Viet Nam News
by Hoài Nam
Situated on the beautiful seaside street of Võ Nguyên Giáp and crowded by luxury coastal resorts and hotels, Hỉ Villa Restaurant emerges as a favourite site for tourists exploring Việt Nam’s unique cuisines and food decoration.
The 300sq.m restaurant, which was built as a private villa with a large front yard and a garden of fruit trees, is designed for 250 gastronomers. They are hosted in vintage furniture and the decoration reflects the most popular styles in Vietnamese houses of the 1970s.
Trịnh Khả Lục, owner of the restaurant, decorates the house with old collections of sofas, trestle-tables, chairs and beds that Vietnamese used in their homes in past generations.
Lục, who was born in Quảng Nam, wants to recall a vintage image of rural life at a rendezvous point so that tourists could explore the cultural lifestyles and cuisines of the North, South and Central regions.
The chefs at the restaurant offer a menu of typical Vietnamese food that families from the three regions often cooked for their daily meals.
“Vietnamese used to cook meals using products straight from the farm, so I want to recall that nostalgia among local Vietnamese and tourists. All the food is cooked with traditional ingredients and the recipes are displayed,” Lục said.
He even orders ceramic bowls, plates and pots with old designs from the 1960s.
Fresh seafood: A fish dish at Hỉ Villa Restaurant.
Gastronomers can easily satisfy their appetites in all three styles of cooking with a group of four or five at a reasonable price and leave the restaurant full.
According to Lục vegetables are abundant in northern cuisine, and the restaurant has to collect wild vegetables in the suburbs.
Wild vegetables are used as aromatic herbs for better digestion.
Northerners prefer braised chicken with ginger as the spicy root keeps them warm in the cold winters of the North.
Chef Trần Văn Quân said free-range chicken is the best choice for the dish, while spices must be picked fresh from a garden.
Chopped chili and ginger in a mixture of green pepper is cooked for half an hour in a clay pot in the old rural style of the northerners.
Braised chicken is eaten with a soup of bitter melon and shrimp, and a dish of chayote with pork.
Gastronomers can order pickled eggplants and shrimp paste to revive nostalgic memories of traditional cuisine.
Nguyễn Trúc Hà, a Hanoian living in Quảng Nam, said the dish made her recall family rendezvous over the same familiar food.
“The chicken is very well cooked, flavoured with ginger and hot chili. The spicy dish is cooled with a soup of bitter melon and shrimp, creating a balance of ying and yang in the cuisine’s style,” Hà said.
“Northerners often enjoy food not only for its taste, but also for its style of decoration. The restaurant owner intentionally set up ceramic bowls and plates with old drawings to create a colourful backdrop for the food,” she described, adding that cuisine is really an art form.
She loves eating in the shadow of the mango trees in the front yard.
The chicken can be cooked in different styles for visitors.
The cook suggested an order of bamboo grilled chicken for a quick serve.
The chicken is stuffed in a bamboo tube with citronella and chili to cook on a charcoal fire for 30 minutes.
Having tasted the ‘grilled chicken in a wild style’, Phạm Thị Thắm, a visitor said the chicken was grilled, so meat almost kept its quintessence with a citronella aroma.
“It’s old style cooking from the jungle or mountainous areas. The charcoal fire burns the bamboo tube with its heat and adds the flavour of bamboo. Chili and citronella soak into the chicken and keep the dish tasty with a natural herby scent,” she said, adding that these spices are often used in cooking Vietnamese food.
The grill can be done with frog instead of chicken, but the frog meat is put into a tin can with a mix of pepper, chili, garlic and citronella. This is then hung over a charcoal stove in a big jar with a cover. The can will boil for 30 minutes, saturating the frog meat with the herb’s flavours.
Food for four: A combination of different foods is set on a tray for a group of four.
The restaurant’s chef Quân said the cooking skills to create mouthwatering dishes for gastronomers "is an art".
The dish costs around VNĐ40,000 (nearly US$2), and visitors can reserve a budget for a full party.
Because rice is always included on the menu, dinners can choose different soups, including fresh crab hotpot with malabar spinach and the tofu and meatballs.
A pot of snake-head fish and fish sour soup with bamboo sprouts is a style from the Mekong Delta in the South.
Spring rolls are often ordered by tourists as they are easy to make and can be served fast.
Seafood, chicken, pork, vegetables or fruit can be used to make a tasty stuffing for the spring-rolls.
Visitors can order separate dishes in the style of the North, Centre and South, or order a combo platter.
Lục, the restaurant’s owner, said chopped and fried snails and pork were often the best appetizer for most dinners before starting a rural cuisine party.
He said a free sweet green bean soup was offered as a cool Vietnamese dessert. VNS
Hỉ Villa Restaurant
Address: Lot 10, Võ Nguyên Giáp Street, Đà Nẵng
Hours: 8am to 10pm
Price: VNĐ40,000-1.6 million for a dish
Comment: Delicious food, reasonably priced and ocean open air