It’s pretty common to find Vietnamese food stalls or restaurants in Singapore offering various interpretations of Pho, Banh Mi, Broken or Sticky Rice, Vietnamese spring rolls, Curries and so on. With a cuisine so deeply steeped in history and tradition, one can be assured that the essence of Vietnamese food is being perfected as it gets handed down from generation to generation.
I was surprised to find Saigon Jalan, a stall offering hearty and authentic Vietnamese dishes at affordable prices. Located within the coffee shop at Block 86, Whampoa Drive, it is run by Ms Oanh Cao who was born in Saigon but moved to settle down in Singapore with her Singaporean husband, who was then working in Vietnam.
With the aim of introducing authentic Vietnamese cuisine to Singaporeans, Ms Oanh Cao insists on using traditional herbs and vegetables (Vietnamese Peppermint, Basil, Coriander, Spring Onions, White Onions) as garnishes for each dish that she serves.
She even insists on making all the sauces from scratch, and roasting peanuts which are added to the fermented soya bean sauce for that added crunch. I even learnt a cooking tip from her — wrapping peanuts in newspaper to help loosen the skin for easier removal.
I was given a tour around the kitchen, though not a very big space, there were several huge vaults that contained the broth which are painstakingly prepared each day. Just by looking at the colour of it, you don’t have to guess how long the broth has been simmered to attain that deep brown colour. This was when I knew that I was definitely not going to be disappointed by the food.
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) ($4)
Originating from the Northern part of Vietnam, the version of Pho Ga here uses local kway teow noodles instead of the traditional thinner rice noodles that is used in Vietnam. According to the owner the traditional rice noodles in Vietnam tend to give off a sour-ish taste which the Vietnamese locals actually dislike.
As with preparing this dish the traditional way, piping hot chicken broth is poured over the bowl of noodles with steamed, chunky shredded kampong chicken, which remained tender after boiling.
Pho Ga may look like a simple and humble street dish but boy oh boy does it certainly pack a flavourful punch. The broth was intense and I could still taste the various levels of flavours being built upon each other. This is achieved through the combination of spices (burnt ginger, onion, lemon grass, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed, coriander seed) and chicken feet bones that are boiled, then simmered for hours in order to attain that multi-dimensional complex flavour profile.
Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Beef Thick Vermicelli) ($6)
The dish originates from Central Vietnam and spots a broth with a darker shade of brown. I was informed by the owners that the broth is achieved by boiling Australian beef chuck together with pig trotters.
The noodle broth is served alongside a plate of white cabbage and herb garnishes to allow for a variation of textures and flavours in the dish. The taste of the broth spots a stronger lemongrass profile and is a good mix of sweet, spicy, sour and salty flavours. The garnishes of basil and mint add a refreshing taste of freshness to balance the more meaty flavours in the dish.
However, this dish is only available on certain days. So do check out their Facebook page for the dish’s availability before going down.
Trun’ng Them (Additional Egg) ($0.50)
I asked if adding an egg to one’s noodles was a common practice in Vietnam, the owner explained to me that the locals would normally do this for breakfast, kind of like how we Singaporeans like to have our soft-boiled eggs in the morning.
At an additional $0.50, I would say go for it and enjoy that pleasantly warm and gooey burst of yolk, which combines well with the heavy flavours of the beef broth. You know… kind of like eating steak and eggs but in its liquid form.
Summer Roll (Goi Cuon) ($2 for 1 roll, $8 for 5 rolls)
The Vietnamese Springroll or Summer Roll a more common term known to the locals in Vietnam, is an iconic dish that has lasted through generations. River prawns, slices of pork belly, various vegetables (chives, mint, basil) and rice noodles are placed on a sheet of rice paper before being rolled up and dipped into a sauce made from fermented soybean, hoisin sauce, chilli, pickled carrot & white radish and roasted peanuts.
The result is burst of textures and freshness that you get from each bite of the roll, achieved through a hint of spiciness from the chilli, sourness from the pickled carrot, white radish and green mango. The fermented soybean and hoisin sauce lends a much needed salty finish and after-taste to the dish.
My experience at Saigon Jalan has been an interesting one, where I’ve had the chance to learn so much through my interactions with the owners. Along with the various traditional Vietnamese cooking techniques and ingredients that is what sets it apart from other cuisines around the world.
It would be a waste to see such hawkers disappearing without the proper support from the local crowd, especially one that is so enthusiastic in introducing her country’s heritage and culture through affordable, hearty and home-style dishes that are served here.
Expected Damage: $4 – $6 per pax