Foreigners love cha gio (Vietnamese spring rolls). Every time you have a visitor, they always request spring rolls at some point during their stay, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re northern, southern or central style, or filled with vegetables, pork or crab, we just love cha gio dipped in nuoc mam (fish sauce).
So why haven’t I been eating in Quan Nem all this time in Ho Chi Minh City? Everyday for months I’d been driving driven past Quan Nem on my way to the office and back home again but I had mistakenly thought the ‘nem’ referred to a Central Vietnamese dish made with ground pork, not spring rolls.
Belatedly, I have discovered that nem means cha gio in the north of the country. Quan Nem serve ‘nem cua be’ – a Haiphong speciality. These spring rolls are filled with crab meat, glass noodles and vegetables, and served with bun (vermicelli noodles) and nuoc cham (fish sauce mixed with lime juice, chili, vinegar, sugar and sliced vegetables).
Quan Nem on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street is part of a chain that already has two restaurants in Hanoi, where every one knows ‘nem’ means spring rolls. Quan Nem is a pleasant venue with simple decoration comprising grey tones, dark wooden furniture and reprints of old black and white photography.
Upon entering, we are greeted Japanese-restaurant style: “Quan Nem xin chao!’ says the waitress at the door. “Quan Nem xin chao!” echo a few voices from different corners of the room. It’s lunchtime, and within minutes of sitting down at our table the entire restaurant fills up. A popular spot it seems.
The menu also offers Bun cha Ha Noi, soft white noodles served with lettuce, a variety of herbs, grilled slivers of pork and ground pork patties; and Bun Rieu Cua, a spicy noodle soup with crap. There’s also a range of fruit shakes, juices and soft drinks but disappointingly there are no dessert options besides fruit.
As we’re ravenously hungry we try the bun cha and bun rieu, before our beloved spring rolls. The bun rieu is particularly delicious. Popular all over Vietnam, this dish is served with the infamously stinky, purple coloured fermented shrimp paste called ‘mam tom’ on the side. You can add as much you like, and it actually doesn’t taste too bad, if you just use a little.
Our cha gio took quite a while to arrive and although we felt a little impatient, you have to appreciate the fact everything is being made fresh to order here. It is served as one big, puffy spring roll, and once on the table, the waiter cuts it into four pieces. Steaming hot, we dive in for a piece, dipping it into the yummy fish sauce and savouring the crispy taste in our mouths.
All in all, our experience dining at Quan Nem was very satisfying, despite a long wait for our third course. But if you’re after delicious spring rolls it’s well worth a visit.
Quan Nem, 15E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1, Ho Chi Minh City, 08 62991478 or 123 Bui Thi Xuan 04 39743239. Reservations recommended especially for large groups.