Viet Nam News
I associate Thai food with great movies.
The Lion King, Forrest Gump and Schindler’s List, are just three that come to mind off the top of my head.
In the 1990s, immediately next to the only cinema that screened such classics with subtitles instead of voiceovers, was Quán Thái 84, on Lý Thường Kiệt Street, near the old Hà Nội railway station.
Back then, having the Thai food served by Quán Thái 84 felt like an adventure, a journey into a new world of gastronomy that made our lunch breaks exciting.
The owner, a Vietnamese citizen, had spent a long time in Thailand and brought back a repertoire of great Thai recipes in her luggage.
Pad Thai was a popular choice — stir fried noodles with chicken, eggs and peanuts — as were the green and red chicken curries, and stir-fried morning glory.
At some point over the years, the restaurant slipped out of sight and out of mind. Like many establishments of those days, it had disappeared, unobtrusively.
A few days ago, completely by chance, we rediscovered Quán Thái 84, now located a little further from downtown Hà Nội.
The new location is on the bustling Đào Tấn boulevard.
While the name remains unchanged, the restaurant’s interior is clean and modern, leaning towards the up-market end of the capital’s dining scene, nothing like the eatery we used to frequent at its old address on Lý Thường Kiệt Street.
Since it brought back good memories of great food and great movies, we decided to give the restaurant another shot.
We visited the new Quán Thái 84 in a big group, giving ourselves the chance to really explore the menu. We ordered popular Thai dishes like the shrimp salad (VNĐ105,000), fried shrimp cakes (VNĐ30,000/a piece), sour pork or Lap Thai (VNĐ105,000),which should be had with steamed coconut sticky rice. (VNĐ25,000).
Versatile: Tom yam kung, one of Thailand’s most popular dishes, can be an appetiser soup, or a main course curry. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
The Lạp Thai was mixed with crushed sesame, and when wrapped in a cabbage leaf and mint, the result was fresh and uplifting. These are staple appetisers in Thai restaurants.
Then came main dish: roast chicken, Thai style (VNĐ265,000). It was good, but the flavour was average and the dish not particularly impressive.
One person in our group was on a diet, so she ordered the vegetable Pad Thai (VNĐ85,000) which was made with glass noodles, fried pieces of tofu and mung bean sprouts. It was so good that even the meat-eaters were tempted to order the same.
Apart from the exquisite Thai hotpot, we were particularly fond of two dishes: tom yum kung and the sweet broth desserts.
I’d learned how to make tom yum kung from a Thai man at our former editor’s home. “This is the key to a good tom yum kung,” I remember him saying. “Take out the black vein from the back of the shrimp. If you don’t, it can ruin the soup and the dish.”
Good tom yum also needs good fish sauce, which Việt Nam has aplenty, and for a long time, fish-sauce made in Thailand bore the name of Việt Nam’s most famous fish sauce source: Phú Quốc.
The flavours also come from fresh lemongrass, galangal slices and kaffir lime leaves.
Tom yum kung is a soup that is supposed to be consumed with rice, unlike western-style soups that begin a meal and prepare the palate. A sour, spicy and a smooth taste are the things one looks out for in this popular shrimp dish.
After the spicy soup, we were all eager to try out the restaurant’s signature sweet dessert: sweet drinks containing watermelon cubes coated in flour, julienned jackfruit pieces and thick coconut milk. It’s a refreshing mouthful that cools the heat from the spicy dish.
I now know what to make for my family this weekend: Tom yum kung followed by a sweet dessert, and a movie we can all enjoy together. — VNS
Quán Thái 84
Address: 88 Đào Tấn
Tel: 04 3942 1682
Comment: Good Thai food in a clean setting, vegetarian options available