|Southern style: Banh tet Tra Vinh (Tra Vinh-style sticky rice cake with pork, green beans and salted egg yolk stuffing) is a must try.
A traditional dish from the Mekong Delta has been given an elegant twist by an inventive chef at a HCM City restaurant. My Duyen reports.
When I can't find time to cook, I often go out for a bowl of banh canh (thick rice noodle soup with pork), a popular dish among people in the south, and also my favourite.
The dish I experienced recently, however, at Banh Canh Ben Co Restaurant had a decidedly different taste.
My visit here gave me the chance not only to sample the sinfully enchanting noodles, but also learn more about specialties from the Mekong Delta, particularly Tra Vinh Province.
Tran Van Thanh, owner and manager of the restaurant, said that he was inspired by the recipes of his aunt who created the Banh Canh Ben Co brand name in Tra Vinh.
Thanh has reinterpreted the dish with elegance and creativity to match the taste and demand of city diners.
|Family secret: Banh canh thap cam (rice noodle with pork hock and pork organs), a highlight of Banh Canh Ben Co Restaurant.
Located on Tran Hung Dao Street, one of the main streets in HCM City's District 1, the restaurant is renowned for Tra Vinh delicacies in a striking yet informal setting.
With a good city view and finely exquisite menu, the restaurant is full of visitors, especially during the evening when busy city dwellers can spend more time with their family and friends to eat, drink and chat.
I can have banh canh at any meal time of the day, breakfast, lunch or dinner, just like pho (beef noodle soup).
However, I'm not patient enough to wait too long to be served, so I decided to visit Banh Canh Ben Co for lunch instead of dinner.
There was a long list of different banh canh, the restaurant's most anticipated dish on offer, which ranges from banh canh thit heo nac (noodle soup with lean pork ) to banh canh thap cam (noodle with pork hock and pork organs including liver, heart, intestines and stomach) to banh canh ga (chicken noodle soup) and banh canh ca (noodle soup with fried fish cake).
However, diners can order a mix of chicken and fish cakes.
All these nine banh canh items were served hot and with lettuce and bean sprouts, a major difference compared to other banh canh I had experienced.
|Crowd-pleaser: Nem nuong Tra Vinh (grilled minced pork skewers) is one of the most popular dishes of the restaurant.
I started my lunch with a big bowl of noodle soup with lean pork (VND40,000) and a noodle dish with pork hock and organs (VND50,000) for my friend.
As the waiter walked toward our table, all of my senses were awakened. What impressed me first were the noodles, which were flat and thick with a milky white colour (while the standard ones are round, transparently white and small).
More surprisingly, it was fragrant and chewy.
"We make our noodles from the finest pure rice powder with our family secret. All steps of preparation are strictly cared for and controlled," Thanh said.
The slow-simmered bone broth, limpid and clear, is delicate in flavour, with a savory umami and pleasing sweetness.
"The carefully made broth and noodles have satisfied our urban diners, maintaining our Banh Canh Ben Co brand name as a new destination in HCM City," Thanh said.
"This originated with my aunt over 30 years ago. Banh Canh Ben Co is renowned as one of the finest dining outlets among locals and travellers to Ben Co hamlet, Chau Thanh District, in Tra Vinh."
Banh Canh Ben Co Restaurant
Address: 112 Tran Hung Dao Street, District 1, HCM City
Phone: 083 9206272- 0964113939 Facebook: BanhCanhBenCo
Comment: authentic Mekong (Cuu Long) Delta cuisine, inviting prices and friendly service
Price: VND40,000 - VND60,000 per dish, large enough for two persons
After finishing the noodles, I moved on to the recommended nem nuong or grilled pork mince, another standout dish. It was VND60,000 per portion, large enough for two diners.
Those who love "wrap and roll" items should not miss this delicacy, which was finely arranged and pleasing to the eye, while its flavour and taste provoked all the senses.
It was a perfect combination of freshly minced pork, well-made soy sauce, thin rice vermicelli, and typical southern plant and herbs like green banana, sour starfruit and cucumber, basil and escarole.
When it is served, all the items are wrapped in rice paper, a truly delightful dining experience you must try.
Another option must be banh tet or traditional sticky rice cake, southern style (VND85,000 per cake of 1.1 kg), also the highlight of the restaurant.
Aside from the finest sticky rice, pork and green beans, the cake was stuffed with salted egg yolk.
Thanh said: "Experience Tra Vinh cuisine the way it was meant to be - an exploration of delicate textures, flavours and colours."
The two courses almost filled us up. Although I'm a fan of sticky rice cake, I just savoured a small piece, while taking home the remainder.
When it came to the desserts and drinks, the must-tries included sticky rice cake with banana stuffing (VND40,000 per 1.1kg cake) and a coconut smoothie with condensed milk and ice (VND75,000 per glass), perfectly prepared in the Tra Vinh style.
Besides its popular dishes, the restaurant also offers signature items designed for lovers of Tra Vinh cuisine, such as bun mam Tra Vinh (rice vermicelli soup with tiny fish paste) for VND60,000, and bun tom luoc (rice vermicelli with boiled shrimp and sweet-sour fish sauce) for VND45,000. — VNS