A gift from the north
15E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
You don’t have to head north from Saigon to enjoy quality renditions of specialty dishes from that region, as proper northern establishments have set up shop in the big city down south. One such joint is Quan Nem, a restaurant specialising in the crispy, northern crab spring roll nem cua be.
Occupying a two-floor building, towards the outskirts of Saigon’s District 1, Quan Nem is inconspicuous from the outside, but the seating area inside looks much more refined. While they don’t sport much in the way of decorations, it’s a clean, classy looking spot with dark wooden tables and white columns ringed with lights. Recently, CNN Travel listed nem cua be as one of Hanoi’s top 10 street foods; the folks at Quan Nem have run with it, covering the walls with posters referring to the fact that the dish made the list.
Quan Nem offers only two dishes, bun cha and nem cua be, both of which are northern specialties. Their bun cha, a dish of grilled pork server with vermicelli and various greens that originated in Hanoi, is decent — you’re given an ample plate of either sliced or ground pork and a big bowl of noodles — but the restaurant is most famous for its nem cua be.
A fried spring roll with roots in Hai Phong, nem cua be is stuffed with a mixture of crabmeat, mushrooms, pork, egg, shallots and some noodles. Served to your table hot from the frying pan you’ll instantly notice how nem cua be is unique: they are almost hamburger sized and square. Using a pair of scissors, your server will cut the roll into four chunks.
Prices at Quan Nem are very reasonable; an order each of bun cha and nem cua be, plus a glass of tra da, will come in at a little less than 100,000 VND. It’s a big meal for a single person, but the food is served family-style so it’s easy to share. The restaurant has two storeys of seating that are consistently crowded throughout the day, particularly during peak meal hours, but tables free up rather quickly and you shouldn’t have to wait long for a seat even during rush hour.
If you’re on the edge of District 1 but seafood spring rolls don’t tickle your fancy, you’re not far from Nam Son Beefsteak, while a step up in price, setting and options would be at Cuc Qach Quan, a five-minute taxi ride away. If you want to go extra high class swing by Xu, which also calls Hai Ba Trung home.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 7th July, 2014.