Chả Mãn Tự rau rừng (Mãn Tự style soybean curd cake with wild vegetables) is the favourite choice of visitors to the restaurant. VNS Photo/Ñình Nhi
Viet Nam News
With natural food becoming increasingly popular in Viet Nam, one of HCM City’s better-known vegan eateries is offering tasty food at inviting prices. My Duyen reports.
Though I’m not a Buddhist or a vegan, I eat two meatless meals twice a month, usually on the first and middle day of the month of the lunar calendar.
At my recent dinner at Mãn Tự, a vegan restaurant in downtown HCM City, I was impressed by the dishes which had a decidedly different taste.
My visit gave me a chance to not only sample the best meatless cuisine I had ever tasted, but also to learn more about veg specialties from different areas.
Đỗ Thị Ngọc Phượng, owner and manager of the restaurant, was influenced by recipes from her native province of Sóc Trăng in the Mekong Delta and by the flavours and cooking methods of other Asian countries like South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
She has reinterpreted the dishes with elegance and creativity to match the taste and demand of busy city diners.
Located on a quiet alley off Tôn Thất Đạm Street in District 1, Mãn Tự is well-known for its delicious and nutritional vegan cuisine, family ambience, friendly servers, and inviting prices.
With a fine interior decor and pleasing soft music, the restaurant has a peaceful feeling that evokes the atmosphere of a temple.
During lunch, Mãn Tự is full of visitors, especially when busy white-collar workers spend time with their colleagues and friends to eat, drink and relax.
The veg a la carte menu offers a wide range of healthy dishes, from starters, salads and soups to main courses, while the lunch buffet has more than 40 different items prepared in different ways, from steamed and fried to boiled, braised and stewed.
The menu features plenty of rice dishes, porridges and hotpots, and also offers noodles, pizza, dim sum and popular Saigonese street foods like gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), hủ tiếu (rice noodle soup), bánh tráng trộn (dried rice paper with special sauce and lettuce) and bánh cuốn (fresh rice paper rolled with assorted mushroom and tuberous vegetables).
Different from traditional Vietnamese vegetarian dishes, most offerings at Mãn Tự are of a fusion nature. Neither very spicy or salty, they lack strong flavours and are suitable for both Vietnamese and foreign diners.
As the buffet was available only during lunch, my friend and I ordered a la carte items at dinner.
After carefully scanning the long list of the menu, we started with chả giò (deep-fried spring rolls for VNĐ39,000) and đậu hủ kho ớt chuông (tofu braised with bell peppers for VNĐ49,000), two specialties at Mãn Tự.
While the deep-fried rolls were crispy and aromatic, the braised tofu was beautiful and tasty.
Though all the main ingredients for making the dishes are soybean curd, mushrooms, root vegetables, herbs, bell peppers, and garden and wild vegetables, the name of each dish sounds the same as those dishes containing meat.
They include xúc xích kho sả ớt (meatless Vietnamese sausage braised with lemongrass and chilli), Bún Huế or Huế style vermicelli twine soup and many more.
“To ensure that our food is delicious, all our ingredients are fresh and strictly selected from reliable suppliers in Đà Lạt in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta region,” a waitress told us.
As “wrap and roll” foods are always my favourite, our next try was chả Mãn Tự cuốn rau rừng (deep-fried soybean curd cake Mãn Tự-style, rolled with wild vegetables and rice paper for VNĐ69,000), one of the outstanding dishes at the restaurant.
Served with a special homemade sweet and sour sauce, it was delicious and nutritional.
After four rolls, I was nearly full, but still wanted to try Hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh-style rice noodle soup for VNĐ45,000), which is a favourite of diners at Mãn Tự.
The slow-simmered root vegetable and mushroom broth, limpid and clear, is surprisingly delicate in flavour, with a pleasing umami and sweetness.
Hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom-Penh style clear rice noodle soup) is a favourite of many diners. VNS Photo/Ñình Nhi
Chả giò (deep-fried spring roll) is a must try. VNS Photo/Ñình Nhi.
Đậu hủ kho ớt chuông (tofu braised with bell peppers) is a good choice for vegan fans. VNS Photo/Ñình Nhi
The carefully made broth and noodles won my heart. This kind of soup is so popular it can be found everywhere in southern Việt Nam.
The fragrant noodles and broth were the best way to finish our meal, while a long list of vegan delicacies awaited us for our next visit.
Other delights on offer are seasoned mushrooms steamed in foil (VNĐ79,000), mixed-rice Korean style (VNĐ59,000), Korean seaweed soup (VNĐ59,000), phở (Vietnamese noodle soup) and rice straw mushrooms stewed with lemongrass and chilli (VNĐ59,000).
Mãn Tự should be on your list of destinations for the upcoming Vu Lan Festival (Filial Piety Festival), which falls in the seventh month of the lunar calendar (which falls on August 11-September 9 this year).
The month-long event is believed to be the best time of the lunar year for people, especially followers of Buddhism, to eat vegetarian or vegan food, practise charitable acts, and release birds and fish to freedom to earn merit. Many believe that such acts are symbolic prayers for themselves and for their parents, whether living or dead. -- VNS
Mãn Tự Vegan
Address: 14/2 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1
Hours: 8am-9pm (last order)
Comment: A great little place, lovely vegan food, and friendly staff. Buffet for lunch and a la carte for dinner. A portion of the profit from the buffet goes to funds for the underprivileged, including orphans.