Located on the left of Pinam 49, a new restaurant plaza in Sukhumvit Soi 49, Saigon Recipe is set in a purpose‑built three story building. It is easy to find as it has a cyclo, the Vietnamese trishaw where the driver sits behinds the passengers, parked out front. The dining area is on the ground floor with a terrace balcony on the first floor and a function cum overspill space up on the second floor. The decor captures the era of the Vietnam War the walls are painted in colonial French yellow with framed historical posters on the walls and the owner’s collection of vibrant colored Hoi An silk lamp shades hanging from the ceiling.
The restaurant, which opened in November 2012, is owned by a Japanese-Vietnamese couple. Husband Masaya Ishibashi worked in Saigon in the fashion jewelery business for 12 years before moving to Bangkok six years ago. His only previous hospitality experience was working as a waiter while at university. His wife Thuy Tien comes from Saigon. After much searching for authentic southern Vietnamese in Bangkok, all she could find were dishes compromised by Thai flavors. Anxious to show what her native cuisine is really like, she brought two Vietnamese chefs to Bangkok, one from Saigon and the other from Hoi An to prepare food with an authentic flavor and texture.
Although most ingredients are sourced locally, some things are imported. “It’s hard to find rice paper of a consistent thickness in Bangkok,” says Masa, “so Thuy brings it back with her every month from Saigon together with Vietnamese shrimp paste. While the style of Vietnamese fish sauce may give more purity to the authenticity of the taste of our food, its too bulky to hand carry so we use the best quality fish sauce that we can find in Thailand.”
The menu is published in Thai, English Vietnamese and Japanese with photos of each dish. The first dish we tasted was Cuốn Saigon Recipe, vegetable rolls in egg coated rice paper served with home-made sauce. Next came, Bánh cuốn nhân thập cẩm, steamed rice crepes filled with seasoned ground pork, minced shrimp and wood ear mushrooms served with a fish sauce, lemon juice and sugar dressing, followed by Bánh cuốn trứng, egg filled steamed rice crepes. I was then served Gỏi cuốn fresh salad rolls with shrimp & pork. Then by way of a contrast, we were served, Chả giò chiên, fried spring rolls served with fresh herbs and Chả giò hải sản, fried spring rolls with shrimp mushroom and taro to show the diversity of filling that go into Vietnamese spring rolls.
As we enjoyed ourselves, we were shown that Vietnamese like to wrap cooked items with lettuce, rice paper and fresh herb, first with Nem nướng, BBQ pork meatballs and then with Chạo tôm, charcoal grilled shrimp cake wrapped onto a stick of sugar cane. Interestingly, our Cuốn diếp, was a mustard lettuce roll with shrimp, pork and rice noodles accompanied with peanut sauce. We found a possible French influence in Bánh xèo tôm hịt, a crispy rice pancake – reminiscent of a French crepe – filled with shrimp, minced pork and bean sprouts.
As we finished our rolls and crepe-like dishes, we decided our authentic southern Vietnamese food had emphasized fresh ingredients complemented by a wealth of subtle flavors in the dips and sauces. There was light, crisp freshness about it that we found very appealing.
For dessert we had, Bánh gan, Vietnamese crème caramel, a twist on the French classic using coconut milk to make the custard in the pudding, served with a deliciously rich caramel sauce.
Coffee was planted in by the French in 1857 in Vietnam and is today the world’s second largest producer after Brazil. It’s therefore only fitting to end the meal with a cup of their excellent Vietnamese coffee. Typically the coffee is prepared in single servings in single-cup metal filter/brewers known as phin. Generally the coffee is served table-side while it is still brewing. The use of sweetened condensed milk rather than fresh milk was first due to its availability and easier storage in a tropical climate. The condensed milk serves to sweeten the coffee as well. In Vietnam, a cup of coffee is nearly always accompanied by a cup of hot or cold tea.
Not only is the food at Saigon Recipe affordably priced, but so are their wines with prices by the bottle ranging from THB 700-1,000.
“Having established an authentic southern Vietnamese taste, ” says Masa, “we are now going to focus on fine tuning the details. It’s a never ending task to deliver the most authentic taste possible. This can only be done by constantly making minor adjustments to always make the food better.”
46/5 Sukhumvit Soi 49,
Tel 02-662-6311, www.saigon-recipe.com
Mon-Fri, lunch 11am-3pm, dinner 5-10pm
Weekends and Public Holidays 11am-10pm
Average Price THB 400
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