December 21, 2018

Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine at Tra Vinh Express at Courtyard@453

IMO, Vietnamese is one of the most underrated cuisines in the Philippine food scene. Many of us only know Vietnamese food because of pho, fresh spring rolls and banh mi; but it is way more than that. I admit I’m one of those people who’s not as familiar with it as it is rarely my go to food. But I just realized I am missing out on so much.

I’ve tried Vietnamese food a couple of times and I can clearly remember that it was in Palawan at Rene Saigon and at Bona’s Chaolong were my first taste of this cuisine. But after that I believe I’ve never had that much of it back in Manila. Which is a shame, I know, I know. 

What makes Vietnamese food so special? Just like the Philippines, Vietnam is also a huge country and each region has their own versions of things but what’s distinct of this cuisine is that all of the cuisine contains this brilliant balance of aromatics, heat, sweetness, sourness, and fish-sauciness. Their cuisine is also influenced by other neighboring countries and France as the said country conquered Vietnam for years, thus, there is a lasting effect on the country, the people, the architecture, the land, and the flavors.

I recently visited a Vietnamese restaurant that has been flying under the radar but is considered by many who loves Vietnamese food as one of the bests in the country: Tra Vinh. It has already three branches in the metro but the one I went to is their express store inside Courtyard@453, 453 P. Guevarra St., San Juan City.

Tra Vinh is actually a provincial city in Vietnam. It is located in the Mekong Delta region, which is in the Southern part of Vietnam which happens to have local dishes that are unique to them and also has their own versions of national dishes. But the restaurant is actually started and was founded by Mr. Van Chien Ho who’s Vietnamese and living in Australia. It was brought to the Philippines by Mr. Michael Ang, who’s very familiar with the food and beverage business which was his profession before co-founding Tra Vinh Philippines.

Majority of the ingredients that they use for their dishes are imported and if locally sourced must be of high-quality to give their clienteles the best authentic flavors. Here are what he made us try for lunch:

Fresh Spring Rolls - a Vietnamese dish traditionally consisting of pork, prawn, vegetables, bún, and other ingredients wrapped in Vietnamese bánh tráng (rice paper). This is actually my favorite Vietnamese dish since I love all kinds of spring rolls. But with this version, it is just so light and fun to eat. I love both dips which included a peanut sauce and the traditional Vietnamese vinegar dip.

Shrimp Pomelo Salad - fish crackers, pomelo, shrimps and wansoy. These appetizer is like hors d'oeuvres and must be eaten all at once or on top of one another for you to get that great mix of flavor and textures.

Special Tra Vinh Noodle Soup - what Ilike about Tra Vinh’s noodle soups is that you can choose what kind of noodles you want to go with it. For the noodle soups that we tried, Mr. Mike Ang picked the ones for each soup that he thinks goes well each. The soups really tasted different from one another and this clearly took after its ingredients and had a light refreshing broth.

Combination Beef Noodle Soup - slices of beef and beef balls with flat noodles. When it comes to soups I’ve always loved the ones with beef broths since they have the boldest taste of them all and this one did not disappoint.

Spicy Combination Noodle Soup - mix of shrimp and beef spicy broth with vermicelli noodles. This was my favorite of them all and everyone’s too. For some reason I really really liked this variety even though I am someone who has very low tolerance to spicy food. I don’t know, but there was really something in this noodle soup that caught my fancy. This is a must try most definitely.

Special Vietnamese Fish Soup - one of the off-the-menu dishes which contains grouper fish with loads of vegetables and with a tangy soup. This will remind you of Sinigang but not really. I actually like it, like super like it. Probably because I love sinigang but the tangy flavor here came from the tomatoes and pineapples with hints of the minty flavor of wansoy. You can choose what type of noodles to go with this but for us we were served with vermicelli noodles, which I think was just perfect.

Crab Noodle Soup - another off-the-menu dish which is made from fresh crabs and crab fat with flat glass noodles. This will remind you of those super viscous Chinese soups but it’s not that surprising since Vietnam also has some Chinese cuisine influence. The crab flavor is undeniable and very bold.

Chili Salted Squid - tender Vietnamese coated and deep-fried calamari. This will remind you those street food calamari that is dipped in Vinegar, but this one uses the Vietnamese vinegar mix dip that is also used as a dip for the fresh spring rolls.

Vietnamese Pancake - or a.k.a. Bánh xèo crispy crepe-like rice flour pancakes stuffed with bean sprouts with wansoy, mint, basil, lettuce and mustard leaves. The way to eat this is get a piece of the lettuce leaves and mustard, fill it with the pancake, mint, basil and wansoy, roll it up and eat it. The distinctive fresh flavors of Vietnam are showcased in this tasty pancake. But even without those greens the pancake is already good in itself.

Iced Cendol - is an iced sweet dessert that contains droplets of worm-like green rice flour or pandan jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. It is commonly found in Southeast Asia and is popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma. It is actually similar to our local halo-halo but less sweet.

Homemade Vietnamese Coffee Iced Cream - literally hand-made ice cream that is churned by hand, yes, no ice cream maker was utilized to make this. But oh man, I almost cried on my first spoon. Because!!! There are so few food that stirs this kind of emotion in me and this one has done that. It was so creamy, the ice was so soft and smooth and with nice and subtle coffee flavor. Everyone! Listen to me! You must, I say must, try this!

Homemade Vietnamese Coffee Iced Cream - otherwise known as cà phê đá is a traditional Vietnamese coffee recipe. At its simplest, cà phê đá is made using medium to coarse ground dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter with water, ice and condensed milk. Compared to the other Vietnamese coffee that I’ve tried, this one is on the lighter side and had some chocolatey notes to it.

I really like how hands-on Mr. Mike Ang with his business and how passionate he is about Vietnamese cuisine. I have to say, this is one of the nicest lunches I’ve had had with my fellow foodies. I have plans of visiting Vietnam real soon and I’m excited to try the dishes there (which is usually my main reason for travelling to other places and countries), but for now I’ll get my fix of Vietnamese flavors from Tra Vinh.

Courtyard@453, 453 P. Guevarra St., 
Addition Hills, San Juan City

For more information, complete menu and restaurant reviews, check out their Zomato profile: 
Tra Vinh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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