Sunday, 09/10/2022 10:10

Eat Thai-style Vietnamese food with an open mind

Ground shrimp grill served with noodles, fresh herbs and dipping sauce is one of the highlights at VT Nam nueng restaurant in Udon Thani, Thailand.

Vân Nguyễn 

Eating Vietnamese food in Thailand was not on my itinerary when I took a working trip to the Southeast Asian country in September.

On the last day of my trip, our group of nearly 10 decided to try something nice together. 

The tight schedule packed with workshops and a field trip didn't spare me time to wander around and try many Thai dishes. After being free from work in the evening, we asked one of our Thai colleagues who knows the area the most to take us to a nice place with signature food in the province of Udon Thani, some 600km from the capital city Bangkok.

“Thai-styled Vietnamese food,” he said. I thought he was just joking, but it turned out he was serious. 

He explained that Udon Thani is not the best place for Thai food, adding that Vietnamese food is very popular here and many good restaurants serve great Vietnamese food.

It makes sense as this province hosts the largest number of people of Vietnamese origin in Thailand.

One of the receptionists at the hotel we stayed at is from central Việt Nam's Đà Nẵng City who pursued a hospitality degree in Udon Thani and will be working here for a few years before moving back to Việt Nam. It’s no wonder my Thai colleagues all said this was Thailand's “most Vietnamese” place.

Though initially hesitant, we all went to the restaurant as recommended. After about 20 minutes on a tuk-tuk costing 180 baht, we stopped in front of a fancy building complex named “VT”, which looked like a four- or five-star hotel.

We saw a large complex with a few courts displaying and selling Vietnamese-packed food and souvenirs. Some looked strange to us, but some were very Vietnamese, including toothpick containers, coffee filters, and even army hard hats, which Vietnamese soldiers used during wartime.

VT stands for Vee and Tuan, the husband and wife owners, while "Nam nueng" is the Thai pronunciation of nem nướng, a type of Vietnamese grilled pork paste. The owners wanted to name the restaurant after nem lụi, their signature dish, but decided to change it to nem nướng as the former is a bit difficult for Thai people to pronounce. 

The restaurant is located in a 1,800 square metre building complex on Phosri, one of the busiest streets in Udon Thani. VNS Photos Vân Nguyễn 

Then we headed to the restaurant, which was large enough to accommodate about a hundred customers.

There was a wide variety of choices, and based on the recommendation of my Thai colleague, who had been here a few times, we ordered nem lụi (Huế grilled pork paste  served with rice noodles, herbs and dipping sauce), bún (rice noodles served with fried egg, Vietnamese pork sausage, fresh vegetables, roasted peanut and minced pork), and Thai-style grilled pork. 

Thai-styled grilled pork balls ̣̣(centre) and 'nem lụi' (right corner) are served at VT Nam nueng restaurant. VNS Photo Kiều Mai 

​At first sight, the nem lụi didn’t look very appetising. It didn't strike me as authentically Vietnamese, and I expected it would taste strange. But to my utmost surprise, and surely also for my Vietnamese colleagues, the first bites were impressively tasty.

The grilled pork paste was first cut into smaller pieces and wrapped with bún (rice noodles) and fresh herbs in rice paper, making it look like a burrito. The mixture is then placed with a few spoons of dipping sauce, which is perfectly right. The grilled ground pork had a balance between fat and lean content. Therefore it has a tender texture and juicy taste, while the herbs are fresh and aromatic.

Most of the dishes we ordered involved wrapping meat-based food with noodles and aromatic herbs before adding the perfect final touch of superb sauce. Each dish has a different type of sauce but tastes similar with a nice mixture of saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and spiciness. 

The stronger and bolder sauces here made the dishes even better than those I have tried in Việt Nam. 

Dipping sauces help boost the flavour of dishes.

Some other dishes that are recommended include roasted ground shrimp and pork skewers served with rice noodles, aromatic herbs, cucumbers and tomatoes, and dipping sauce (250 baht for a large portion; Thai-styled grilled pork balls served with herbs and dipping sauce (90 baht); and noodles served with shredded fried egg, Vietnamese sausage, fresh vegetables, roasted peanut and minced pork (60 baht). 

Though eating at VT Nam nueng was not on my plan, it was a worthwhile, tasty and delightful experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Udon Thani. VNS

VT Nam nueng

Address: 345/1-3 Moo 2 Phosri Road, Mak Khaeng Subdistrict, Mueang District, Udon Thani Province.

Comment: A great Vietnamese restaurant with a Thai twist in the heart of Udon Thani Province, Thailand.

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