|Flavours galore: Bo bop thau (tender beef half done in sweet-sour sauce with red chili, onion, peanuts, basil and cilantro leaves) served with fish paste. — VNS Photos My Duyen
Beef is the standout specialty of the Sau Sanh Restaurant: barbequed ribs, hotspots and grilled dishes that attract diners from near and far. My Duyen samples the fare with relish.
Irecently returned to Ben Cat Town in Binh Duong Province, about 60km from HCM City, after being away nearly three decades. This time, the aim of my visit was to re-discover local food specialities, and I came away especially impressed with the beef fare, all of it cooked in a typical southeastern manner.
Although several restaurants offer dishes from grass-fed cows on the main street leading to the urban centre of My Phuoc in Ben Cat, Sau Sanh restaurant was recommended as the best, and it is crowded with diners all day.
It was my sister-in-law, a native of Binh Duong's Thu Dau Mot City, about 25km from Ben Cat, who convinced me and my friend to eat at Sau Sanh.
"The restaurant is a great escape from the bustling city. It's not very far from us, but you will find it," she told us. "You should not miss the tremendous feast of fresh quality beef at Sau Sanh. After my first visit last year, I was crazy for its delicacies, which are all amazingly delectable."
Surprisingly, the restaurant has no menu though it offers more than 30 beef items on offer - from steamed and stewed to stir-fried and barbecued - for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The restaurant's servers can remember the name and prices of all items which range from VND100,000 to 350,000 per dish, a very inviting price as each portion is large enough for at least three diners.
|Rib it in: Suon chia nuong (barbecued-beef ribs)
When I asked the 18-year-old waitress, Nguyen Thi Yen Linh, why there was no menu, she said it was because they were too busy.
"To save time, we list our stand-out dishes, or we recommend the best choices to our diners," she said.
My sister-in-law had recommended that I try bo bop thau (tender beef half done in sweet-sour sauce with red chili, onion, peanuts, basil and cilantro leaves, VND150,000) for a starter.
Although I had eaten the dish at several restaurants in HCM City, the one at Sau Sanh was truly spectacular. The beef was tender and juicy, with an aroma of basil and a spicy sweet-sour flavour.
Waitress Linh said the chef used only the best parts of young cows.
"Instead of buying from the market, we order beef daily at a major slaughterhouse in town to ensure a sustainable supply of fine-quality beef," she explained.
For our next order, we chose two dishes: bo nuong la lot (grilled, minced beef and pork fat with spices wrapped in wild betel leaves, VND100,000) and suon chia nuong (barbecued-beef ribs VND100,000).
We preferred the ribs as they were very special and like no others we had ever sampled.
"Barbecued ribs are ordered the most every day," Linh said. "Our chef chooses the absolute finest ribs from calves only. As you see, the ribs are especially tender, juicy and aromatic. For preparation, we have to carefully marinate the ribs with our secret recipe, which includes bee honey and spices."
|Soup of the day: Lau bap bo la giang (hotpot with broth, beef shank, cilantro leaves, rice paddy herbs and giang leaves (a species of local wild plants with tart-tasting leaves)
A woman sitting near us, who declined to be named, said that her four-member family often eats at Sau Sanh when they travel to Ben Cat to visit their aunt.
"Everyone in my family is crazy for barbecued ribs and huyet bo tuoi (jelly-like blood pudding served hot with sour and spicy fish sauce), VND80,000 and we often order a second portion of the ribs and blood puddings before finishing the first," the 37-year-old woman said.
"After the fourth course, we were full and never had a chance to taste lau bo (beef hotpot) or bo ham thuoc bac (beef stewed with Chinese herbs) VND340,000 a pot, two well-known dishes that are not only exquisitely flavoured but also nutritious and very good for recovering your health quickly," she added.
Although the dishes she described sounded delicious, we decided to save room for a hotpot.
Sau Sanh has an exciting selection of hotpots, with more than 10 ingredients to choose from. You can mix and match beef, vegetables, locally sourced herbs and spices, and choose from either a spicy or sour broth, then watch as the food is cooked right at your table.
Sau Sanh Beef Specialties Restaurant
Add: An Dien Commune, My Phuoc Ward, Ben Cat Town, Binh Duong Province
Comment: One of the best restaurants in town, which offers beef specialities prepared in a traditional southeastern manner.
Price: VND100,000 - 350,000 (portions are large enough for at least three people)
One of the best combinations is lau bap bo la giang, a hotpot with broth, beef shank, cilantro leaves, rice paddy herbs and giang leaves (a species of local wild plants with tart-tasting leaves), VND160,000 a pot. We dipped the beef into simmering broth just until it was cooked so that it would remain tender.
The broth, which was sour from the giang leaves, is served with flat rice noodles. With its flavour from the beef shank and aroma from the herbs, it is a delicacy worth trying. The dish also helped us digest our large meal.
The main herbs used for all beef preparations at Sau Sanh are cilantro, basil and other aromatic herbs.
Other must-tries at the restaurant include lau bo thap cam or beef hotpot mixed with eggs, tofu, taro, peanuts, vegetables and herbs, VND170,000 per pot, an especially good dish for children.
The bap bo hap hanh (beef shanks steamed with onion and wrapped in rice paper served with special fish paste), VND100,000 and bo nhung giam (beef dipped in simmering vinegar), VND100,000 are also quite good.
After the hotpot, we were far too full to sample other dishes, but we will definitely return for a second visit. Like me, if you are a beef lover, you will not be able to stop with one order after you sample the first. — VNS