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Little Saigon

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Seckenheimer Strasse 81 68165 Mannheim

Despite another Vietnamese restaurant with ‘Saigon’ on its storefront, I was eager to go out and find a good place that does justice to phở here in Germany – even if it means having to travel great lengths for that one tasty bowl of white rice noodle soup.  The ongoing search takes me to the city of Mannheim to one of the handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the city – Little Saigon.

  

From the outside, with its plain paint color, Little Saigon looks like any ordinary shop.  Without noticing the menu encased in glass, you may think it a specialty store selling exotic antiques.  Inside, though, the restaurant exudes a tropical vibe with the bamboo themed décor.  On the ceilings are various Asian ornaments.  The tables are elaborately set with folded napkins and a vase filled with flowers.  The dining room is simple, yet charming and lovely.

The menu here is quite extensive, well organized, and certainly appealing.  Written in Vietnamese with descriptions in both German and English, it is also pretty accessible.  There are specialties of the house priced around 15 €, as well as traditional Vietnamese soups, salads, and snacks.  Main courses include a plethora of chicken, pork, beef, duck, and fish dishes – even a fondue meal for 2 people!  For vegetarians, there are a few dishes specifically to meet your needs.  Traditional Vietnamese desserts and drinks can also be found on the menu.

 

For a neat little show, order the Vietnamese coffee, prepared traditionally in front of your eyes.  At 3,50 €, the coffee is pricier than the average brew, but this one is made with sweetened condensed milk.  The dark coffee is individually brewed in a glass cup using a Vietnamese drip filter.  As you eat your appetizer or mingle with your friends, you can watch the coffee slowly drip over the condensed milk.  After a while, one of the servers takes away the hot metal filter, leaving you free to stir the concoction and enjoy.  Alone, the Vietnamese coffee is strong, but with the sweet milk it is a true treat.  Now if only they served it with a cup of ice, the coffee would be even more enjoyable!

 

The first two items featured on the menu at Little Saigon are two variations of the popular Vietnamese rice noodle phở – one containing slices of beef and the other with strips of chicken.  You may order this soup either as an appetizer, which will set you back 6,90 €, or as a main entrée.

Upon service, the aroma of the chicken phở was truly authentic.  For a moment, it was reminiscent of Southern California phở eateries.  Glancing into the bowl, the soup looked clear but was teeming with various green vegetables, bean sprouts, and red onions.  Not a single piece of chicken and only a few strands of rice noodle were visible – not a good sign.   Sipping the broth for the first time brought on a major amount of displeasure.   The true essence of phở was masked by the overly aggressive amount of acidity already added into the bowl.  Although there was a good amount of chicken pieces under the cover of greens, both white and dark meat, and a small portion of firm rice noodles, the overall taste and flavor combination was off.  Essentially, the chicken phở is a sour chicken noodle soup.  Seriously, what is wrong with this region?  Can’t anyone find a tasty bowl of white rice noodle soup served with the garnishes on the side?  Add to it the hefty price tag and you will definitely be unsatisfied for the rest of the day.

 

Fortunately, to alleviate the damage done to your wallet, Little Saigon offers a daily lunch menu with prices ranging from 6 to 9 €.  An order comes with your choice of the soup of the day (today it is spinach soup) or two vegetarian spring rolls.  The vegetarian spring rolls come with a light fish sauce based dipping sauce.  Despite being petite and barely filled, these rolls are hot, crispy, and bursting with flavor.  The small amount of vegetables and rice vermicelli packs a lot of flavor.  Of course, the delightfully light dipping sauce augments the taste superbly.

One of the items on the lunch menu is Gà Chiên Giòn – fried slices of chicken served on a bed of cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts in a savory Hoisin sauce.  Also on the plate is a small scoop of white rice and chopped green parsley garnishing the dish.  With the skin fried crisp and the meat juicy and succulent, the chicken is very well done.  The sauce is sort of reminiscent of the red sweet sauce served with Chinese BBQ pork, only it is not thick but watered down.  Allowing the meat to soak up the sauce softens the chicken, but gives it extra flavor.  Moreover, the rice becomes even more manageable after sitting in the sauce.  The dish is tasty and filling, but not overly impressive.

Despite the mixed reviews on the food, the service at Little Saigon is exceptional – the graceful waiting staff do not rush with the service and bombard the guests with dishes, rather they wait until you are finished with a dish (for example, the appetizer) and then proceed from there.  The workers are attentive and often bring a welcoming smile to the table.

Little Saigon has a great environment and extraordinary service.  Despite the moderate prices, the food is acceptable.  With a good selection of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, Little Saigon is worth paying a visit to experience a taste of Southeast Asia.

