I have been in Vietnam for 15 years and I have visited many cities throughout this awesome country. Despite the many wonderful places I have seen, I still consider Ho Chi Minh City my favourite, as it happens to be my current home. Why is it my favourite city, you ask? Well, I love the people, the energy and the food. The city still surprises me.
And what surprises me, exactly? Just when I thought I had found two of the oldest continuous family-owned-and-operated restaurants in town (Restaurant Thien Nam, 1961, and Chuyen Ky Restaurant, 1948), I happened to stumble across Quan An Tan Sanh Hoat. I don’t have a clue as to the meaning of the restaurant’s name, but its old sign in District 3 caught my eye, and it was somehow inviting.
Tan Sanh Hoat is a small, modest Cantonese establishment run by a gentleman, Mr Phuc, and his wife. Now, this is what surprises me: Mr Phuc’s father opened the restaurant 80 years ago in 1934, during the French colonialist era. You can feel the energy from the blend of young and old employees. One of the servers told us she has been working there for over 20 years.
The inside is airy, noisy, crowded and clean, and the staff is friendly. It’s the perfect environment for a local eatery. Don’t expect tablecloths and fine china, but instead homemade dim sum served like kimchi on mini plates upon arrival. You choose which ones you want because they charge you for each dim sum plate. Assorted items such as steamed buns, ha cao (steamed shrimp dumplings), xiu mai (pork dumplings) and chicken feet are not bad, but they are better known for their old-style noodle soups.
These include hu tieu (white flat noodles), mi (egg noodles), mi hoanh thanh (noodles with wontons), mi sui cao (noodles with prawn dumplings) and bun gao (stir-fried vermicelli). The broth normally determines good noodle dishes and their broth is probably the best I have had since I’ve been in Vietnam. They have a steady crowd throughout the day, so try to come during off-peak hours. I’m not sure if they deliver, but I’ve seen many come and order takeaway.
In the era of fast, instant and processed food, it is nice and comforting to find a place that takes pride in hand-producing all their food – it makes the taste all the more memorable and delicious.