Viet Nam News
By Khiếu Thanh Hà
Duck? I love duck. It seems to be the only thing that can pull me out of the office for lunch in the ugly heat of summer.
When I was a little girl, my father, who is not a chef but a good diner, gave me many tips on cooking and told me that duck and basil were such good friends as to be inseparable.
Duck can be cooked in different styles, but it must always be accompanied by fresh basil, which perfectly complements the duck’s aroma and taste, he told me.
More than two decades later, I discovered a place, nearly 2,000km from Hà Nội, where people enjoyed eating duck with a simple salad and no basil at all.
It was my third visit to HCM City, and as usual, I agreed immediately when invited to a duck lunch.
Yummy: People can book a table or order for delivery at Thanh Đa Duck Porridge. VNS Photo Khiếu Thanh Hà.
We went to Thanh Đa Duck Restaurant, one of the most well-known eateries for duck dishes in the city.
At the table, we were served a family-sized feast of congee in a single large bowl, a platter of sliced braised duck, some lưỡi vịt phá lấu (spicy stewed duck tongue) and a plate of sweet and sour herbs and salad.
The waiter told me there was no menu, noting they served only a limited selection of dishes and that our current order included some of their most popular ones. We declined the side dish of duck organs, all the same.
The waiter said he could serve us some fresh rice vermicelli with bamboo shoots and deboned duck if we were still hungry, adding that if we were lucky, there may be duck curry available as well.
While my friends chattered to each other, I waited impatiently for the basket of aromatic herbs with basil that I had been offered with duck dishes for decades. But it never arrived. Looking around, I noticed that no basil had been served at any table. How strange! I was sure there was something wrong with this picture and wondered what the duck would be like.
My friends then confirmed that the local residents ate duck with salad, as part of their tradition. They encouraged me to try their southern-style duck as a reference point for my gastronomic experience.
When it arrived, the duck looked bigger and the meat thicker than that served in my home city. It even tasted a little different. People in Hà Nội use ginger to remove the foul odour of the duck fat. Here, I found the flavours of star anise and perhaps some cinnamon.
A handful of fried crispy shallots had been used as a garnish - something I’d never seen in Hà Nội or any other city before, but I liked it very much.
Shallots are also a speciality of the restaurant; they sell it separately for VNĐ280,000 per kilogram, but it must be ordered in advance.
Filling: A portion of Thanh Đa Duck Porridge includes a bowl of congee, a platter of duck meat and a small dish of sweet and sour salad. VNS Photo Khiếu Thanh Hà
The duck meat was lean and flavoursome, though I would have preferred to have had a little fat under the skin. The master chef here must be highly skilled to be able to cook duck that is lean but still succulent.
It was served with a sweet fish sauce mixed with sliced hot chilli and minced ginger. In Hà Nội, the sweet fish sauce contains less sugar and comes with a lot of chilli and chopped garlic.
In enjoying the moist, delicious duck, I totally forgot about the basil.
I was really excited about the colourful salad, which was similar to the side of vegetables you get in the south with all noodle dishes.
It included a thinly shaved banana flower, Vietnamese coriander, carrots and red onions and was garnished with crushed peanuts. The salad also had a very light dressing that was slightly sweet and sour, and top-ups were free of charge.
Another highlight for me was the duck tongue. I have wanted to taste this for years since I first saw it in a Hong Kong movie. I don’t know how it tastes in Hong Kong, but I loved the version we were served.
It tastes unique and has a flavour that lingers in the mouth. I don’t have the right words for it, except to say that it was a little sweet, yet spicy and very fresh for something that was probably cooked for a long time.
The congee was very good as well. It had a thinner texture than what I’m used to. It was soupy, with a wonderful subtle meaty flavour, and was garnished with a handful of green onions and black pepper.
It’s not hard to see why the restaurant, which is located some distance outside the city, is always full of customers.
The waiter said the restaurant had been extended to twice its original size in the 1980s.
It was easy to find a table at lunchtime, but at dinnertime, especially on weekends, it’s difficult to get a seat, and late birds will never get a seat at all.
If you go to Cháo Vịt Thanh Đa, there are two similar restaurants located right next to each other, both serving the same dishes. The one on the left is the original restaurant, created by the matriarch of the family, and the other belongs to her daughter.
I have not tried the daughter’s restaurant, but people have said the mother’s restaurant is slightly better.
The 20-minute taxi ride from the city centre to get there was well worth the time for the quality of food you are served, especially if you love to eat.
By the way, duck without basil is still good in its own way and still extremely yummy!
Address: 118 Bình Quới, Bình Thạnh Dist, HCM City
Open hours: 8am – 11pm daily
Price: From VNĐ30,000
Tel: (08) 35566640
Comment: incredibly delicious food, affordable price, have to pay for valet parking.