Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Nha Trang Vietnamese Restaurant, Hong Kong


I first got into Vietnamese food in a really big way - and I mean consuming-copious-amount-of-pho-on-a-weekly basis-for-a-year kind of a big way - in, of all places, Honolulu, Hawaii.  That's because it was the only authentic Asian fix I could get in the Aloha State, which is ironic for a bunch of islands most noted for its high ethnically Asian-originated population.  However, a whole lot of their current Chinese and even Japanese restaurants have been watered down throughout the generations, and they've also rather unfortunately adapted to Western tastes to the point that the cuisine is not really all that recognizable anymore.  Familiar, sort of.  Authentic, not so much.  But for some reason, to my very rudimentary knowledge at the time, Vietnamese food in Honolulu was still pretty much left as they were.  And hence, my first real education in northern and southern Viet cuisine, with their liberal use of shallots, fresh vegetables, clear broths, and more herbs that I can possibly name, began.
Gui Cuon or summer rolls: Rice paper-thin rolls that often include shrimp, herbs, pork, rice vermicelli
and other ingredients wrapped up and dipped in nuoc cham or peanut sauce.
Super healthier alternative to their deep-fried cousins: the spring roll.
When I got to Hong Kong, there was no shortage of eateries with soupy noodles (still one of my favourit-est comfort foods,) but what I was really hankering for was good pho (the noodle soup with a rich, clear broth made from meat - generally beef - and spices,) gui cuon or summer rolls, banh xeo / savoury crepes and banh cuon (rice flour rolls stuffed with ground pork, prawns, and assorted green vegetables.)  So that was a really fortuitous day, in my gastronomic wai sek world, when I found, whilst strolling down Wellington Street one fine day in Central, Nha Trang Vietnamese Restaurant. 
Pho with shaved-thin slices of medium rare beef.
I've since found another of its outlets a bit closer to home in Wanchai.  Like its sister restaurant in Central, this one fills up fast.  I mean, the place opens at noon, and there was already a long line of hungry pho-philes outside, with me right in the mix.  Now, aside from the pho (and if you're not a beef-eater, your loss,) there's a fine selection of wraps and crepes to sample.  I'm particularly partial to banh xeo which are crepes made from rice flour batter with a touch of coconut milk and curry, and filled with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and, again, a whole lot of fresh herbs.
Order this banh xeo - a particularly tasty rice flour crepe with a lot of goodness inside
I have to admit, one of the reasons why I like banh cuon so much is because it reminds me of the Malaysian chee cheong fun, another form of steamed rice flour rolls, only the former is waaaaay more tastier that its southern neighbour's offering.  The killer edge? Has to be that divine dipping sauce - nuoc cham - which is a divine blend of lime or lemon juice, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and water.
Banh cuon: not for those with peanut or shrimp allergies.

Nha Trang Vietnamese Restaurant
88-90 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.  Telephone: +852 2581 9992
2/F Wu Chung House, 213 Queen’s Road East, Wanchai, Hong Kong. Telephone +852 2891 1177
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