Lemongrass, Mint and Galanga: Vietnamese Cuisine in Guangzhou

Lemongrass, Mint and Galanga: Vietnamese Cuisine in Guangzhou
By Thomas Ackerman , eChinacities.com

One of the best dining options in Guangzhou, as well as one of the most popular, is Vietnamese food. With dozens of restaurants now serving at least a handful of Vietnamese dishes, and several specializing in it, a few of Guangzhou's Vietnamese eateries have earned a name for themselves and are packed full during lunch and dinner. One of the reasons for this culinary takeover is that Vietnamese food offers much of the well-loved flavor of Chinese food, along with many distinct tastes which set it apart as its own cuisine. Most Vietnamese dishes are also affordable, as they can be made with local ingredients, or with inexpensive ones imported from nearby Vietnam.

One of the things which make the cuisine unique, as well as popular with Westerners is the blending, thanks to Vietnam’s colonial heritage, of traditional Vietnamese and French cooking. Restaurants, both here and in Vietnam, nearly universally serve bread as well as coffee, something Westerners in China frequently miss. As an alternative to Cantonese food, it sets itself apart on many levels. Firstly, the flavors are simply more concentrated than in most Cantonese dishes. Potent marinades and sauces are rich and pungent with spices. The cuisine also goes light on the oily dishes frequent in Cantonese and other Chinese culinary styles. You can find oily dishes if you look, but they are simply not as common. The lemongrass from Vietnam (frequently used in a variety of dishes) is a stronger variety than in south China, as are the hot peppers should you choose to use them. Furthermore, whereas Chinese love to cook up nearly everything (give them a head of lettuce and they'll stir-fry it), Vietnamese enjoy quite a few foods raw.

There are many Guangzhou eateries now which do at least one menu page of Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurants below are either entirely Vietnamese or are a blend French and Vietnamese cuisine. Though mostly centrally located, you can find options as far out as Panyu and Huadu.

RendezvousView In Map

Just on the south side of the Pearl River, along the poor man's river walk, Rendevous has been open not much more than a year. The food is excellent but its relatively low-pedestrian location means Rendezvous doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Obviously a few people have already discovered this elegant multi-storied restaurant, as when I arrived early, most of the larger tables were already reserved. Upon entering the restaurant, the cleanliness, wine rack and desert display are among the first things that catch your attention. A short examination of the restaurant will take you to a loft section and a rooftop area as well. The ambience is strongly European.

Although the owners and the staff are not Vietnamese, Vietnamese dishes make up the larger part of the menu, including a few dishes that may be true fusions between French and Vietnamese. The staff's recommendation in the Vietnamese arena was the cold vermicelli, but others on the menu actually look more interesting than this. Their recommendations in the French arena were the pastas, steaks and deserts. I tried their pan fried chicken breast with mango almond sauce (probably a fusion), which was delicious, with good quality chicken, meaty potatoes, and some unrecognizable herbs adding to the rich aroma. Their desserts, like much of the menu, are divided between Vietnamese/Asian style and French/European. You can try their durian balls, rice cakes and fried bananas or choose to go for an enormous assortment of cakes and cheesecakes. I tried one of the latter and found it flavorful, and above-average for Guangzhou. They also serve up imported beef, pastas, salads and curries, along with seafood, including sole, bass, catfish, satay and crab.

Although Rendezvous' look and focus on French cuisine might suggest higher prices, a large portion of their dishes actually range between 16 and 48 RMB, including some reasonably priced main courses. The American and Australian steaks are the highest priced, with some going up to 108 RMB.

Add: 272 Binjiang Zhonglu, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8922 8169
Getting there: Take metro line 2 to Haizhu Square, Take Exit A, cross Haizhu bridge. The restaurant is on the corner of Binjiang Zhong Lu and Jiangnan Dadaobei, just to your left as you’re crossing the bridge. 

Tiger Prawn 大头虾

Tiger Prawn has practically become an institution for Vietnamese cuisine in Guangzhou. Full for lunch, and with a regular line for dinner, Tiger Prawn's success at capturing Guangzhou's tastebuds has led its owners Wayne and Yuni to open a second establishment, just across from the first on Huifu Dong Lu. I stopped by the restaurant my second time around lunch, just the right time, as both Wayne and his wife Yuni had the time to sit down and have a talk about the restaurant, Vietnamese cuisine and even recommend some travel destinations in Vietnam.

