My idea for this column came while I was watching a food travel show about a guy going to an open market looking for a parasite- or tapeworm-infested piece of meat from a local butchery. I couldn’t believe it when the host said what he was looking for, and I was even more surprised when he found it and swallowed it.
It was just a short highlighted segment and I have no idea what happened in the rest of the show or to the host. Of course, Vietnam has had its fair share of foreign food shows. Most are hosted by people who have never lived in Vietnam and feature novelty dishes few locals ever eat. This includes the skinning of a live snake, drinking its blood with rice wine and swallowing its still-beating heart. Vietnamese are quite civilised and educated, and this is not something they eat on a normal basis. Most actually find it repulsive and I guarantee you will never find it on daily dining tables.
So instead, this column is all about what local people eat every single day throughout the year. I hope one day some of these so-called food experts will highlight Vietnam’s real cuisine, rather than just going for the gross factor. A good example of true local food can be found inside an alley off a T-intersection created by Nguyen Trai, Le Thi Rieng and Ton That Tung streets in District 1. Here you will find Com Tam Kieu Van. I have written about com tam (broken rice) before, but despite this restaurant’s name, it doesn’t focus on com tam.
The menu here is quite extensive and includes: grilled pork chops, caramelised ginger chicken, caramelised fish, chinese sausage, drumstick roti, roasted pork, ground pork omelette, sunny-side up eggs (because they go with everything on the menu), pork egg custard, bi (shredded pork mixed with thinly cooked shredded pork skin) and more.
The caramelised fish (I believe it’s catfish) is one of their best dishes. It is always moist, meaty and the flavour is simply amazing. To me, the ginger chicken, with its rich caramel and ginger sauce, epitomises the principles of Vietnamese cooking.
This is a popular dining spot for small groups because you can order an array of dishes to share and they even give extra helpings of rice if you ask for it. Service is quick and attentive, despite the restaurant’s popularity. Kieu Van serves mainly breakfast and lunch. Despite being in District 1, this is not an easy place to find, but you can always call for delivery.