Last Updated: July 7, 2021
The dining out buzz has revived, and while I’m tempted to indulge in my all-time comfort foods, such as chicken rice and pizza in the establishments themselves, the food writer in me decided to check out another place on my list. Getting out of comfort zones always brings good things, especially when it comes to food. And so, I made a reservation at Pham Quyen, a Muslim-owned Vietnamese street food shop in Clementi, in my continued quest for good Vietnamese fare.
Nestled in the corner, at the start of the famous supper stretch among NUS students, is Pham Quyen. Juxtaposed against the ‘big guys’ of prata shops undaunted, this cosy eatery brings out its big guns—mainly spring rolls, banh mi and pho. Pham Quyen is a family business started by Mr Fahmy Nasir with a sweet backstory. Whilst working in Vietnam, he met his wife, who was part of a family business selling Vietnamese cuisine. Their love blossomed and so did the business, which he brought here, presenting a halal iteration.
Maybe I came a tad too early in the dining-in resummation season, as some dishes—their lauded and freshly upgraded banh mi, and classic Chicken Goi Cuon—were unavailable. But as a glass-half-full kind of person, it’s another visit secured for me.
The relentless heat called for something refreshing, so I ordered their Bun Cha Gio (S$5), the Vietnamese iteration of a noodle salad. This favourite came in a paper bowl with crispy, light brown cha gio (fried spring roll) pieces sitting atop a bed of fresh lettuce, with rice noodles beneath.
Fried spring rolls seem to be an essential dish in many cultures, each boasting its own take. Unlike the ones fried with rice paper, the Cha Gio here is fried in rice vermicelli, retaining a beautiful, intricate web pattern—a visual preface to its textual brilliance.
Each bite follows with a resounding crisp, and I appreciated how the vermicelli was thin without embrittling, holding everything in. A textural contrast entailed, with a mouthful of soft and seasoned minced chicken, blended prawns, and diced vegetables. It’s no secret that the proteins in fried spring rolls tend to be overcompensated with salt, but the Cha Gio here is none of those.
They are amply seasoned, with the sweetness of prawns coming through with every chew, and the crunchy counterparts of vegetables. Somehow resembling a ngoh hiang, a lighter and less cloying version. It’s a refreshing combination when paired with light rice noodles and fresh crunchy lettuce.
And trust me, you have to dip it, or even better, douse it in nuoc cham, their 3-Flavoured Garlic Fish Sauce. It adds a concert of tanginess and sweetness to the savoury spring roll that you can’t stop at just one—it tastes like pure bliss. But of course, the sauce seeps into the rice noodles below, so the overpowering sweetness may be a tad cloying.
I’ve always appreciated a simple menu presenting an eatery’s speciality. Here, indubitably, it’s their Goi Cuon—fresh spring rolls ensconced with rice noodles, lettuce, and protein. For some variety, I ordered their Original and Beef Goi Cuon, both at S$5 for two rolls each. Initially thinking that they were a tad pricey, I changed my mind when I spotted the heft-sized rolls stuffed with ample ingredients.
My expectation of a medley of freshly caught prawns, marinated beef, rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint leaves, and herbal ingredients wrapped in rice paper, were dimmed with a less exciting version of their Original Goi Cuon. While the ratio of condiments was great, the former was lacking in seasoning, with beef chunks harder than I would’ve liked. Also, the herbal tastes were missing in action. Similarly, losing the prawns, the Beef Goi Cuon fell on the same plane, though the beef here is a tad more seasoned.
However, the fun begins when you get past their plain tastes, by dipping every bite in their homemade sweet sauce and chilli sauce. Call me extra or greedy, but I dipped it in both sauces together, and trust me—do not knock it till you try it. A burst of sweet and zesty spiciness came through at the same time, tying all the ingredients together. They sure do the beef cuts and prawns justice, luring their shy, au-naturel umami flavours out. For resident veggie haters, this would be your absolute saviour, making the roll a palatable one for you. I couldn’t stop circling back for more.
Initially, their Facebook title as a health restaurant and the cartoon of a cute fire-breathing dragon on their signboard promising heavy flavours was somehow a mental disjuncture. But I’ve realised that Pham Quyen’s food is a paradox—light spring rolls dipped and dunked in some seriously indulgent sauces, and noodle salad paired with fried, meaty goodness. After all, there is no shame in having flavour in food labelled under the premise of health sometimes. Live a little, amirite?
When you’re not feeling the hedonistic pratas and naans, Pham Quyen’s healthier and heartier offerings are a great alternative. It wouldn’t turn veggie haters into converts, but would surely leave you satiated. FYI, I’m still thinking about that Cha Goi.
Expected damage: S$5 – S$10 per pax
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Our Rating: 5 / 5
6 Clementi Road, #01-02, Singapore Singapore 129741
6 Clementi Road, #01-02, Singapore Singapore 129741