Little Saigon (Vietnamese), Shimokitazawa

UPDATE: the restaurant has closed during the summer 2010. The chef is now working at the tiny Vietnamese restaurant Karate Chop

We went to Vietnam on vacations the past March and we overall loved it (click the below photo if you're interested in plenty of pictures from daily life there), though we were slightly disappointed at the pace with which the country is turning into a huge construction site for resorts and exponential-growth-rate-supporting manufactories.
Vietnam - March 2010

What did not let us down though was the food, which we sampled everyday from morning to late in the evening (mention for best food goes to the underdog provincial town of Hoi An). Besides the unavoidable bowl of Pho and the numerous dishes I had researched on various blogs before leaving for Vietnam, I was very much looking forward to eat the real "Cha Ca", a specialty served in Hanoi, which I first got introduced to in this Shimokitazawa Vietnamese restaurant "Little Saigon".

"Little Saigon" is managed by two friendly Vietnamese food fanatic. The cuisine is good, affordable and relatively authentic. The restaurant is in a basement but they keep it from feeling claustrophobic with a pseudo bamboo hut south-east asian decor. If you're interested in Uncle Ho's country, they have bunch of photo albums that they will be more than pleased to show you, so don't hesitate to ask for them.
I strongly recommend the "Com Chien Xa" (lemongrass fried rice), "Ca Kho To" (fish simmered in coconut caramel sauce) and the "Rau Muong Xao Cam" (stirred morning glory).

What we went for the other night were the "Banh Beo" (savory rice pancake), the "Cha Ca" (literally Grilled Fish in Vietnamese) and some Stirred Eggplant.

The stirred eggplant was simple and fresh, with a nice touch of garlic. It is quickly sauteed, leaving the eggplants fleshy and juicy. Excellent appetizers for sure.

Then came Vietnam's old capital Hue specialty "Banh Beo", which, for some reason we did not eat while in Hue.

The Banh Beo are sticky, almost jelly-like rice cakes which you scoop with a spoon. They are topped with leek, dry shrimp and crispy fried shallot. You can add some fish sauce Nuoc Mam, which supplies a nice sour flavor to the otherwise rather plain dish (despite the topped condiments). The look of the dish was exotic and pretty, the texture fun, as well as the scooping process, but it did not provide the aroma explosion that you always expect from Vietnamese fares.

When we finished the rice cakes, the young lady in the kitchen brought us all the stuff needed for their Cha Ca: some Pho noodles in the red plate, some Nuoc Mam in the larger blue bowl, a bit of Mam Tom (very strong fermented shrimp sauce with a pungent smell that reminded me of markets in Vietnam), a large plate of copped dill, spring onion (some fresh, some quickly marinated in vinegar) and some peanuts. The large pan put over some red-hot charcoal contains some vegetable oil and cuts of fleshy white meat fish powdered with turmeric.

Once everything is brought to you, just put everything on the pan, and stir until the greens start to diminish in size (shouldn't take more than 3-4mn). Once you've got to that stage, have some Pho ready in a bowl and top it with some of that excellent sauteed food. Add some Nuoc Mam and a little bit of that shrimp sauce and go nuts! It's a really good dish, and it's fun to make.

The dish costs ¥1,800 but the taste and fun factor do make for the price. It's not as "exotic" and powerful as it was in Hanoi, but it's a must if you ever visit "Little Saigon".

Attaching below for your reference what the "Cha Ca" looked like at the famous restaurant "Cha Ca La Vong" in Hanoi. It was good, but WAY TOO EXPENSIVE so keep that money for some other joint that will not rip you off. "Little Saigon" is open everyday from noon to midnight, last order at 23:00pm
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-19-17
Click here for a MAP


Amy said...

As a half-Vietnamese girl who misses her home cooking, I was ecstatic to see that this restaurant serves Banh Beo (!!!) so I wanted to thank you for introducing me to this restaurant.

frenchy said...

hi Amy, my pleasure.

I'm afraid "Little Saigon" is not close to what we ate in Vietnam, but I think they're trying hard, and at least look passionate about what they're doing.
If there's any place you recommend here in Tokyo, please!

FYI, we loved this place in Hanoi