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Try fantastic food from the Fifth Sister

Update: December, 03/2017 - 09:00
All in view: The open kitchen where Sa Đéc style pork noodles are prepared.
Viet Nam News

by Mỹ Duyên

Are you longing for the atmosphere of the Mekong Delta of your youth, hungry for a bowl of southern pork-noodle soup, made the Sa Đéc way?

In HCM City, there’s a new place where you can indulge your memories of all that’s southern: a family dining experience, a classic countryside interior, and authentic delicacies.

The name Dì Năm Sadec restaurant gives a clue to its southern roots. If someone is called Dì Năm, it indicates a close relation, meaning literally the fifth sister of the mother. But the affectionate greeting can also be used for any woman in the market on the street, too.

Sa Đéc Town is a well-known locality in the Delta’s Đồng Tháp Province where special kinds of noodles are served.

Although there is a long list of hủ tiếu, or southern-style rice noodle restaurants, in HCM City, the noodle soup at Dì Năm Sadec is decidedly different.

“It’s our family’s traditional recipe and we’ve tried to keep it unchanged for over three decades,” said Trần Hữu Hiếu, a son-in-law of the owner of the Dì Năm Sadec branch in Sa Đéc Town .

As soon as you enter, you’ll see its fascinating, outstanding decor and collection of imitation antique ceramics, bamboo items such as rice screens and baskets, and handicrafts inspired by a typical Delta country home.

Wooden tables and chairs all create an intimate, country-like dining environment.

Elegant: Dì Năm Sadec Restaurant from the outside.
Sweet: Pandan leaf rice noodle soup with coconut milk and ice is a spectacular dessert that should not be missed at Dì Năm Sadec. – VNS photos Anh Duy

Delicious: Tapioca noodles Sa Đéc style with minced pork ball and boiled pork skin threads is a mixture of coconut milk and sour sweet fish sauce.
Number one: Sadec style noodle with seafood and pork soup is a standout dish of Dì Năm Sadec restaurant

My visit was a chance to try something besides the noodles and learn more about the Delta lifestyle and its people.

“We want to bring to Saigon (former name of HCM City) the signature noodles of our family’s cooking secret as well as other Sa Đéc delicacies, and tickle their imagination about my homeland,” Hiếu said.

Hiếu and his wife kept the recipes of his mother-in-law, but they have re-interpreted them with elegance and creativity.

“The twist is to make Sa Đéc-style noodle soup for the taste of Saigonese, so we put less sugar in our noodle soups and all dessert items,” he explained.

Although the menu features several tasty specialties from Sa Đéc, its highlights are hủ tiếu Sa Đéc (rice noodle pork soup Sa Đéc-style) and bánh tằm bì Sa Đéc (Sa Đéc signature cassava pasta), all traditionally made and finely arranged and presented.

Hủ tiếu Sa Đéc is served in different kinds of broth to your liking -  pork, seafood, beef and vegetables or a mixture of pork, seafood and vegetables, with all kinds of broth prepared for several hours.

Diners also can order a hủ tiếu khô or noodles served in two separate bowls – one with toppings such as prawns, fishballs and pork slices, and another with broth only. Done this way, hủ tiếu khô looks like and tastes like stir-fried noodles.

While bánh tằm bì Sa Đéc goes well with boiled pork skin threads or minced pork balls, the special quality of the dish is condensed coconut milk and vegetables with sweet sour fish sauce.

All the food items at the restaurant are served in traditional clay pots, bowls and plates, with spoon and chopstick containers used in country kitchens.

For our meal, we ordered several dishes. As recommended, I started with the signature noodle with pork skin threads and minced pork balls (VNĐ40,000) while my friend ordered a bowl of rice noodle soup with seafood and pork (VNĐ59,000).

Finely arranged, the food was pleasing to the eye. It was the first time I had tried this kind of noodle.

The secret of the dish was in the good quality of the noodles. The fresh cassava powder contributed to its distinctive taste, while the fresh aromatic coconut milk and well-made fish sauce were perfect complements.    

I next sampled hủ tiếu Sa Đéc. The soup bowl looked irresistible, arranged with prawns, squid, fishballs, lean pork slices, and deep-fried onion slices on top. The pleasing aroma woke all my senses. The flavour comes from pure, clear and juicy broth made from pork bones, dried squid, radish and carrots.

The noodles, unlike any served in the city, are a delicacy that should not be missed.

“Our suppliers of the noodles, and even pork skin threads, are from Sa Đéc. To ensure the freshness and perfect taste of our noodle dishes, we bring all the ingredients here every day,” Hiếu said.

Although the restaurant offers side dishes such as pork balls, beef balls, beef slices, pork ribs or seafood, we saved room for desserts, which are also the pride of Dì Năm Sadec.

On offer was a variety of sumptuous and delicious sweet soups and cakes, all authentic Mekong Delta desserts prepared with coconut milk, each VNĐ15,000.

After carefully scanning the list, the one that caught my eye was bánh lọt lá dứa nước cốt dừa or pandan leaf rice noodle sweet soup with coconut milk and ice, while my friend brought out steamed banana cakes with condensed coconut milk. The two are typical sweets of the Mekong Delta and among the standouts of the restaurant.  

Bánh lọt was not too sweet but wonderfully flavourful, while its green colour was a visual delight. It was my favourite dessert at Dì Năm Sadec.

As I was more than full, we decided to try the kidney-bean and black-bean sweet soups with coconut milk at our next visit.

The verdict? The meal was fantastic and we can’t wait to return to learn more about the flavours from Việt Nam’s ’food-wealthy’ south.  — VNS

Dì Năm Sadec Restaurant 

Address: 83D Bùi Thị Xuân Street, District 1, HCMC

Phone: (028) 0902664448

Hours: 7am-11pm last order

Comment: authentic traditional southern specialties, Mekong Delta style, cosy ambience, with southern countryside home interior, inviting prices, hospitable servers.

Price: VNĐ15,000-VNĐ59,000 per dish

           VNĐ35,000 per three–course set lunch

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