Bún cá (fish noodle) is a good choice. — VNS Photo Thanh Hà
Viet Nam News
by Thanh Hà
A vegetarian diet is not something I had ever contemplated before. The lack of nutrition and more importantly delicious meat really didn’t float my boat.
But when I heard why some people had decided to go vegetarian, I changed my mind. Now I think it is my humble contribution to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.
But I still worry that vegetarian food is not as good as meat.
On my path to veginess, my plan was to ignore meat twice a month, and Thanh Phúc Chay Restaurant in Gia Lâm District was the place to go.
Why this restaurant? Because it is near my home and offers a cheap buffet with a variety of dishes for just VNĐ69,000 per person.
A friend came with me, after some convincing.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of a small villa in the Việt Hưng Urban Area in which we could enjoy the atmosphere of the city and rural environment.
It offers 50 different dishes, but the waitress told us there were hundreds of dishes that the cooks could make to order.
"We’ve only been open for six months but the owner has been cooking vegetarian food for more than 20 years. She can cook many things and we can also serve big parties. Our focus is on fresh and local food cooked with minimal oil, so you can be sure of a healthy and tasty meal," she said.
Roasted pork with crispy skin looks like real meat. — VNS Photo Thanh Hà
I was a little confused how to start my meal as there were no labels next to the dishes so I didn’t know what they were.
The staff were friendly and recognised I needed help.
I chose some bamboo shoots, roasted pork with crispy skin, grilled chopped squid, crispy fried spring rolls and bánh cuốn (steamed pancakes) for the first round.
When I went back for seconds I chose green vegetables, a little xôi xéo (sticky rice with mung bean and dried onion), crispy fried small crab and bún cá (noodles with fish).
I really loved the steamed pancakes, which have been a lifelong favourite that I have never refused at any time. I guess the pancakes were not made on site because they tasted different from what I’m used to, but having them with some crispy fried shallots in sweet and sour sauce was great.
The bún cá would be my strongest recommendation. In every kind of soup I think the broth is important. It can make up to 80 per cent of the success of the dish. And here the bún cá was really nice with zingy tamarind and tomato broth, added with green chopped onion, a little red chili paste, and vinegar for a sour note. It would be perfect with fresh herbs and lettuce.
Earlier birds at Thanh Phuc will have better meal. — VNS Photo Thanh Hà
Of course it was not 100 per cent like bún cá with actual fish, but I consider it the best-tasting noodle soup I have ever had.
Yeap, we were nearly full but there were many others that I still wanted to taste.
Here’s a tip that I learnt on a trip to China some years ago. Just try something sweet, it will help you to forget that you are full and yes you can eat something more.
I did try a sweet donut. It didn’t look that appetising but it surprised with the thin and crispy skin and fragrant smell of mung beans with shavings of coconut.
I ended my meal with some fresh banana flower and green papaya salad which someone told me would help with digestion.
I’ve enjoyed many papaya salads (with beef) in the past but this vegetarian one was memorable. Crunchy shredded papaya topped with crushed roasted peanuts and green herbs and sweet and sour sauce. Yummy!
I was far too full to think about eating anything else such as the sweet soup made of nuts and fresh fruit for dessert.
We were the last ones to leave the restaurant but there was still food left on the buffet.
The waitress told me the food would be wrapped up and given to monks at a nearby pagoda. Nothing wasted!
My next visit will be soon as my friend said a vegetarian diet is nearly as good as meat. — VNS
Thanh Phúc Chay
Add: C9-BT7 Việt Hưng Urban Area, Long Biên, Hà Nội.
Hour: 10.30-13.30 for lunch; 17.30-21.30 for dinner
Comment: Nice outdoor and indoor seating. Early birds will enjoy hot dishes. Restaurant is more crowded at lunch. Vegetarian beer is available but no soft drinks just water.