Oriental lanterns hang from a high roof, casting light onto an open courtyard where diners sit nestled among bamboo plants and dark wooden beams. A newcomer to Yangon, Vietnamese restaurant “The Vietnam Kitchen,” boasts a carefully designed, pared-back setting that creates a tasteful atmosphere with an Asian twist. Open since May, the family-run restaurant is seeking to fill the gap in high-quality Vietnamese food in Yangon. Dedicated to serving dishes that are as authentic as possible, they regularly fly in from Vietnam those herbs, vegetables and spices that are unavailable in Myanmar. The proprietor (who asked to remain anonymous for this article) explained that the restaurant takes care to only use fresh ingredients, avoiding any frozen meat or seafood. “The food is cooked by the feeling of the chef… We focus on the balance of the food—meat, vegetable, rice, soup,” he said. “We try to keep the original taste [so] we try to use more vegetables and fresh ingredients.” With three Vietnamese chefs in the kitchen, it seems they are off to a strong start. The menu features a hefty selection of both northern and southern Vietnamese dishes, as well as seasonal juices and the distinctive Vietnamese coffee—served as individual drip-filters, as strong and black as sin. Old favorites such as spring rolls and beef noodle soup (pho) grace the menu, alongside more unusual dishes such as Vietnamese-style pork leg; grilled beef wrapped in vine leaves; and tiger prawns steamed with coconut. Prices are mid-range, from 800 kyats for spring rolls, to upwards of 7,000 kyats for larger main dishes. Known as the healthier of the Southeast Asian cuisines, Vietnamese dishes commonly use fresh herbs and a delicate combination of flavours—hence the emphasis on fresh ingredients makes a big difference. The beef pho tastes clean and flavorful, without any cloying aftertaste of MSG. The proprietor explains that the stock is simmered for more than 12 hours to get the right depth of flavor. It is served as it is in Vietnam—steaming hot with a large plate of cilantro, basil, limes and bean sprouts. [irrawaddy_gallery] The fried spring rolls, stuffed with pork, herbs and veggies, have a nice hearty flavor that is well finished with a crisp, light batter; while the healthier raw spring rolls are a fresh, crunchy appetizer—though they benefit from the accompanying spicy dip to give them a stronger kick. Featuring a range of vegetable and tofu dishes, the restaurant is a good location for vegetarians or vegans (though watch out for some of the sauces, which contain fish sauce or pork). Helpings are generous and good to share, including the large hotpots or the enormous plates of steamed vegetables. With its open-air, atmospheric setting, it is easy to imagine The Vietnam Kitchen as a place of choice for a quiet romantic date, but the versatile courtyard also allows for large groups and the proprietor explains that the restaurant can cater for up to 200 people. Three large dining rooms built discreetly into the side of the building are also an attractive alternative for those hosting private parties. Tucked just behind Chatrium Hotel on Pho Sein Road, the restaurant’s central location is easily accessible and a great place to finish up after a sunset stroll around Kandawgyi Lake or the botanic gardens. It would be nice to see some dessert options on the menu, and the inevitable onslaught of mosquitoes can be a drag, but these small gripes aside, The Vietnam Kitchen has succeeded in providing exactly what it sets out to achieve—quality, well-cooked and traditional Vietnamese food for a reasonable price, in a relaxed and stylish setting.
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