Tuck into a plate full of deep-fried fish bones at this delicious downtown spot, Vy Da Quan. By Dana Filek-Gibson. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Quick: think of the best street food joints in District 1. Most of us can come up with one or two but, by and large, the downtown area tends to be reserved for high-end dining, rooftop bars and other posh venues. While they are less prominent in the city centre than elsewhere, the quans of District 1 are certainly worth their salt, as most of these have managed to withstand the tests of time and rapid development.
On the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Nguyen Trung Truc, Vy Da Quan is no exception. Now in its 15th year on the block, this hole-in-the-wall eatery is owned by a Hue family but bears all the tell-tale signs of a Saigonese establishment, from metal tables and open-air seating to a menu stocked with snails and shellfish, grilled meats and seafood.
As soon as you’ve sat down, place an order for the pork ribs with salt and chilli (VND 70,000), or suon chia nuong muoi ot, a plate of delectable finger-licking Vietnamese-style ribs and one of Vy Da Quan’s best dishes. You’ll want to get a few of these, as portions are on the small side. Tender, seasoned meat falls off the bone and pairs well with a helping of either seafood or Duong Chau fried rice (VND 90,000). To the uninitiated, all fried rice might seem the same but the cooks at this establishment have mastered a subtle balance of soft, fluffy rice and crunchy goodness that makes this basic staple a treat all its own.
That said, Vy Da Quan’s trademark dish – and one you won’t find in many other eateries around town – is the ca da bo nuong muoi ot, or grilled cow skin fish with salt and chilli (market price). Though it can take a while to prepare – expect to wait up to an hour for the whole grilled fish to arrive – it is the most unique dish on the menu and well worth the wait.
After you’ve devoured the savoury dish, pass what’s left on the plate back to the cook, who will deep fry the fish bones in fish sauce, creating a crunchy, tasty, melt-in-your-mouth snack with a flavour something like pumpkin seeds. Prices vary depending upon the current market price, but expect to pay around VND 200,000 for the whole fish.
Thanks to its small size, Vy Da Quan is often full, but the owners speak some English and you can phone to reserve a table ahead of time.