Co Chung, Plaza Singapura: “The Crab Paste and Pork Vermicelli Soup will persuade the primmest of diners to slurp unceremoniously”

A tight hand roll of clear rice paper, through which three fresh cooked prawns are visible, primes you for a nostalgia-ridden meal at Co Chung Restaurant. No, you might not hail from Vietnam, but nostalgia often manifests in food. At this corner restaurant in the basement of Plaza Singapura, nostalgia seeps right into the peanut sauce that distinguishes them from the rest.

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There is a wistfulness as Co Chung’s owners speak of the food they know and love so well. Built upon decades-old family recipes, Co Chung is run by Aunty Chung (as she is affectionately known by loved ones) along with her daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. Her son first relocated from Vietnam to Singapore for work in 2017. The family has been back and forth since, and they’ve always missed their childhood favourites while here.

Of course, there’s going to be a certain degree of yearning when one relocates to another country with a vastly different culinary landscape. Some people pine, some people make do with pale imitations, and some—some open a business. 

Aunty Chung, now in her 60s, recently retired from her nursing career in Vietnam. This family-run restaurant is finally a reification of her lifelong culinary dreams. 

Aunty Chung cooks in the kitchen, fiercely maintaining the high standards of hygiene cultivated from her nursing career. These dishes are her expression of love. Meanwhile, her children welcome customers and run the administrative aspects of the business.

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When missing home, evoke home wherever you are. Co Chung is fast becoming a hub for reminiscence. Even staff from nearby Vietnamese chain, NamNam, come here for their meals. I can’t claim to speak for authenticity without having had the chance to visit Vietnam.

However, I can vouch for the feeling of nostalgia that Co Chung expertly evokes with their passionate familial touch. Eat here, and you’ll miss something you didn’t even know you forgot.

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What I tried

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For a powerful appetiser, the Fresh Spring Rolls (S$2.88 per piece) are refreshingly cool. Filled with thin slices of pork belly, cooked shrimp, vermicelli and herbs, the spring roll remains neat and structurally withstands every bite into it. 

That’s hardly the challenging part in preparing this dish. The hardest component to prepare is the homemade peanut dipping sauce, without which the Spring Rolls would be fresh but bereft. Rich, sweet and crunchy, the dipping sauce is what you order the spring rolls for.

This herby and sweet combination will whet your appetite for the rest of the meal.

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My immediate thought that the Water Fern Cake (S$6.90 per tray of five cakes) looks like chwee kueh proves that we always look out for the familiar in food. These are steamed rice cakes in a similar shape and consistency to the hawker favourite that I’m more acquainted with. 

Cradled in dainty little dishes, each cake is topped with crushed shrimp and scallion oil, served with a special sweet fish sauce. It’s chewy and highly savoury, so the relative plainness of the steamed rice cakes is welcome.

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One of the less requested, but no less delicious, dishes here is the Crab Paste and Pork Vermicelli Soup (S$8.96). With a piping hot broth, the slippery noodles will persuade the primmest of diners to slurp unceremoniously. Pillows of fluffy bean curd puffs soak up the broth and burst into rich and intense flavour once they’re bitten into. 

The magic of the Crab Paste and Pork Vermicelli Soup, though, is the basil that nearly had me in tears when I bit into the leaves. Its sharpness cut right through the brine instantly, reminding me inexplicably of an earlier time in adolescence. The memory doesn’t come to me immediately—in fact, it takes two days to vaguely remember hunching over a similarly steaming bowl of noodles at NamNam, worrying about school. 

Those worries have long expired now, and I barely remember the events surrounding the memory. What came off so strong, however, was the herby association to that stress-ridden meal, a taste that I have not re-encountered till Co Chung entered the picture.

I don’t miss the psychologically harrowing experience of academic pressure, but I was charmed by the little throwback. Perhaps it’s the spirit of remembrance on which Co Chung is founded upon, but they just know how to evoke the strangest and strongest of nostalgia.

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After the brine, a shock of Lemongrass Peach Iced Tea (S$5.80) shakes you from your reverie.   

Final thoughts

Co Chung is a demonstration of constructive nostalgia. As an outsider to traditional Vietnamese culture, there is no home for me to miss here. But watching the sheer pride in crafting a taste of Vietnam within this generic basement of a Singaporean mall, I can feel the earnest effort to recreate.

Instead of installing a pining shrine for home, Co Chung has created a dynamic offshoot of it.

That I wanted to cry from a dish that I’ve never eaten before might suggest that Co Chung has their customers’ emotions in their hands. 

Expected Damage: S$9 – S$16 per pax

Price: $

Our Rating: 4 / 5

Co Chung Restaurant

68 Orchard Road, Plaza Singapura Mall, #B2-20, Singapore 238839

Price
Our Rating 4/5

Co Chung Restaurant

68 Orchard Road, Plaza Singapura Mall, #B2-20, Singapore 238839

Telephone: +65 8876 8137
Operating Hours: 11am - 9pm (Daily)
Telephone: +65 8876 8137

Operating Hours: 11am - 9pm (Daily)
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