Make a worthy trek to District 5 for two-tiered grills that not only utilise meat grease but a myriad of must-try sauces at this hotpot hot spot. By Ruben Luong. Photos by Kendra Bernard.
The anticipation that ordinarily precedes an epic party is the same kind of excitement that should come before hotpot with friends, especially if it takes place at District 5’s streetside Quan Thai Lan 5.
We arrived there one by one to experience the quan’s Thai hotpot, which is two-tiered and consists of a top grill where a cook inevitably extracts juices that filter below to a rimmed hotpot where a customised broth gradually stews.
You know the party has begun when the servers walk over to your table to cater to your group, offering massive metal trays laden with assorted hotpot ingredients.
Guests first choose the desired noodles and vegetables (around VND 10,000-30,000/plate). Basic ramen and vermicelli pair well with veggies like pumpkin flower buds – a crowd-pleaser – tofu and morning glory. Enoki mushrooms in particular were touted for their guaranteed deliciousness.
Then comes plated towers of crimson raw meats and opal seafoods for the picking (around VND 60,000-100,000/portion) that made everyone at our table ravenous. Our favourites, the plump octopus and thin strips of pork bacon, were cooked nice and crispy.
And they were soon gone before we knew it. Perhaps this is because the cook pre-greases the grill-cum-hotpot with pork fat before artfully arranging the meats and veggies around the outer edge, ultimately adding more addictive flavour where it is deserved.
But it was most certainly the spread of at least six types of colourful sauces containing various blends of fish sauce, chilli, tamarind and sesame oil that made the meal fun and entertaining.
Our cook was friendly and advised us which sauces to dip our meats into to ensure the perfect harmony of flavours. We dipped the bacon, for example, in a maple-like glaze that melted in our mouths and elevated the charred flavour with a bit of zest.
The veggies and noodles were also made piquant, as they were later drenched in a sweet and sour combination of the sauces, then served hot on plates ready to be eaten with the meats. The broth, which was actually sweet even after the meats were cooked, is enjoyed afterwards.
It helps to have a grasp of Vietnamese while eating here, but it’s also fine to point at what you want. Morever, Quan Thai Lan 5 is tricky to find. Look for it across the street from Hung Vuong Square or between Nguyen Duy Duong and Nguyen Tri Phuong Streets.