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Street-free streetfood stunna

Qn-retstaurant-interior

Quan An Ngon at 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 1 brings streetstalls in off the streets, dresses them up fancy, doubles the street price and hauls in punters by the hundredweight. The result is an illustration of the overwhelming appeal of street nosh. This place has around 400 seats and you'll be lucky to find one free at lunchtime or dinner. The owner, purportedly a savvy Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese), had a superb idea - Scour the streets, find the best dishes out there, the best street chefs cooking those dishes, offer them a gig at a new restaurant and a regular, reliable wage. Bingo, Quan An Ngon was born in 2001. The owner recruited 20 or more cooks this way and each serves their own speciality inside Quan An Ngon.

Qn-shrimp-bread-stall

I have a feeling the real draw is the fact that diners can peruse the stalls that line the perimeter of this indoor/outdoor restaurant - which is a bit of a courtyard-come-temple if you know what I mean - and get a sanitized sense of street eats without having to actually step foot in the gutter themselves - God forbid. I am a big fan, it must be said. I've never had anything I would call total crap here, but there are some dishes that are noticeably better than others. And I had two pipin' hot hits on this visit.

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First up is Chao luon (Rice porridge with eel) costs 17,000VD. Chao comes in several varieties, (Ga) chicken, (Muc) squid, (Vit) duck, (Tom) shrimp, (Ca) fish and (Long) offal. Chao luon is probably not the first choice of many in 31 degrees of sticky Saigon pre-rainy season heat, in an outdoor restaurant, with a limited number of fans, sitting under parasols and banana trees... but... I have a heavy Chao Luon habit to feed and, to my mind, this joint serves up porridge perfection.

Qn-chao-luon-closeup

There are two types of Chao Luon. One is the freshly exterminated eel cooked in with the porridge variety - this one can be a touch fiddly in the bone department. The other is the luon chien (fried) variety - the eel is deep-fried in a very light batter and thrown into the hot porridge just before serving. That's the way I prefer it and that's the way Quan An Ngon dish it up. It's the porridge that takes the time, 3 to 8 hours simmering or until the rice is mushy and it... err... looks like porridge. Season, throw in the eels, splash of deep fried shallots, herbage, a side of quai (fried bread stick), half a lemon, chili sauce and you're ready. It's the slightly crispy texture of the fried eels combined with the smooth warmth of the porridge and a biting combo of pepper and chili that keeps me craving more. It's simply yum.

Qn-btht-dish

Next up is a northern dish Banh Tom Ho Tay (Fried shrimp cakes) costs 14,000VD. Ho Tay is West Lake in Hanoi (that's the big lake to the north end of Hanoi) and there's one restaurant on Ho Tay called, imaginatively enough, Banh Tom Ho Tay and it's supposedly THE restaurant for this dish. I've been there several times, it's a tatty spot serving naff food. Quan An Ngon does the dish better. Plus, there are no rats, no crappy chairs, no knackered tables, no hordes of roaring drunks or floors littered with dinner debris. Quan An Ngon is civilised.

Qn-btht-closeup

The shrimps are deep-fried in a light batter with slices of sweet potato served on a bed of lettuce and herbs with a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip with sliced carrots, chilis and su su. It's crunchtatsic fun, I am a repeat offender - doesn't matter what I order at Quan An Ngon, I always seem to have room to squeeze in some Banh Tom at the end. Naughty.

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» Lunchtime in Saigon from kottke.org
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Comments

Was just there for lunch on Sunday.

Great, but details, details shiewie. What, how much and was it any good? Or do we have to wait till you get back home?
Have a good trip.

It was a very good trip, thanks.

Quan An Ngon on a Sunday afternoon is hot, hot, hot. Hrmppph...I was left to mind the table while the others had wandered off to look at the stalls outside and ordered as they browsed (they also forgot what they ordered exactly...sigh) so I only got to choose a couple of items.

