Sunday, 03/03/2024 10:13

The home-like, authentic Vietnamese flavours of Mặn Mòi

Though located on one of the city’s busiest streets, Mặn Mòi is airy and green. VNS Photo Minh Phi

By Đình Nhi

If you are hungry for authentic Vietnamese food just like your mother or grandmother cooks on the special occasion, Mặn Mòi - Tao Đàn (Spice Bistro) is the place to go.

My recent family dinner at Mặn Mòi was a truly memorable experience.

Though located on Võ Văn Tần, one of the city’s busiest streets, the restaurant is very airy and green.

Many restaurants in Saigon admittedly offer a long list of traditional Vietnamese dishes, but Mặn Mòi makes them unique and different to tickle both gourmets’ taste buds and imagination.

It showcases this uniqueness with dishes drawn everywhere from north to south, and presenting and serving them impeccably in a stunning environment.

While inspired by the recipes of moms and grandmoms, Mặn Mòi reinterprets traditional dishes with elegance and creativity.

While going up to the restaurant on the second floor of the building, we passed through The Bloom lounge on the ground where hundreds of items like Tết (Lunar New Year) gift packages, handmade souvenirs, natural farm produce, dry foods, and even confectionary were on sale.

When I entered Mặn Mòi, I immediately noticed its simple decor inspired by classical Vietnamese houses.

The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating.

The menu includes a variety of items ranging from starters, soups and vegetables to main courses and desserts.

Noodle specialities from various parts of the country and typical southern dishes like caramelised and braised pork and eggs, one of the must-have traditional dishes served with rice and pickles during Tết were also on offer.   

My twins decided to order matcha milk tea with jelly to cool down in the hot weather while I was still scanning the menu.

Fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaf is among the stand-out dishes at Mặn Mòi. VNS Photo Minh Phi

​We started with fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaf (VNĐ280,000), a typical dish from the Mekong Delta and also the one that turned out to be our favourite that day.

It was elegantly presented. The delicious chicken was laid on a special home-made tamarind sauce. Wrapped and fried in a pandan leaf until it had turned golden brown and crispy, the well-marinated meat had absorbed the distinctive fragrance of the leaf and spices.

“It is a magical match between the chicken and the sauce,” my 14-year-old son gushed. “We love the chicken, Mom.”

Unlike most places, Mặn Mòi’s menus change with the season so that guests can regularly enjoy fresh specialities.

We then moved on to deep-fried spring rolls (VNĐ280,000) made in the northern style.

Arranged with care, this dish too was pleasing to the eye. The rolls were very crispy outside and inside was a perfect combination of fresh minced pork, spices and herbs. They were served with a well-blended fish sauce dip and typical northern pickles.

It is a wonderful tradition of the Vietnamese people to share everything in life, whether good or bad. Food is no exception.

Regardless of which of its many avatars from north to south it is in, a hotpot reflects the joy of sharing and togetherness. We ordered a hotpot, which is priced at VNĐ390,000.

Sour hotpot with farm chicken and young tamarind leaves reflects the joy of sharing and togetherness among Vietnamese. VNS Photo Minh Phi

​We tried the sour hotpot with farm chicken and young tamarind leaves.

It was set in the centre of the table, and the waiter also placed fresh rice vermicelli and a variety of finely arranged tropical Mekong Delta vegetables and aromatic herbs like elephant ear stem, water lily stem, sesbania sesban flower, water spinach, and thinly sliced banana flower.

Already well-seasoned to create a wonderful flavour, the boiling broth awoke all my senses. But I let the twins dip their preferred toppings in it.            

The addition of herbs and vegetables made the hotpot even more fragrance and taste, stimulating our appetite. 

The broth was neither too sweet nor too sour unlike what people often assume about southern flavours. I found it truly spectacular.

But it was too big for the three of us to finish.

After the hotpot, I had no room for homemade sweets, and so let the kids decide for themselves.

In the list were some of my favourites as a kid: soya bean curd with ginger caramel sauce, green grass jelly with coconut milk and caramel sauce and matched green bean with coconut milk and caramel sauce.

They chose a toddy palm sweet soup (VNĐ90,000) and soya bean curd with ginger caramel sauce (VNĐ80,000). I tasted both. Served cold, they were so good I wished I had some space left in my stomach.

The other specialities of the restaurant too unfortunately have to wait for another day.

After we finished, we spoke about what he had just had, and my children voted for the chicken in pandan leaf as their favourite. For me, it was the hotpot. VNS

Mặn Mòi – Tao Đàn ( Spice Bistro)  

Hours: 10:00am – 10:00pm

Address: 34 Võ Văn Tần Street, District 3, HCM City

Phone: 0899189218

Comment: Homey authentic Vietnamese food, central location, elegant ambience, excellent presentation and service

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