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Summary:

Situated near the Mannheim planetarium, Little Saigon serves up original Vietnamese cuisine in a quaint, relaxed dining atmosphere.  Excellent service.  Prices moderate.  Lunch menu daily.

Hours: Monday – Friday: 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM,
            Monday – Saturday: 6:00 PM – 11:30 PM
            Closed Sundays

 

Overall – 4 stars

  • Vietnamese Coffee – 4.5/5
  • Spring Rolls – 4.5/5
  • Phở Gà (Chicken & Rice Noodle Soup) – 3/5
  • Gà Chiên Giòn (Fried Slices of Chicken served with Rice and a Hoisin Sauce) – 4/5
  • Service – 5/5

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http://www.little-saigon-restaurant.de/

Written by geschmack

April 6th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Mannheim

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Saigon Sonne

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Hauptstraße 170 – 172 69117 Heidelberg

One of the things I miss most about living in Southern California is the overabundance of Phở restaurants.  Around every corner, in practically every big city in the area, there is some sort of Vietnamese joint featuring this delectable rice noodle dish on the menu.  Not only is this noodle soup inexpensive, but also a good soul soother on a cold, rainy spring day.  Walking down the Hauptstraße here in Heidelberg, I was elated to find a Vietnamese restaurant a few steps away from the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) at market square.  Named Saigon Sonne (Saigon Sun), this Vietnamese restaurant has a few bright spots on this busy, touristy street.

 

Taking a step inside the single wooden door entrance, you won’t exactly feel as if you’re in an Asian restaurant.  That’s because the spacious dining room area is plainly decorated with various odds and ends – oil paintings, plants, and sculptures.  Aside from a few colorfully decorated conical straw hats hanging on the simple white walls, along with bamboo plants on each table, the dining atmosphere seems a little flat.  The tables are, however, covered by an eye-catching red and orange tablecloth that adds some style to the place.  Seating, for the most part, consists of dark wooden chairs.  The restaurant is a step up from basic fast food eateries, but also not the most impressive place to dine.

On the other hand, the menu at Saigon Sonne is anything but plain and ordinary.  There is a fairly large listing of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian dishes on the menu, ranging from braised, grilled, or fried meats such chicken, beef, duck, and fish, as well as vegetable stir fry entrées with rice.  There are also various fried rice and fried noodle dishes typical of Asian restaurants in Germany.  The list of appetizers includes traditional Vietnamese wraps and rolls such as spring and summer rolls.  Desserts include a couple of authentic sweets, but also standard Asian treats like fried bananas.

 

For starters, the Nem Tom is an excellent choice.  This Vietnamese spring roll is filled with a prawn stuffing, together with diced onions, chopped mushrooms, bean sprouts, julienne carrots, and rice vermicelli.  Accompanying the rolls is a brilliantly light fish sauce dip.  The rolls are served on a bed of green lettuce and herbs, including Thai basil and mint leaves.  Alone, the spring rolls are hot and crunchy and have a great flavor.  However, the cool lettuce and exotic herbs, along with the tasty dipping sauce, make the rolls a lot more interesting.  The Nem Tom can be ordered either as an appetizer or as a main dish.  The appetizer will set you back 5,00 €.

Unfortunately, there are only two types of phở offered on the menu – either with cooked chicken or beef.  You won’t find rare meat or beef brisket here, only beef flank or chicken breast.  Each one can be ordered as a starter (Vorspeise) or as a main course (Hauptgericht).  Both opinions, however, are fairly expensive – a beef phở appetizer costs 4,90 €, while the large bowl 9,90 €.  Considering that phở isn’t as popular or trendy here in Germany as it is elsewhere, these prices may seem reasonable to the local resident.  However, for the price you pay, the phở is fairly disappointing.

 

Firstly, the beef phở broth is slightly cloudy and isn’t as rich as good phở broth should be.  It should be meaty and flavorful, but it seems watered down a bit.  Simply put, it fails to meet expectations.  The typical garnishes for phở – cilantro, basil, lime, bean sprouts and onions – are already added into the soup.  This is frustrating because the phở soup can be a bit too acidic for some.  On the plus side, the noodles are well cooked and there is a decent amount of beef floating around the soup.  At the bottom of the bowl, you can find traces of some of the signature seasonings used in making phở, which aren’t too powerful.  Condiments such as Sriracha hot sauce and Hoisin sauce are available upon request.

