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By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, July 5, 2014
WHAT’S more fun than being with people who love to eat. And talk and write about it. Food always gets people together. Good food gets people to talk and write about it.
It was a Wednesday evening when I and some blogger friends revisited Saigon Café at Barangay Bata for a Vietnamese dinner. The owners Sylvia and her friend cum business partner Andrew were very busy in the kitchen. They must have anticipated a horde of patrons making a beeline for this unpretentious restaurant that was set up almost two years ago in Sylvia’s front yard.
Saigon Café has been serving the Vietnamese staple Pho Bo, the famous noodle soup every Friday evening. It takes many hours to get the flavors to blend that’s why Sylvia cooks pho only once a week. It’s really no problem for us. In fact, newly added dishes to the expanding menu were what we were curious about.
Take for example the banh mi or baguette sandwich. The bread is Vietnam’s legacy from the French but the filling is all Vietnamese healthy goodness with cucumber, chives, carrots, and sweetened meat slices. An order is two pieces which is better on the conscience when shared. The baguette is made by a Vietnamese, too, so it’s the next best thing to being in a Saigon bakery.
We loved the Vegetable Spring Roll. Julliened raw vegetables are wrapped in a translucent Vietnamese rice wrapper and served with peanut sauce. It is filling but not heavy on the stomach. This is a dieter’s dream but a carnivore’s nightmare.
Carnivores will like the Thit Kho Nuoc Dua or Pork Stewed in Buko Juice which is a rice topping, and Pork Belly in Plum Sauce. The latter is for carnivores who like it hot. The plum sauce looks innocuous but beware if you can’t stand spicy food. Yet, you can always temper the spiciness of the dish with Vietnamese Fried Rice. Both dishes need to be shared.
The surprise of the evening was the Balut in Sweet Chili Sauce which I especially requested from Sylvia to serve us. As a balut-lover, this one is an amazing way to cook it. The balut was made heavenly by the sauce on which it lay. As Joseph exclaimed that night, it had a flavor that he couldn’t comprehend. It just was delicious. This dish has been on the menu probably since Saigon Café opened, but for me, balut was just balut until that night. Next time, I should make “ballot” some to take out.
As usual, we had bunh tit, a vegetable-and-noodle soup with slivers of meat. Fresh herbs, chili and oyster sauce go with it. Some herbs take getting used to, though. For example, the kind of coriander used was naughtily christened “sabor tanga” by someone in the group. But for me, it tasted more like buyo, the heart-shaped leaf that is paired with betelnut.
For those who do not know yet about Saigon Café, it would be interesting to check it out. The ride going there could be long (go to Marapara Golf Club, don’t enter it but go straight a bit and turn at the left corner). The food is not heavy on the pocket, the ambience is very homey, and you can let your hair down there, which we did. Good food and company and Vietnamese Iced Coffee to keep the good times going.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 05, 2014.