FUN WITH FROG: Foreign diners enjoying a meal at Cái Mâm Bistro. Photo courtesy of the restaurant
By Lương Thu Hương
On our most recent outing my friends and I were looking for something a little different from the usual protein like pork, beef and chicken. None of us had ever heard of a frog buffet before, so we decided to head to Cái Mâm Bistro to give it a try.
The restaurant is handily located in Hà Nội’s Old Quarter on Lương Văn Can Street, which used to be busy with tourists before COVID-19 struck. It was strangely empty when we arrived in the middle of the day, with many shop-owners having shuttered their doors due to the lack of customers.
If you drive from Hàng Đào Street to Lương Văn Can Street, the restaurant is on your left. It’s a modest outlet, so be careful not to miss it, as it’s on a one-way street.
As stated on its Facebook page, Cái Mâm Bistro specialises in traditional Vietnamese food, street food, and vegan options. It’s full of traditional Vietnamese elements, as its name implies, with cái mâm being a round serving tray around which an entire family shares daily meals, while it also boasts an idyllic rustic décor. Shared dishes feature prominently on the menu, like those served at family gatherings.
Two types of frog buffet are available -- a basic set for VNĐ122,000 per person and the plus set for VNĐ188,000. While the first includes seven dishes, the second has nine. We were keen to try as many dishes as we could, so chose the latter option.
The restaurant has strictly abided by measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with all customers having to use hand sanitiser upon arrival while groups sit at separate tables.
As soon as we sat down, a feast of frog immediately appeared on the table -- ếch chiên măng nhúng lẩu (fried frog with bamboo shoot hot pot), ếch ủ mắm nhĩ đặc biệt (frog brewed with fish sauce), and ếch rang muối tứ quý (stir-fried frog with salt).
The frog is skinned, chopped into pieces, and marinated with fresh turmeric and other spices to lessen the fishy smell.
The skin is fried with bamboo shoots and chilli to make ếch chiên măng nhúng lẩu (fried frog with bamboo shoot hot pot). Meanwhile, other parts of the frog are used in two other dishes - the body for ếch ủ mắm nhĩ đặc biệt (frog brewed with fish sauce) and the legs for ếch rang muối tứ quý (fried frog with salt).
SPOILED FOR CHOICE: Diners enjoy a selection from the buffet at Cái Mâm Bistro. Photo courtesy of the restaurant
Not only delicious with high nutritional value, frog is also a unique medicinal remedy, according to nutrition specialists. Dishes and remedies prepared with its meat are good for the ill, the elderly, and malnourished children.
The crunchy fried frog with bamboo shoots could be eaten right away, but is much more delicious and softened when dipped in the hot pot and mixed with the tasty broth.
Both sweet and sour, the broth was absolutely wonderful, with the enticing flavour of its spices and herbs stimulating the senses. It’s served with morning glory, sliced bamboo sprouts, and sheet tofu.
The second dish, frog brewed with fish sauce, has a stronger taste. It is stir-fried with bamboo shoots and mixed with tasty fish sauce and chilli sauce, giving it both a sweet and sour chilli taste and an attractive sauce flavour. It’s best served hot and can also be dipped in the hot pot if you wish.
Meanwhile, the fried frog with salt is made from frog legs and roasted lemongrass, and sprinkled with salt. It offers a clearer taste of the meat, the texture and taste of which lies somewhere between fish and chicken. The salt sticks to the meat, melts in your mouth, and has a tasty texture. It’s a good choice for those, like me, who aren’t huge fans of fatty meat.
To take a break from frog, we also ordered a vegetable salad with shredded green papaya, carrot, and fried tofu. The delicious blend was flavoured by a kumquat dressing that added a perfect amount of tang.
Another dish I liked was bánh hỏi chiên giòn chấm kho quẹt (crispy fried bánh hỏi dipped in caramelised fish sauce). Bánh hỏi is a Vietnamese dish consisting of rice vermicelli woven into intricate bundles. After being fried, it takes on an eye-catching quality and has plenty of crunch. Together with the caramelised fish sauce, it’s totally out of this world.
Cái Mâm Bistro also offers a variety of desserts, such as ice cream, maize pudding, and hot chocolate. We chose the first. The rich, sweet and creamy frozen treat was the perfect ending to our get-together.
IN A SET: Dishes included in the special frog buffet served at Cái Mâm Bistro. Photo courtesy of the restaurant
Frog meat used to be a specialty of the countryside of Việt Nam, but can now be found right in the middle of Hà Nội. There are many other dishes with rural tastes at Cái Mâm Bistro, which means we’ll be back for more. VNS
Cái Mâm Bistro
Add: 7 Lương Văn Can Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hà Nội
Tel: 033 845 1086
Opening hours: 10am-10pm
Comments: Tasty rural food, cosy atmosphere, friendly service