A rainy afternoon in Saigon is a great time to enjoy nem cua and bun cha, dishes born in the more wintry climate of northern Vietnam.
Nem restaurant on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street in Ho Chi Minh City offers only two dishes: bun cha (grilled pork meat served with rice vermicelli, fresh herbs and sweet and sour sauce) and nem cua (crab fried square spring rolls) .
They are both signature dishes from Northern Vietnam. Bun cha is a Hanoi speciality and nem cua is a famous dish from coastal Hai Phong.
For around VND100,000 per person, one can try a dish of bun cha and nem cua and a drink such as tra da (iced tea) or lemon juice.
This two-storey restaurant is always crowded with both Vietnamese and foreign customers. And even though it’s full, one does not have to wait long to be served. This is one of the advantages of coming to a restaurant that serves only two dishes.
Bun cha at Nem restaurant comes in two different styles of grilled pork -- one with ground meat and another with sliced meat marinated with different spices. The dish is served with very soft rice vermicelli, a variety of herbs and lettuce.
The sweet and sour sauce made of nuoc mam (fish sauce) is quintessentially Hanoian, with its minced raw garlic that adds a light spice and special fragrance to the dish.
But nem cua is perhaps the most special dish for southerners here . In Ho Chi Minh City, there are many bun cha restaurants but fewer that serve nem cua.
123 Bui Thi Xuan
106 Giang Vo
In Ho Chi Minh City
15 E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan
Nem cua is different from other kinds of Northern nem (fried spring rolls), which are traditionally long and cut into bite-size pieces with scissors. The nem cua at this restaurant is square and much more bulky. It is cut into four pieces when served.
As the dish is cooked to order, it arrives very fresh and hot. This is appropriate, as northerners customarily like to enjoy hot dishes such as this one on cold winter days.
The dish has an interesting texture of crunchy fried rice cover. Inside it, there is a thick mixture of crab meat, mien (casava vermicelli), shallots, mushrooms, ground pork, and egg. There are also small pieces of thin papaya in the nuoc mam sauce, which adds even more crunch to the dish.
If you are a fan of rich, flavourful dishes with a delicate balance of different tastes, Nem restaurant is a good option.