Sunday, 28 May 2017

Lucky Saigon: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Lucky Saigon
17 North Canal Road
Singapore 048829

It's been awhile, and I'm homesick for (but never sick of) Vietnamese food. Well, Saigon is 1 of the my 3 homes (arguably 4). The other 2 being Sydney and Singapore). For 1 thing, I like the name of the restaurant, Lucky Saigon. Who doesn't like luck? As for Saigon, that was the name of my 1st home (the capital city of South Vietnam) until they changed it to the mouthful Ho-Chi-Minh City after the Fall (not Autumn, Yanks) of Saigon in 1975, named after the father of Vietnamese communism. Many people fled the city after the name change (some by helicopter on a rooftop. Most by leaky boats).

Have you noticed how many Vietnamese restaurants have "Saigon" in their names? A lot, i tell ya! As for Ho Chi Minh City, i can't recall any Vietnamese restaurant has that name in it (there may be a bust or 2 of him in a few Vietnamese restaurants). The diners, like the Saigonner (or is it Saigonnese?), may immediately flee the restaurant if they rename it to Lucky Ho Chi Minh City. So it's safer to stick with Saigon. I hope they change Ho-Chi-Minh City City back to Saigon. The city of Leningrad (named after Lenin, the father of USSR Communism) has been reverted to its old name St. Petersburg (after St. Peter). Why not Ho-Chi-Minh City? The Vietnamese commies followed the Ruskies in everything else...

They may dance like robot or Egyptian (or robotic Egyptian), but the song is Saigon Is Oh So Beautiful (or Sài Gòn Đẹp Lắm, or Sai Gon Dep Lam if you don't want to bother with funny Portuguese squiggles around Latin alphabets). Nobody writes a song about Ho Chi Minh City (or name a restaurant after it). Get the hint? I know you know, Vietnamese government. Change it back, for God's sake. I know you believe in (Catholic) God, now.

Sorry, i was suddenly struck with Saigon homesickness (it hadn't happened for a long while and thought i was cured of that incurable affliction, but i had a sudden acute relapse just then). Now, i have it under control once again and ready to talk about the food. Food cures all ills, right? Food, the best medicine. Food and laughter, even better.

 The Place 

The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor, which i like. I like to eat food that's elevated to a higher level, and at the same time, look down on people walking by below, hungry like busy ants.

They don't usually have a ladder at the end of their staircase, i imagine (just good food and rainbow. No leprechauns, i promise). They were doing maintenance while we were there. It's rather quiet at lunch time on a Saturday.

Staircase, Lucky Saigon restaurant, Singapore
There're 2 "welcome you".
Perhaps 1 for Yank, and 1 for Brit. Where's 1 for Aussie?
I guess there's just not enough "Welcome you" to go around.

Some people prefer the smell of coffee in the morning (others - like Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979). He should be nicknamed Kill Bill) - likes the smell of napalms, i like the sight of girls in áo dài (= long cloth). Ao dai gives the waitress that c'est ne pourquoi aura that serves me up with an extra kick of nostalgia, and bon appétit. Yum yum.

Dining interior, Lucky Saigon restaurant, Singapore

 The Food 

Bill, Lucky Saigon restaurant, Singapore
La bill.  Prices are quite competitive, especially in the city location.

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup):  8.5 / 10
We wanted to order 2 of our fave Vietnamese soup noodles: Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu (which i can cook, but too much work and doesn't seem worthwhile just for the 2 of us). The appearances of these 2 dishes in the menu also signal to me an existence of an authentic Vietnamese chef in the kitchen. But when the waitress suggested to me to give Bun Rieu the flick, perhaps after hearing me ordered in Vietnamese, we opted for Pho Bo.

Menu, Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu, Lucky Saigon Restaurant, Singapore
Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu, my 2 fave Vietnamese soup noodles

Anyway, Pho Bo should be a standard litmus test of their standard. This is one of the more authentic tasting pho i tried. The beef are decent, not so tough. Decent beef is hard to find in Singapore restaurants. The soup is ideal, and the noodles are just right.

My only complain, there was not enough greens. But this isn't a criticism of this restaurant, but Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore in general. Veggies are too expensive here.

Pho Bo (beef noodle), Lucky Saigon restaurant, Singapore
Pho Bo (beef noodle)

Bun Bo Hue (Hue Spicy Beef Noodle): 8 / 10
Try this if you like a spicy, sweat inducing, tongue scorching noodle soup.

This one isn't as hot as those I have tried before in Sydney, which is surprising as Singaporean love spicy food. A couple of ingredients or toppings are also missing. Probably because you can't get them in Singapore. I've tried, but no luck (clearly, neither can Lucky Saigon's chef).

Bun Bo Hue (Hue Spicy beef noodle), Lucky Saigon restaurant, Singapore
Bun Bo Hue (Hue Spicy beef noodle)

Cafe Sua da Ice (Coffee with Milk):  8.5 / 10
For the Singaporean who's used to drinking coffee with condensed milk, this Vietnamese coffee isn't hard to getting used to. But it isn't just the condensed milk that sets the Vietnamese coffee apart. The 1st time i tried Sydney coffee, i found them rather sour (or acidic), having accustomed to the bitter Vietnamese coffee beans. After many years of drinking coffees in cafe like Starbucks or Coffee Beans and Tea Leaf, now i find the Vietnamese coffee bitter. I've learnt to appreciate both. But i still prefer the Vietnamese blend. I'm probably biased because of my childhood experiences and the incurable nostalgia. The tongue of a child is always more forgiving (and sharper) than an adult one.

Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee beans (only behind Brazil). The acidic coffee that we've used to in the West are produced in Brazil and other places. The Vietnamese beans give us that delicious bitterness.

Vietnamese coffee, Luck Saigon Restaurant, Singapore

Bo Kho Banh Mi (Beef Stew with Bread Roll): 8 / 10
I like stew of most kind, and this beef stew is no exception. But i like it even more because it's eaten with French stick. There's nothing quite like eating bread that's been dunked into the stew. The meat is little dry (just a little, and quite typical in a stew. I'm just being picky). The stew is quite rich without over the top. And the star anise is just the right amount without being overwhelming that i've came across in some other places.

Beef stew, Lucky Saigon Restaurant, Singapore

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