Tofu-centric Vietnamese food in the middle of District 2. By Michael Tatarski. Photos by Fred Wissink.
Located on one of the more Vietnamese streets in leafy District 2, Quan Mama Lam offers an affordable escape from the excellent, but often expensive, restaurants in its neighbourhood. The layout is simple, with a minimally-decorated, open-air ground floor and terrace featuring wood tables and chairs. The open kitchen means you can watch the staff prepare your food.
The family-run restaurant’s focus is freshly-made tofu, which forms the core of the menu, only available in Vietnamese. An entire page is devoted to tofu dishes, including tofu with lemongrass, seafood, fried with mayonnaise, or hamburger sauce. An extensive selection of shellfish and clams is also available, along with the usual assortment of refreshments, tea and coffee. The cooks seem to specialise in a number of fairly rare dishes as well, as there were a number of names I didn’t recognise even after living here for three years.
We started with the bun dau mam tom (VND 25,000), a simple dish of fresh tofu served with bun noodles, herbs and soy sauce. The silky tofu nearly melts in your mouth. My favourite way to eat this dish was to wrap a few mint leaves around a piece of tofu and a chunk of bun, and then dip it into chilli-infused soy.
Next up was the dau hu sot cam (VND 45,000), or tofu with orange sauce. I hadn’t seen tofu prepared this way before, and was unsure of what to expect. The result was excellent, with the sauce providing a tangy, slightly-sweet flavour in contrast to the neutral taste of tofu.
Finally we tried the sup dau hu nam chay (VND 50,000), a generous bowl of soup filled with tofu, mushrooms, and bits of clam meat. Similar to the soup often served at Vietnamese weddings, this dish was nicely flavoured, and isn’t too heavy for a hot day.
Quan Mama Lam isn’t your usual District 2 restaurant, and that is part of its appeal. Pay it a visit if you’re looking for something different from the typical international cuisine suspects across the river. The homemade tofu is also on sale on its own, so customers can enjoy it at home as well.