We ended up with:
- lotus stem salad with shrimp, pork and rice crackers;
(Thought the dressing was a touch too sweet compared to the last time I had the same salad there)
- broken rice with fried pork cutlet and shredded pork skin;
(I love the rice in Vietnam - was tempted to buy a bag of rice back. The pork cutlet was a bit dry though)
- a spicy soupy bun with with pork ribs and coagulated blood;
(It was nice but the soup didn't quite pack enough oomph)
- a chao luon;
(Errr - at least I think it was eel - as there were some dark fishy crunchy lumps. Guess I'm used to a chinese rice porridge so tossing in the lime and chilli sauce seemed a bit strange to me)
- fix-your-own grlled pork patties salad rolls with rice paper, rice vermicelli, salad (lettuce, slices of young eggplant, slices of green starfruit, cucumber, pineapple) and herbs; and
(Had a chao tom at Ngu Vien that night with similar fixins - like the dressing at Ngu Vien better - the flavours were more delicately balanced and the veggies seemed fresher)
- a plain bahn mi with fried eggs (not what I would have chosen).

We also had 5 drinks - a coconut juice, a couple of glasses soya bean curd with coconut juice and crunchy bits of sugar at the bottom and a couple of pomelo juice. The pomelo juice was an excellent thirst quencher - icy, tangy, refreshing - simply perfect for a hot afternoon.

Have pictures of some of the items - will try to load them on e-gullet.

I was peering at what the next table was eating (as usual)- there was this interesting mixed rice, herb and salad combo - tried to ask one of trendy young Vietnamese guys with tinted reddish brown hair at the table what it was but one of them said he wasn't sure himself, just that it was something very traditional and so he was trying it.

I was tempted to point at it and ask the waiter to bring me one of those but we had already ordered way too much food.

Our bill came up to approxomately 161,000VND, approximately USD10 - I usually convert it back to ringgit or USD so I sometimes forget the exact amount in VND.

My mum and sister loved it (but then they liked every place we went ate at in Saigon). I think Quan An Ngon is great in that one can get all the street foods in one place... in a very civilized atmosphere no less. However, I'd have to agree with ecr that better versions exist at the street stalls.

Plenty to chew on there Shiewie, thanks a bundle. Will be looking out for a Pomelo juice, don't think I've tried that one. You're right the dark crunchy bits in the Chao Luon was eel. Some folk really don't like the taste of it, but I am a fan. Looking forward to reading more on egullet when you have the time. Glad you had a good time.

I don't remember in which post you ask to help with the name of the herb in Vietnamese and English. I came across this page http://www.nre.vic.gov.au/trade/asiaveg/thes-00.htm
Have fun surfing and munching!

Chao Ba
Xin Ba chi cho toi cach lam "Banh da lon nuoc dua" Cam on nhieu Mai
email ::: maiminh@excite.com

"chao" in English is congee, not porridge.

so "chao ga" is chicken congee not chicken porridge

I try to stop by Quan An Ngon for lunch at least once every week if only as an excuse to have a che suong sa hot luu. It's listed as a dessert, but I think of it as a drink that requires the aid of a spoon. It's one of the most delicious concoctions I've ever had and contains, according to the menu, milk, tapioca pearls, pearl grass jelly, and gelatin. And whatever that yellowish crumbly stuff is that's on the bottom of the glass.

I think Quan An Ngon is one of the best local vietnamese food I have ever had since I came to Vietnam 2 years ago. I have tasted food in Hanoi (while working there)and the the food in Saigon as well. This restaurant combined the whole Vietnam food into one menu. That's interesting!But most important is the food taste good. We had the Banh Xeo (Big Egg Pancake), Xoi (sticky rice with pork floss), Bun Cha (Grilled Pork meat with local noodle) and a cup of creamy Che (local dessert). That's really good and the price is reasonable. I think everyone should give it a try...as for me, I will try as many times as I can while I'm in HCMC. But, be prepared to wait for a seat!

What other good restaurant to eat in Vietnam similar to Quan An Ngon in Saigon D1

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