Masterchef at Quán Bụi in HCMC, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon- the city still happily goes by both names- is a surprisingly advanced city, a modern Asian Tiger. Wide boulevards, generous public spaces, landscaping, cleanliness and well designed buildings feature prominently in District 1, the central and oldest quarter of HCMC. It’s a relief to find wide footpaths that are pedestrian friendly, one way streets, traffic lights, at least in District 1, which makes walking a pleasure.

Thee centre of Ho Chi inh C
The centre of Ho Chi Minh City.

The restaurant scene here is undergoing a renaissance. Many expensive restaurants offer refined versions of Vietnamese cuisine, alongside the usual internationally acclaimed restaurants you would expect to find in a modern Asian capital city. Leading the way, in terms of modernising Vietnamese classic cuisine at an affordable price, is the restaurant Quán Bụi. The goal of the owner, Danh Tran, is to provide casual dining ,offering high quality Vietnamese food, with daily sourced healthy ingredients, in a stylish environment. Quán Bụi opened in 2011 and now has four branches around the city. We lunched at the relatively new branch at 39 Ly Tu Tong, district 1. It is situated on the second floor and is a little tricky to find.

Goi (salad) is a popular starter in Vietnamese cuisine. Goi generally consists of one main ingredient such as cabbage or morning glory and is topped by fried onions or peanuts then mixed with meat or seafood and herb leaves. The composition is then gently tossed with a dressing made from vinegar, sugar, spice and seasoning, as well as the all important ingredient, fish sauce, the ‘invisible enhancer’. Fish sauce is either incorporated in the dressing or comes as a side dish.

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Mango and shrimp salad

We begin with a mango and dried shrimp salad, a huge serve and a little different from the Thai version. The mango was grated, as in Thai papaya salad, but the fruit was riper, then tossed with rehydrated dried prawns, mint, nuts and jellied fish, the latter an intriguing element.

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Goi- a great starter.

An unusual version of deep fried tofu arrives topped with crispy fried fresh coconut. The overall flavour is sweet, an unusual sensation in a main course, providing a counterbalance to the other bitter or spicy dishes. Mr T shoved some fresh chilli in the middle of his tofu cubes, a habit he picked up in Java, Indonesia.

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Fried tofu with coconut

The eggplant dish was described as chargrilled, and I was hoping for a smokier flavour in this dish, similar to the Thai version. Stripped of skin, the young green eggplants were grilled, then topped with fried nuts, herbs and dressing.

Grilled eggplant
Grilled eggplant

White or brown steamed rice are offered as an accompaniment. Washed down with a few beers, five Saigon beers to be precise, the total came to around VND 500,000/ AU$30. Expect to pay more for fish or meat based meals. Wine is by the glass or bottle and is imported. The serves are generous and the setting is stylish with enough ombra to suggest a hint of Graham Greene.

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The chef is Thanh Cuong who won the Masterchef Vietnam series in 2015. I hope to try at least two more branches of Quan Bai before leaving Vietnam. This food is clean, beautifully presented and traditional with a modern twist.

http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/art-entertainment/148720/hcm-city-based-cook-wins-masterchef-vietnam-2015.html

Header photo taken from a wall in Quán Bụi, First Floor, 39 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, HCMC

17 thoughts on “Masterchef at Quán Bụi in HCMC, Vietnam”

  1. I didn’t realise it was such a modern city either. What lovely, lovely food and eaten in surroundings with a hint of Graham Greene – romantic as well as delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jan, I plan to do a bit ore strolling around HCMC tmw. As far as big modern Asian cities go, it is quite appealing. Mr T is always trying to be Graham Greene in the quiet American… dark room, fan, smoke…

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  2. So many positives about this post. The pics, the mood, the narrative and of course the location. Still slumping and sighing even though HCMC wasn’t on my top 10 list. You however, always seem to project a vision of things I missed and make them so appealing.

    Like

  3. The food at HCMC looks wonderful and that restaurant seems to have a wonderful ambience and decor. Must get there soon Francesca – will do north and south when we go. The only thing I don’t like is fish sauce so would want that put on the side. The peeled eggplants with nuts atop look inviting in the pics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The food was sensational- I went back 4 more times , trying to work my way through the menu. Yes, things are developing rapidly at HCMC. Many of the old buildings are coming down, as the city begins to go high rise. The centre has retained old French buildings and/or facades.

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