Yuni originally started the restaurant, while Wayne, formerly an engineer, joined in the operations later. While it is a chef's fantasy to be able to cook up what they happen to enjoy preparing in their own kitchen, this is actually what Yuni has done. Growing up in southern Vietnam, a lifelong cook, she chose her favorite dishes for Tiger Prawn's menu, tweaked them a little for local tastes, and provided them for her Guangzhou clientèle. Well, apparently Yuni's tastebuds and ours are very much aligned, because Westerners, along with Guangzhou locals regularly flood their eatery. Both Yuni and Wayne are proud of their Vietnamese heritage and its French influence, pointing out that even the design of the original location carries the French look with large, dark hardwood beams crossing the walls. Indeed the wood and the color make for a comfortable and homelike setting.

Tiger Prawn is as good as it gets for Vietnamese food, and they don't try to mix together five different styles as many other restaurants do. The restaurant serves Vietnamese cuisine with its natural French influence, as well as a few dishes in Cantonese and Thai style. The several dishes I tried were excellent, both the marinated chicken breast with chili and lemongrass and the Vietnamese fish in a pot, a soft white fish with a dark rich sauce based on sweet soy. Their menu includes a wide array of seafood, beef and pork along with several items which would be adventurous for Westerners, such as stir fried frog and finger shell, a long slender shellfish unrecognizable to most non-biologists.

The large majority of their offerings go for between 16 and 40 RMB, with several very colorful crab dishes reaching as high as 88 RMB. Their coffee, served in the traditional drip style, is richly flavored and worth trying.

Wayne and Yuni's second Tiger Prawn restaurant has the exact same menu. Its space is much larger though, with a markedly different interior – I'd call it warehouse diner with splashes of color and Asian antiquities.

Original LocationView In Map
Add: 548 Huifu Donglu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8338 1931

New locationView In Map
Add: 8th Floor Guangming Plaza, 63 Xihu Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市越秀区西湖路63光明广场8楼
Tel: 020 8319 1277
This building can be entered from Xihu Lu as well as across from the original location on Huifu Dong Lu

Lotus Garden French Vietnamese Cuisine 莲花园法式越南料理View In Map

Lotus Garden, not far from the Garden Hotel area and the old zoo, is actually associated with the aforementioned Rendezvous. Their two menus, though similarly focusing on and fusing French and Vietnamese cuisines, are not exactly the same. Lotus Garden is a little younger than its cousin, being in operation only a matter of months, and keeps a similarly elegant interior. You can sample the Vietnamese style cold vermicelli, rice paper rolls, spring rolls and the spicy and sour shrimp soup, or can choose French favorites such as steak, pasta, duck and chicken breast, and of course the desserts. The average price for one person is about 50 RMB.

Add: 17 Tian Sheng Cun, Huan Shu Dong Lu, Yuexiu District (this is on the corner at the crossing of Huang Shi Dong Lu and Xian Lie Zhong Lu), Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8107 8291
Getting there: From Garden Hotel, cross the street and walk east along Huan Shu Dong Lu. From the Zoo, walk west. It should be about fifteen minutes on foot from either location. 

Vietnamese Cuisine Inn 越潮栈View In Map

Though it’s marketed as a primarily Vietnamese restaurant, Vietnamese Cuisine Inn, though it has a number of Vietnamese main and side dishes, has even more dishes from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Thailand and Indonesia. Furthermore, the style of the restaurant is little different than what one finds at any cafe-type restaurant in China and the quality and taste of the dishes tried were not spectacular, in spite of sometimes quite colorful names like stewed beef in goose liver sauce, fried chili and garlic crab, Vietnamese curry crab and sugar cane shrimp among them. Most items are priced between 15 and 40 RMB, and their fruit and coconut juice drinks are very good.

Add: Baosheng Commercial Building, 8-10 Wen Ming Lu, Yuexiu District (the building is just off of Beijing Lu, and the restaurant is to your left upon entering the building)
Tel: 020 8322 6781

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