such as the nem cua be, a crispy crab-fried spring roll, served with crunchy pickles and a fresh rice noodle salad.
Learn from the past for the future
In many high-level kitchens in Vietnam, it is not only traditional techniques that continue to influence modern chefs.
As Mike Barclei-Smythe, Managing Director of Global Vintage Wines, who works with many of Ho Chi Minh City’s leading restaurants, points out, many traditional recipes are still used today.
One of his favorite dishes is the Vietnamese dish, the mm kho quẹt. “It’s made of pork fat, pork chunks, dried shrimps, onions, garlic and sugar.It is traditionally cooked in a clay pot and was a cheap way to feed a family”, he explains.
But it’s an old dish that many modern Vietnamese chefs prepare in their kitchens across the country.
Gastronomy is not only about summarizing the essence of the past, but also about innovating and what better ingredient to play than the nation’s favorite?
Served with most meals, rice or cm is an essential part of the Vietnamese diet. The street food cơm tấm, literally translated as “broken rice”, is essentially a dish of small pieces of rice, served with a little meat (most often pork), fish or vegetables and is eaten by locals with a fried egg and a diluted fish sauce.
A nice modern touch of this classic can be seen at The Hue House in Ho Chi Minh City, where chefs mixed white and brown rice grains and added diced carrots.
Hue House owner Huy Tran said adding two types of rice adds to the texture, while the carrot enhances its sweetness, turning this modest order into a special dish.
The same restaurant played with the modest bánh đa – a popular rice cracker snack – adding several extravagant fillings, including steamed fish or chopped shrimp, something you will never find perched on a stall in the kitchen.