This is one meal I will have in my food memory bank for a long time. It came highly recommended by my brother-in-law. He was best man at his buddy’s wedding but really wanted us to check this place out. He even listed the must-try dishes for us. Cuc Gach Quan is one of the city’s hidden gems, literally. We had the taxi driver take us to the converted triple storey terrace house.
We arrived early around 7pm and the ground floor dining area was already abuzz with locals tucking in to home-style Vietnamese food. The restaurant is quirkily set up with mis-matched tables, chairs and stools. We were ushered to the top floor via a mini bridge over an indoor pond, up a flight of super steep steps surrounded by hanging pots of fresh herbs.
The funky top floor consisted of an array of wooden tables, chairs, couches and a huge wooden bed in the middle of the room, complete with antique lamps, fans and old-style crockery stacked in a corner. It felt like you were eating at grandma’s house.
The food, as is the decor, is a true representation of “home style”. The dishes were rustic, simple and absolutely delicious. We picked from the list of recommended dishes and they all turned out to be winners.
Fried fish with green mango. Crispy fish pieces with a tangy, salty, fish-sauced based dressing and a generous topping of fresh green mango. Top marks for texture and flavour! Hubby who’s not a fan of fish with bones still intact, loved the mango and dressing while I savoured every piece of delicious fish.
Crispy tofu with lemongrass and chilli. See those bits? They were crunchy bits of fried lemongrass and chilli. The tofu was fried to perfection – crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. The lemongrass and chilli crumble were the stars of the dish though. They were fragrant and tasty and went really well with the neutral taste of tofu. I couldn’t stop till every little lemongrass crumb was consumed.
Stir fried zucchini flowers. Never tried zucchini flowers cooked this way before. I’ve only tried the Italian style stuffed deep fried flowers. The zucchini flowers were much smaller, and very tender. This dish was fresh and simple. No sign of garlic or any other aromatics, just a plate of wonderfully cooked vegetables. I could eat this all day.
Sour clam soup with dill. This changed my world. It was refreshing, with a great balance of tartness and sweetness. The surprise ingredient in this was the fresh green starfruit. Not something we can get easily in Australia, but as I learnt in a cooking class later (post coming soon), the starfruit can be substituted with pineapple. This is to-die-for.
Aside from the wonderful and delicious food, there’s also a theme of reuse and recycle. No, no, not the food – all that is fresh and served only once! No recycling there. I was referring to the pre-loved furniture (think antique, but not quite as polished), the crockery (most were chipped and old, but they weren’t too grubby), and if you ordered a cold drink, in place of the regular plastic drinking straw, you get a trimmed stem of a water spinach plant (kang kong)! All nature friendly and very exciting for a first timer like me.
If you’re ever in Ho Chi Minh City, this place is a must. Loved, loved, loved it!
Cuc Gach Quan
10 Dang Tat Dinh, Q.1
Sai Gon, Viet Nam.