Is it a crime to say I love Vietnamese food if I have never actually been to Vietnam? Well, no matter, I’ve found a place serving astoundingly authentic Vietnamese food that’ll do the trick.
I’d consider Toa Payoh quite vast, at least in tiny Singapore. And I’m sure there’s a whole continent of good food to be found there. But if you’d like a taste of the really good food, you’d have to look a little harder, and a little deeper.
Deep inside the heartland of Toa Payoh, there lies Que, a kopitiam stall that strives to sell authentic Vietnamese food that comes without a gut-wrenching price tag. It’s owned by a friendly Vietnamese lady, so it’s as authentic as can be.
Though the place may not be the most glamorous, Que’s food is assuredly swoon-worthy. The most stunning of all is perhaps the Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio (Grilled Pork with Fried Spring Roll Noodles) ($6.90).
It sounds like a mouthful and a mouthful it was – a glee-inducing mouthful of delicious ingredients.
Most will experience a little confusion when first greeted with a pitifully dry, unseasoned heap of rice noodles. Don’t be so naive to think that’s the dish.
You’re supposed to mix in the sauce that comes on the side. When done, each strand of rice noodle should be lightly coated.
The dish consists of white rice noodles, crowned with aromatic escalopes of grilled pork, and flanked by a quadruplet of golden fried spring rolls. The rice noodles, once adorned with the fragrant sauce, were a culinary wonder.
Both parts savoury and sweet, they carried a vibrant flavour that felt like the caress of a summer breeze. Hints of heat found their way to my palate as well, providing a more complex flavour.
The rustic, smoky grilled pork was the perfect counterpart to the elegant rice noodles. A beautiful chestnut brown hue on the surface of the pork served as evidence that the pork was perfectly grilled. It carried a strong umami flavour, further enhanced by its alluring smokiness.
The delicious flavour of the pork was matched with delightfully tender meat that required little gnawing. I might actually be in love with this grilled pork that’s both big on flavour and big in amount.
Deep fried food has always been my kryptonite. The fried spring roll was no exception. A crispy exterior encapsulated the juicy minced pork filling, each bite a crackling explosion of fatty, porky flavour.
For a lighter main, the Banh Mi ($6.50) is a splendid choice. Choose from chicken, pork and beef for your protein. I had my mind set on the pork. Yes, I realise I consumed lots of pork. No, it does not bother me.
Seasoned well, the shreds of pork sandwiched in the toasted baguette emanated an intense, sweet flavour that lingered in my mouth. You might find the pork a little cloying because of its sweetness.
But I thought the mix of pickled vegetables, including cucumber, carrot and cilantro, uplifted the lofty flavour of the pork with notes of refreshing tartness. All of these flavours were sealed in a soft, dense baguette.
To visit a Vietnamese establishment and miss out on the pho is a sin I will never commit. The Beef Pho ($7.50) here is not superb, but decent enough.
Thin, smooth glass noodles simmer in a vast pool of beef-flavoured broth, with buoyant slices of beef swimming amidst. A lone disc-shaped beef ball sits in the middle of the bowl.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the broth, which could certainly have carried more of the deep, powerful flavour that beef tends to have.
It wasn’t bland, just a little more mellow than I’d like. Add a little chilli and black bean sauce and you’ll be fine.
The oddly shaped beef ball is proof that it was handmade. It was dense and filled with beefy umami, a cheery change from the usual flour-filled balls that are supposed to pass off as meatballs.
Dip the tender slices of beef into chilli and you’ll have yourself a meaty treat with a fiery kick. Que’s pho doesn’t promise to blow you away with flavour, but it does warm your tummy!
Thanks must be accorded to Que for an undeniably satisfying meal. A true hidden gem in Toa Payoh, you’ll be silly if you miss this out.
Indeed, prices here are a little high for a kopitiam, but authentic, quality food is always worth a few extra bucks!
Expected damage: $6 – $10 per pax