Fantastic northern Vietnamese
After weeks of eating explosively flavourful and meat-heavy Thai food, the simplicity, freshness and veggie-prominence of Vietnamese cuisine is like a breath of fresh air. If looking for an inexpensive and excellent Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok, you won't find many better than Rom Ngao Indo-Chine, otherwise known as Hanoi Kitchen.
Rom ngao is a Thai phrase that means “in the shade”, so the restaurant’s name translates to “In the shade of Indochina“. Given restau owner Sao Korn Dao Wieng’s fascinating story, it’s a name layered with feeling and history.
A native of Hanoi, Dao Wieng’s family moved first to Laos and later across the Mekong river to the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Phanom to escape the brutal bombing and uncertainty of her home city during the American War. She and her family found Thailand to be sheltered or “shaded” from the bloodshed and strife that plagued Vietnam. After living among Nakhon Phanom’s thriving Vietnamese community for many years while also learning Thai, Dao Wieng opened her own restaurant in Bangkok in 1997, choosing rom ngao Indo-Chin as a most eloquent name. More recently, she added the words "Hanoi Kitchen" to make it easier for foreigners to find.
She claims that hers is the only restaurant in Bangkok focusing on true northern Vietnamese food. As a quick disclaimer, while I enjoy the food of Vietnam and have spent some time in Hanoi, I’m no expert on regional Vietnamese cuisines. Before any of our orders arrived, however, I took note of a server dropping off a basket of fresh greens on ice, which is a fixture on any Vietnamese dining table.
As an appetiser, we started with nem nuong, a build-it-yourself platter of mildly pickled Vietnamese sausage (nem), fresh cucumber, raw apple eggplant, garlic, chilli and not quite ripe starfruit. We wrapped our desired mix of ingredients in rice paper before dipping them in a peanut-based side sauce with ground chilli for some spice. It’s a deliberately simple but divine blend of crisp, cool and soft textures to go with sour, sweet and spicy flavours.
We then asked for a plate of chon gio ran salad, which featured slices of another north Vietnamese-style sausage mixed with a light lime-based dressing along with fresh carrot, cilantro, scallion and fresh Asian basil on the side. The crunchy and light salad perhaps went a little heavy on the onions.
For a main course, I went with a steaming bowl of chao canh with shrimp, a cousin to Vietnam’s famous pho which has been enthusiastically embraced by the Thais. With a mild but savoury broth flavoured with shitake mushroom (good enough to drink to the last drop), thin, round rice noodles, a few fresh shrimp with heads still on and a sprinkling of fresh greens, it was terrific.
Rom Ngao Indo-Chin offers a distinct menu that’s lengthy enough to try something new every time. Next time we’ll go for the northern Vietnam style banh xeo, banh mi French-Vietnamese style bread stuffed with sausage, chilli, and other goodies, or one of the numerous other “banh” finger foods. Prices are reasonable across the board — we paid just over 200 baht for three good-sized dishes plus bottled water — and many dishes are offered in medium or large sizes so it’s a good option whether dining solo or with a group.
With several vegetarian options — including a special, entirely veggie soup menu — this is also a great spot to enjoy a meat-free meal. All dishes are written in Thai and Vietnamese; there are no English explanations but pictures make choosing easier. After lunch or dinner, you might take advantage of the authentic French drip-style Trung Nguyen Vietnamese coffee, or the Vietnamese-style ginger tea to calm the stomach.
The well-lit restaurant has added air-con seating to its simple but cheerful atmosphere with conical Vietnamese hats hanging from white walls, cloth-covered tables and a TV casually on in the corner. Compared to similarly priced Bangkok establishments, we found the staff attentive and friendly.
The restaurant is located on Charoen Nakhon Road, which is also a fine place for some standard Thai street foods. Despite its close proximity to Krung Thonburi BTS skytrain station, this area sees few tourists and Rom Ngao caters chiefly to locals.
To get here, take exit 4 out of Krung Thonburi station then go straight at the bottom of the stairs. Walk about a half kilometre before turning right onto Charoen Nakhon Road; Rom Ngao Indo-Chin is another half kilometre down on the right, between sois 20 and 24.
Address: Charoen Nakhon Road (between soi 20 and soi 24), Thonburi, Bangkok
T: (024) 385 921, (086) 514 0908
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.