Being the only Vietnamese restaurant in Heidelberg, Saigon Sonne does a decent job of serving up traditional cuisine to serve all the tourists visiting the city.  The service is great and quick to help.  However, for true culinary enthusiasts, the food may be a bit substandard.   Some of the dishes (such as the Nem Tom) are well executed and have me curious about the others, while there are some entrées that have me left scratching my head.  Tack on the high end prices and it’s even more difficult to swallow.  It’s a mixed bag, you just don’t know what the end result will be.

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Summary:

Located along Heidelberg’s Hauptstraße, Saigon Sonne is a Vietnamese restaurant serving up traditional and original Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cuisine.  A quiet getaway from the boisterous and congested main street.  Prices moderate.  Lunch menu featured daily.

Overall – 4 stars

  • Nem Tom (Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Prawns) – 4.5/5
  • Phở Bo Ha Noi (Beef & Rice Noodle Soup) – 3.5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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Written by geschmack

April 3rd, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Heidelberg

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Chang-Puak

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Chang-Puak  Chang-Puak Restaurant

Schulstrasse. 19 40721 Hilden

When you enter a restaurant that specializes in ‘Asian cuisine’, you might feel a little bit pessimistic.  Asian cuisine encompasses such a wide variety of ethnic food that you feel as if there may be so many different items to choose from, yet have the feeling that none of them will taste spectacular.  This is definitely not the case with Chang-Puak!

Situated in the Hilden Altstadt, this Chinese-Thai restaurant not only has an amazing atmosphere, but also some of the best Asian food in Germany.  Unlike some other restaurants, Chang-Puak’s dishes are as exquisitely prepared and presented as one can imagine.  The taste of the dishes definitely matches up to the visual appeal.

To quench my thirst after strolling through the Altstadt, I got an Alster Wasser (Pils with lemon Fanta).  It was something new for me, but the flavors of the beer and soda didn’t really mesh well together in my glass.

As for my meal, I ordered a three course Vietnamese meal listed as the chef’s recommendation.  After 35 days in Germany, I felt compelled to eat some Vietnamese cuisine as homage to my hometown, where there are Pho restaurants practically everywhere.  This three course meal consists of Vietnamese deep-fried spring rolls (Chả giò), Pho Bo, and fried bananas with honey and ice cream for desert.  Absolutely mouthwatering!

  

After a short wait, the appetizers came to the table.  My aunt ordered the Thai fish cakes (Thod Mun) and my uncle got the wonton soup.  I sampled the fish cakes and they tasted exactly like back home.  It wasn’t too fishy tasting or overly spicy.  The mixture was perfect!  As for my spring rolls, the pork filling was well seasoned.  However, the noodle exterior was a bit gummy for my tastes.  The rolls didn’t come with the white vermicelli noodles or jícama, but the sauce and carrots definitely made up for it.

 

After the appetizers were finished, my bowl of steaming Pho arrived, accompanied by a decent portion of bean sprouts, basil, parsley, and a wedge of lemon.  Of course, there was also hot sauce and hoisin sauce on the plate of vegetables.  The Pho had a large amount of beef slices and meatballs, too much in fact!  Unfortunately, these slices of beef were not the trimmed kind like back home in California.  I slurped my noodles down almost immediately.  For a moment, the noodles and soup brought my soul back home to the states.  It tasted great!  The only complaint I had was the hoisin sauce they used – it wasn’t the thick variety I was so accustomed to.

My uncle ordered a stir-fried plate with chicken and a lot of vegetables.  It came to the table steaming hot, like a fajita plate at El Torito.  It definitely attracted attention!  Guests at other tables turned their heads to look at the beautiful dish.  My aunt ordered the crispy noodle with shrimp gravy.  Although I didn’t try these dishes, they were presented quite well!  As they say, you eat with your eyes first!

 

For dessert, the waitress brought a small plate of three fried bananas, drizzled with honey and sesame seeds scattered on top, with a scoop of ice cream.  I was too stuffed at this point, so I only managed to eat one banana.  By itself, it wasn’t too sweet as I had wished.  But it wasn’t a complete disappointment!  The honey definitely made up for the lack of natural goodness.

For the price of 12,50 EUR, the three course meal I ordered was definitely worth it!

 

Summary:

Excellent Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese food.  Fabulous presentation.  Large menu.  Dogs allowed inside.

Overall – 4 ½ stars

  • Vietnamese Egg Rolls – 4/5
  • Fish Cakes (Thod Mun) – 4.5/5
  • Pho Bo – 4/5
  • Fried Bananas with Honey and Ice Cream – 4/5
  • Service – 5/5

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http://www.chang-puak.de/

Written by geschmack

September 26th, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Hilden

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