Like I always say, you discover a lot of things when you explore a place and its cuisine. Truth is, I’ve only set foot in Vietnam for a couple of hours when our cruise ship docked at Ha Long Bay, but I started eating Vietnamese food even before then, when I studied in Germany and had a few Vietnamese classmates. I even learned how to make cha giò from them. Now here’s a quick lesson in Vietnamese: the word “grandmother” has two distinct equivalents. One is bà ngoai (which means “maternal grandmother”) while the other is bà noi (for “paternal grandmother”). With this bit of knowledge, one would expect to find homecooked goodness in restaurants bearing these names. Well, my own “bà ngoai” has zero cooking skills, but my late “bà noi” was an excellent cook. I had the pleasure of hooking up with a small group of hearty eaters who call themselves the Yumyum Monsters, and together we set out to try Bà Noi’s [the fresh flavors of Vietnam] in Makati.
Bà Noi’s is a small and relatively hidden restaurant on Perea Street, just a few blocks away from the bustling Greenbelt complex. It prides itself in serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine. It even plays Vietnamese music in the background to add to the overall ambiance of the place. Vietnamese food is essentially characterized by very minimal grease, the use of fish sauce, various fresh herbs and with splashes of greens, making it one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. For me, no trip to a Vietnamese restaurant is ever complete without an order of my favorite cha giò, which is also referred to as spring rolls as opposed to the goi cuon, also known as summer rolls. I loved the flavors of the cha giò (P190+) at Bà Noi’s — loaded with seasoned ground pork, shrimp, taro, black fungus and carrots and served with the quintessential nuoc mam sauce for dipping.
Because I’m not a big fan of healthy eating, the goi cuon (P200+) did not please me at all. Even when dipped in its accompanying peanut sauce, I still found it so boring and not appetizing enough.
For the main dish, Bea and I had the ga nuong or grilled boneless chicken in rich lemongrass marinade (P245+) and a bowl of steamed rice (P45+). It’s a simple dish that’s almost like our typical chicken barbecue, only with the slightest hint of lemongrass. I didn’t think it was anything special.
Dessert was a choice between a fresh fruit platter and bahn dan long (P135+) — warm pandan cakes with a mung bean paste layer in the middle and drizzled with coconut cream and sesame seeds. Of course I chose the latter, its taste and texture reminiscent of our native rice cake kuchinta, albeit more firm to the bite.
The flavors of the dishes I had were okay, I just have an issue with the prices of the food. I find the prices too steep for such tiny portions. Oh, well. I guess “authentic” and “healthy” food comes with a high price. That’s certainly not the way grandmothers like it.