Ho Chi Minh City, the new name for the old city of Saigon, has one of the fastest and largest rising middle-class population in ASEAN. Hence, the dining scene has seen tremendous change since the first time I went there at the turn of the century.
About Cục Gạch Quán
Cục Gạch Quán is the brainchild of architect and interior designer Tran Binh. Raised by her grandmother, whom she supported all her grandchildren through a small street food store selling meals to the neighbourhood, this restaurant is a tribute to the memories of the Tết (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations he had as a child.
In his owns words, “Cuc Gach Quan is the place where sincere, peaceful and quiet souvenirs can be created in a warm and cozy place, where the true values of a “countryman” are reigning under the motto “eat green, live healthy”, every action designed to demonstrate respect to our environment.”
“Mixing the old and the new to comply to today’s convenient use. Imitating my grandmother, I put chopstick in a Lygo-milk old can for clients to pick them before eating; a natural gesture for them as if they were backing home. The glasses were made after duck eggs racks: I kept the global shape and transposed it in a new material changing a bit their size, giving them an odd but close look.”
“When the weather was hot, I can remember my grandmother giving me rice and black beans infusion to drink. Natural and simple, they are considered now as the “drinks to have” following the general trend of a greener life, simple but sophisticated in their preparation process far from the 30-secs gesture of opening an already prepared bottle.”
“My “countryside” restaurant is the very source of my inspiration for architecture. This place settled in a French colonial house is my way to keep a piece of Saigon past. [..] The pond and the Tram trees set in construction pipes looking alike an oasis, giving the feeling to be lost in wild nature far from the city. A wide space. “
“The stairs are difficult to use, I admit my design being wrong something but I didn’t want to cut the wooden pillar so we had to get used to them; that would be my safest justification – a way to invite people to think twice before cutting deep in anything.”
“Imitating my grandmother, my chef prepares home-made tofu, home-made pickles; she serves soya-sauce home-made by Ms. Ba & Ms. Bay for they don’t know how to add preservatives, green beans porridge without taking out beans shells as being afraid of denaturing the tastes; and she doesn’t sell fried-bananas for them to be incentives for clients underlining their “core value”.”
So here’s to good health as we start our culinary journey in his grandmother’s kitchen.
Hoa thiên lý xào tỏi | Stir-fried angelica flowers with garlic
One of my favourite food since childhood, angelica flowers are very difficult to get these days. Also called “midnight fragrance” 夜來香 in Singapore because they blossom at night and give out a really nice smell, they can be harvested before they bloomed and made into omelettes, egg drop soup and salads. Very common in Vietnam, I ate it every meal I was there.
Đậu hũ chiên sả ớt | Fried tofu with lemongrass and chilli
Another simple appetiser while we waited for the main course, the fried tofu was really delicious with the lemongrass.
Nghêu hấp sả | Steamed clams with lemongrass
First of the hot dishes, the steamed clams were really fresh and sweet, and the broth was the highlight of the dish as all the clam juice went into that broth.
The steamed rice (cơm trắng) made its appearance right about now.
Gỏi gà lá cóc | Chicken salad with “toad” leaves
Lá cóc or Amberalla leaves is literally translated as “toad” leaves. But don’t worry, there’s no toad in this delightful little salad made with boiled chicken, onions and lá cóc dressed with lime, lemongrass and chilli. The fruit (Trái Cóc) of the amberalla can also be eaten, and often used as part of a salad; very sour and sometime bitter, an acquired taste but an excellent antioxidant.
Cá hú kho tộ | Braised “howling” fish
Cá hú or Catfish is literarily translated to “howling” fish. They are a very common fish and cheap eat given the numerous freshwater ways in Vietnam. They can be very fatty and have relatively little or soft bones so they are perfect from braising, which is what this dish was. I loved the sweet and savoury sauce, a definite rice killer. And the fish was tender and fatty even after all that braising.
Gỏi cuốn tôm thịt | Shrimps and meat salad rolls
The quintessential dish that forms the impression of Vietnamese cuisine worldwide, but the shrimp and meat salad roll is just one of the many delicious eats Vietnam offers. The peanut sauce (with a few crushed peanuts to warn those with nut allergy) that came with the rolls had a bigger kick than the ones we get at home because of tau chio (fermented soy bean paste) added to it.
Cua lột rang muối | Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crabs
Most of the soft shell crabs we eat in Singapore are imported from Vietnam, so we need to eat fresh. Learn this phrase – Cua lột rang muối (koo-loke-lang-mui) – you will thank me every time you have a cold beer in Saigon.
Rau mướp đắng xào thịt bò | Stir-fried bitter melon with beef
Because my Princess doesn’t like bitter gourd so we don’t cook this at home. Luckily my guests love this bitterness in the melon gourd which paired perfectly with the stir-fry julienned beef fillets.
Lẩu hải sản | Seafood Hotpot
What’s more festive than a hotpot during the New Year celebrations? This is a family tradition (and many other Chinese family traditions) that we gather around a hotpot, cook whatever we like in the boiling broth and enjoy the togetherness as a family. We had not have that experience since the pandemic started, and I am looking forward to the next one. But first, we had one among us.
Very delicious hotpot, we were surprised that after all those food, we managed to chomp down the entire hotpot. Maybe because we needed all those vegetables after a long trip in Vietnam.
Kem chiên giòn | Deep fried ice cream
Even though we were stuffed at this point in the evening, we still ordered a sweet ending to a wonderful night of communal binge eating.
This is the closest you can get to dining in a Vietnamese friend’s home, with the Grandma decking out everything she had in the kitchen. The food was outstanding, the portions were generous, and the ambience out of this world.
English menu available with lots of pictures of popular choices. But to get the best of the bests, you need your Google Translate app handy as the waiters spoke almost no English. If the Japanese and Koreans and other fellow Singaporeans in the restaurant can manage, I am sure you can.
Dinner for 4 persons came up to USD 200++, which is very expensive in Vietnam. But it was worth every bit of hassle and price to get here at least once in your trips to Saigon.
Cục Gạch Quán Restaurant
10 Đặng Tất, Tân Định, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Tel : +84 28 3848 0144
Visited Jul 2022