Taste of Tibet in the heart of Sai Gon
It was a Thursday, a lucky Thursday, when I visited Tay Tang Restaurant, which had been highly recommended by a friend.
Creative vegetarian cuisine, inspired by the owner's travels, is part of the appeal Tay Tang Restaurant in HCM City. Xuan Hiep reports.
|Calm before the prawn: Tay Tang Restaurant exudes Buddhistic calm. — VNS Photos Xuan Hiep|
Located on an alley off Ton That Tung Street in HCM City's District 1, Tay Tang Restaurant impressed me at first sight with its special design taken from the Tibetan culture and its Buddhist flavour.
The restaurant, only four metres wide and 20 metres long, is small and looks like a friend's house.
It was a rainy afternoon when I visited Tay Tang. No one was there and I thought I was alone.
But I later realised I was wrong when I saw customers coming down from the upstairs floor.
The atmosphere was quiet, except for the music of prayers, which made me feel contemplative and solitary.
The restaurant looked cosy and warm with its main colours of red and yellow. The dim light from the lamps lent an intimate feeling.
All the tables and chairs were made of wood, but of different designs on the three floors.
On the top floor, there are no chairs and diners sit on the ground furnished with carpets made of sedge.
|Specialty of the house: Banh cuon nam (rice rolls with mushrooms), is one of the restaurant's specialties.|
|Crispy and fresh: Cha gio chay chien gion (fried vegetarian spring rolls) is served with homemade sauce.|
Tay Tang Restaurant
Address: 28/11A Ton That Tung St, District 1, HCM City
Comment: Vegetarian Tibetan cuisine, attentive staff, reasonable prices, take-away available
I later learned that the restaurant's owner Ngoc Lan is an interior decorator, which was no surprise as the decor was special.
Lan told me that she wanted a solemn atmosphere resembling a pagoda.
Lan recommended the most popular dishes of the restaurant and made them herself for me, even though she said the chef was as accomplished as she was.
She recommended that I try banh cuon nam (steamed rolled rice served with mushrooms), cha gio chay chien gion (fried vegetarian spring rolls) and ca moi xot ca ('sardines' served with tomato sauce).
The dish banh cuon nam was a special surprise as I didn't realise it was vegetarian. It was made Tibetan-style, stuffed with mushrooms and pachyrrhizus tubers commonly known as potato or yam beans.
Banh cuon nam was served with cha bong or ruoc bong (shredded meat). Cha bong or ruoc bong alone is a popular dish of Vietnamese that can be used with rice, bread and cakes.
Cha bong or ruoc bong was made with tofu instead of meat. But I assure you that would never be able to tell the difference.
The banh cuon nam, which was served with fish sauce, should be used with the salad and basil.
The second dish I tried was Cha gio chay chien gion (fried spring rolls) that was another surprise for me because the stuffing was made with a variety of ingredients, including green beans, mung bean vermicelli, onion, mushrooms and mixed herbs imported from Tibet. It was the latter that gave the dish its distinctive taste. A sweet and sour chilli sauce was the main condiment.
My luck continued when Lan offered to make the dish ca moi xot ca ('sardines' with tomato sauce) for me, which she later decided to include on the menu.
The flavour was remarkably similar to the taste of sardines, although the main ingredient was banana-flower buds, marinated in spices and fried and later topped with a dash of cashew oil and sprinkling of black pepper. The sauce was made of seaweed, mushrooms, tomatoes and spices.
Lan had once studied in Australia, and while there, had worked for many restaurants and learned how to cook.
She has never taken any formal cooking courses. Her interest in Tibetan cuisine began when she first visited the country, where she has returned many times.
The restaurant serves a variety of other dishes priced from VND35,000-45,000, and authentic Vietnamese dishes with rice from VND38,000- 45,000.
In addition, Tay Tang serves many nutritious smoothies and juices, priced at about VND45,000 each.
All of the drinks have fanciful names, including one called "Why You So Upset". I ordered "Lucky Thursday." The drink contained milk, soft tofu, banana, vanilla essence and condensed milk.
After such a fabulous meal, I vowed to return – but only on a Thursday. It was indeed an auspicious day. — VNS