Vietnamese food usually never crosses my mind when I’m choosing a place to eat. I’ve tried Vietnamese beef noodles in food courts before they were never very spectacular so I never had a reason to revisit. It was thus opportune that my Vietnamese friend wanted to introduce me to one of her favourite haunts for local food, Little Vietnam.
Little Vietnam is located a short walk from Paya Lebar MRT. Within 5 minutes of waiting (and some confusion on my part because I didn’t understand the conversation between the waitress and my friends), we were seated at a table outside.
Cha Gio – Deep fried rice paper roll with marinated chicken and vegetables ($5.00)
We started off with appetising spring rolls; Crispy on the outside, juicy chicken and vegetables on the inside, and with a sweet zesty lemon dip.
We would have gone for Goi Cuon – fresh rice paper roll with vermicelli and prawns – but each serving contained 2 rolls and there were 3 of us. Yes, we could have ordered 2 plates or cut one roll into half but everyone was hungry by that point and wanted their own spring roll.
Cut Chien – Deep fried quail with special seasoning ($15.00)
This is one of Little Vietnam’s signature dishes and for good reason. Even though each piece of quail seemed small (compared to normal fried chicken), they were extremely meaty because of the small bones. Glazed with sweet sauce, the quail meat was tender and succulent, none of that dried fast food nonsense.
Ca Phe Sua Da – Iced Vietnamese Drip Coffee ($3.50)
I opted for coffee because I needed something to perk me up, and because my friend once told me that Vietnamese coffee is one of the best in the world. In drip coffee, coarsely ground coffee beans are placed on top of a filter. Hot water is then poured over the coffee powder and the coffee slowly drips into the cup. By the time my coffee was served, all the coffee had dripped to the bottom. I suppose I could always get another cup elsewhere if I want to experience the calming effect of slowing down and watching drips of coffee fill a cup.
As you can see from the picture, there is a thick layer of condensed milk for that amount of coffee. I mixed them together, worried that the coffee on its own would be too bitter, and at the same time afraid that I would regret it. I expected it to taste like extremely sweet coffee shop kopi but instead it was nutty and smooth.
I really liked some of the food but this coffee was the best part of the entire meal. I would go back just for the coffee! (but maybe for lunch instead because I couldn’t sleep till 2am that night).
Canh Chua Ca Bong Lau – Partin fish cooked in sour soup and vegetables ($7.50)
This fish soup is sweet and sour due to the tomatoes and pineapples. Even though the partin fish isn’t visible in the picture, there was a very generous amount of fish added to the soup. Of the vegetables used, I recognised the beansprouts and okra but I’d never seen the spongy light green one before.
That’s actually known as the bac ha vegetable, or the elephant ear stalk. It is the fleshy stem of the elephant ear plant. During preparation, gloves need to be worn because the raw stem contains a chemical that will cause skin irritation. With proper cooking, the chemical compound breaks down. The bac ha didn’t have much taste on its own but its spongy texture allowed it to soak up the soup. It reminded me of biting into a tofu soaked in sauce.
Beef and ham noodles
I found the noodles on par with another dish we ordered, the Bo Kho Com – Beef stew with steam rice ($7.50).
The noodles had a considerable amount of beef and ham, while the stew contained sizeable chunks of tender beef, enough to be eaten as a main meal. However, I like my stews and broths to be really flavourful and slightly salty, like ramen. Both of these were a little too bland for my liking.
Overall, we had a hearty dinner. I was told that Little Vietnam is one of the places to go to if you’re interested in a wide spread of authentic Vietnamese food. The food comes in hearty portions, is affordably priced (all that food cost us only $79) and arrives really quickly so you’re not kept waiting.