From Noodles to Spring Rolls and Where the Pho is a Sure Thing in London, Ontario
By BRYAN LAVERY
The genius of Vietnamese cooking lies in the adaptation of foreign influences to develop a distinctly unique and subtle cuisine with contrasting flavours and textures. Sour flavours are balanced by salty ones, and sweet notes are tempered by heat from chilies and ground pepper. There is a dependence on rice; noodles figure prominently, a profusion of fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables with a minimal use of oil. As in China and East Asia, the Vietnamese serve their rice in bowls with chopsticks. Meat is an accompaniment rather than a central offering.
The Vietnamese custom of wrapping fresh rolls and spring rolls in lettuce leaves and fresh herbs are a remnant of the original cultures that occurred before centuries of Chinese influence. The wide-ranging tastes found in Vietnamese cuisine are credited to the influences of various foreigners that once occupied the country as well as inspiration from its neighbours. The Chinese contributed many culinary techniques including their art of stir-frying using the wok; the French left their traditions and penchant for aromatic filtered coffee with condensed milk and crème caramel, scented ingredients like lemongrass were embraced from the Thai culinary repertoire; and the spicing techniques and aromatic infusions of curry-inspired recipes are suggestive of India. That is the short-list.
Pho a popular street food in Vietnam whose origin is the subject of scholarly debate is a deeply-flavoured broth with long rice noodles, fresh herbs and thin slices of meat most often accompanied with a side of bean sprouts, peppers and lime wedges. Pho has become the mainstay of many local Vietnamese restaurants. In London, students have given Ben Thanh and Pho Haven cult-status popularity due to Pho’s meal-in-a-bowl popularity and its relative affordability.
CH-HI VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
CHI HI VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
The Old East Village has added another new contender to its burgeoning “foodscape” and the restaurant has added Vietnamese cuisine to the increasing culinary options in the area. CHI HI (translation - eldest sister) is the most recent food business to open its doors, in the OEV, just west of Rectory and beside True Taco. We have eaten there several times and have enjoyed the food and friendly service. The traditional Vietnamese fare includes: black bean tofu subs, beef subs, pad Thai, vegetarian Singapore noodles, black bean tofu vermicelli and beef noodle brisket soup. The restaurant also serves banh mi. This sandwich is a creation of French colonialism in Indochina, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, cold meats and mayonnaise) with Vietnamese ingredients , such as chilli peppers, hot sauce, cilantro and pickled carrots.
CHI-HI SALAD TRIO
Sarah Merritt, Manager of the Old East Village BIA believes the renaissance in the area can be credited to entrepreneurs like the Huynh family who have seen the opportunity in the OEV and invested. “Good business people and in the case of CHI HI – good cooks too – are enticing customers to come and try the phenomenal meals. The OEV has such an eclectic mix of food styles and menus that diners are very pleased with the options and the tasting outcomes.” Merritt also says the spacing of the food businesses and restaurants on Dundas Street is creating a very walk- able food district.
791 Dundas St, London. 519-601-8448 email@example.com
The CHI HI is open WEEKDAYS 11 AM TO 9 PM and FRIDAY AND SATURDAY until 10 pm. – CLOSED SUNDAY.
THE VIETNAM RESTAURANT
Speaking of the Old East Village, my introduction to pho and subsequent comparisons are based on the delicious concoctions that have a sweet undertone accompanied by thin slices of rare beef which they have been serving at The Vietnam since my first visit twenty years ago. Located across from Kellogg’s, Long Duc Ngo is the welcoming hands-on proprietor of this long established Vietnamese restaurant since 1994. The kitchen offers a selection of accessibly priced noodle, rice and soup dishes. The substantive menu includes: superb spring rolls, pho, sizzling hot pots, and many seafood and chicken dishes. Favourites include: Pho Dac Biet the signature combination beef, rice noodle broth with rare and brisket beef, beef balls and tripe with fresh herbs. The cold rice paper roll known as goi cuon is a perennial favourite. It is comprised of noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and Thai basil, making this savoury easy to dip in a thick sauce of peanuts and soya.
1074 Dundas St, London
519 - 457-0762
TUESDAY – THURSDAY 11 AM TO 9 PM
FRIDAY 11 AM TO 9 PM
SATURDAY 12 PM TO 10 PM
SUNDAY 12 PM TO 9 PM
Thuận KiềuEstablished in 1996, Thuận Kiều, family- owned and operated has developed a devoted fan base over the years for its hands-on approach.
1275 Highbury Ave N., London
For well over a decade, the family-run, Quynh Nhi, has garnered a loyal patronage and prospered because of its responsive service, consistency and good Vietnamese food. The restaurant is situated off the beaten path in a forty-seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family-run business operated by their large extended family.
55 Wharncliffe Road N., London
Spring Rolls at Tamarine
TAMARINE BY QUYNH NHI
Tamarine by Quynh Nhi is the sibling restaurant and the evolution of the venerated Quynh Nhi. The modernist cuisine is stylish, updated and pushes culinary confines without betraying the tenets of traditional Vietnamese cookery. This is the new wave of Vietnamese cuisine that has undergone a coherent development, it has a technical almost architectural articulation and the chefs are concerned with creativity and innovation.
This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host.
Menu offerings are intended to be mixed and paired in ways that harmonize and contrast flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour. The kitchen is known for its interpretation of the pervasive Pad Thai, which in this case has been elevated by the kitchen’s deft touch with seasonings. Quynh and Nhi combine fresh ingredients with traditional seasonings to construct offerings designed to encourage communal dining.
From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.
The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.
"Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved," says, Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our Vietnamese heritage with our cuisine.”
The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. Long Phan (Quynh’s husband) is your charismatic host and downtown champion.
118 Dundas St, London.