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A taste of Thailand in the heart of VN

Update: January, 22/2012 - 16:44

 

Nice spice: The no-fuss Malee Thai restaurant has a cosy and warm ambience. — VNS Photos Xuan Hiep

Malee Thai restaurant

Address: 37 Dong Du Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCM City

Tel: (08) 38293029 – 38232061

Hours: 10am – 2pm; 5pm – 10pm

Price: VND50,000 – 200,000 (US$2.38 – 9.52)

Comments: Excellent dishes, reasonable prices, prime location, cosy atmosphere, and attentive staff

Xuan Hiep
tracks down top-notch cuisine from the ‘land of smiles' in the centre of HCM City.Thailand has been a popular destination for many visitors from around the globe, with many tourists visiting the country again and again.

One can see why it has attracted people for years: its rich culture has been shaped by many influences, including Vietnamese, Lao, Myanmar, Cambodian and Chinese.

My interest in Thailand, however, revolves around its cuisine, which has developed a worldwide reputation. What is so special about Thai cuisine is the balance of five basic tastes: spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter.

Common ingredients include garlic, chillis, lime juice, lemongrass and fish sauce, which are also often part of Vietnamese dishes.

The meal that a friend of mine and I had last week was the most authentic Thai cuisine I had ever eaten in HCM City.

It was my third visit to Malee Thai restaurant within a month.

Located in a prime location in the city centre on Dong Du Street, the restaurant is easy to find as it is located near the Sheraton Saigon Hotel in the city.

My first impression was that the restaurant looks like a home rather than a middle-to-high-end restaurant that opened 16 years ago.

Only about four metres wide and 25 metres long, the two-storey restaurant can accommodate up to 80 diners during peak times, usually from 5pm to 10pm.

 

Fruity: Sweet sticky rice with mango is a simple but perfect combination.
Prawns with a kick: Tom yam kung (hot and sour soup) is a Thai staple.
Tasty: Som tam (papaya salad Thai style) combines six fundamental tastes – spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter.
 
As we entered the restaurant, the smiling waitress wearing traditional Thai dress looked glamorous opening the door for us.

Malee Thai is designed simply with special wallpaper. Pictures of Thailand and many objects in the restaurant reflect the culture.

The round-shaped yellow lamps hung on the ceiling make a cosy and warm ambiance, which helped to stimulate discussions.

On that day, I was ravenously hungry. No sooner had we been seated than I was ready to order.

My favourite dish at Malee is som tam (papaya salad Thai style), a popular dish contains complex flavours, with spices playing a major role.

Other ingredients are green papaya, tomato, cucumber, cabbage and Chinese long peas as well as chilis, lemon, anchovy sauce, tamarind sauce, garlic and peanuts.

I learned that to make the dish, all ingredients are ground in a mortar so they can blend well with the spices and herbs.

I had a chance to experience how local people make it during my trip to Thailand this year.

To me, the spicier the better. For those who dislike highly spicy foods, you should request the medium-spicy of level. My tip is to eat more tomato and cucumbers. This will cool off the heat.

The dish was made so well that I ordered two portions. It also has a lovely presentation, with the cabbage used as a bowl to contain the salad, which is placed on a banana leaf.

According to Ly Thanh, the restaurant's manager, some spices and ingredients are imported from Thailand to ensure the authenticity of the dishes.

The next dish we ordered was tom yam kung (hot and sour shrimp soup). I was told that the soup, which can be served with shrimp or chicken or fish, is the most famous of all Thai soups. To me, the soup is quite similar to Vietnamese hot and sour soup.

I chose tom yam kung served with shrimp. The waiter suggested that we eat rice instead of noodles or vermicelli, which was a smart choice.

We ate it all, with not a drop left.

The taste of the soup really left my lips burning. But I enjoyed it, and I know that spices can enhance your digestion.

Sipping the soup slowly really awakened all my senses of taste.

We hesitated to order another bowl and decided to save room for dessert. The dish was a simple but perfect combination of sweet mango and steamed coconut-milk sticky rice, a popular dessert with both Thais and foreign visitors.

The sticky rice soaked with coconut milk is steamed for one and a half hours to ensure that the rice is well-cooked and mixed with coconut milk.

Later, the fresh mango slices are placed over the sticky rice, which is smothered with coconut sauce.

The mango was very sweet, unlike the ones I had tasted in Thailand. Thanh says that Viet Nam is famous for Hoa Loc sweet mango, which was used in the dessert.

If you like mangoes and sticky rice, you are definitely going to love this Thai dessert.

The restaurant also serves other authentic Thai foods. The menu, in Thai, English and Vietnamese, offers Thai dishes at reasonable prices, so you can easily choose your most desired dishes here.

The staff of eight, all of whom can speak Thai and English, add much value to the service.

After such a fabulous meal in a welcoming atmosphere, we vowed to return. Service may not be the most significant aspect of the restaurant, but if you are a fan of Thai cuisine, Malle Thai is highly recommended. — VNS

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