Just outside HCM City is Bình Quới Village, a rustic tourist area with a peaceful countryside vibe and a renowned buffet. Mỹ Duyên reports.
The Lunar New Year holiday ( Tết ) is time to gather family or friends and enjoy classic Vietnamese dishes made by moms in their hometowns. This year, however, the tradition changed because of the Covid 19 pandemic, so I decided to stay in the city with my children and have a special year-end meal at Bình Quới Village, about 5km from the city centre.
It was a sunny evening when we arrived at the village. Walking on a small wooden bridge leading to the main entrance of the tourist complex, we felt as if we had returned to a country village.
Set on lush garden-like grounds with lawns, coconut trees, creeks and thatched cottages, presenting a view of days gone by in Việt Nam’s Mekong Delta region, Bình Quới has been a tourist destination of HCM City for decades.
Located on Thanh Đa Peninsula next to the Sài Gòn River, just outside the chaos and the bustle of the city, Bình Quới never fails to attract a large number of visitors thanks to its romantic landscapes and most importantly its unique buffet at an unbeatable price.
With more than 80 traditional dishes of southern origin, the Khẩn Hoang Nam Bộ buffet never disappoints its loyal clientele who come back year after year for its fabulous flavours, especially BBQ items prepared in a southern manner.
Launched in 1998 to mark the 300th anniversary of the establishment of Sài Gòn (now HCM City), the special buffet helps diners learn more about the Mekong Delta which is rich in fine traditional foods and tropical fruits, and đờn ca tài tử or traditional music and song performances.
With a country-like decor, Bình Quới greets you at the main entrance, while the live cooking stations welcome guests with dozens of hot dishes like fish noodle soup and an array of mouthwatering snacks and enticing desserts prepared in Mekong Delta-style on your right.
Just some steps from the dining area is a large outdoor space for folk game activities like playing darts and chess, making Vietnamese style origami from coconut leaves, and many more.
With a large garden-like dining area and a thatched cottage-like stage where đờn ca tài tử is performed, diners can be choosy about where they want to sit.
The buffet, which features stunning and eye-catching foods of the best flavours of the Mekong Delta, surprised my 11-year old twins, who declared it a heaven for food.
The must-tries include charcoal grilled river fish, snails and beef rolls, bún mắm or tiny fish paste noodle soup, bánh xèo (crispy stuffed rice pancakes), bánh ít nhân tôm thịt (steamed sticky rice cake with pork and shrimp), bánh tầm bì (silkworm shaped-rice noodle with pork, fish sauce and condensed coconut milk), chạo tôm (sugarcane stick rolled with shrimp paste) and ốc len xào dừa (stir-fried snails with coconut milk) and more.
With such an array of dishes, my kids were a bit overwhelmed with the buffet's offerings. As usual, our "strategy" was to roam the food garden, first to look at everything and then return to our starting point to choose the most enticing dishes.
Aside from a wide selection of the most liked BBQs such as seafood, river fish, chicken, beef and pork, a salad bar with different flavours was also available and the "best sellers" were sesban flowers with chicken, cabbage with squid, and lotus roots with pork and shrimp.
Meat lovers have the chance to sample sizzling steamed veal wrapped with fresh tropical herbs and dipped in special tiny fish paste, also a must try at Bình Quới.
Our first choice was grilled prawns and fish with the Vietnamese condiment of pepper, salt and lime juice, and snails grilled with green pepper. My children picked up grilled beef rolls with lolot leaf (their favourite), grilled anadara with spring onion sauce and stir-fried snails with coconut milk.
At the long buffet table, I decided to skip the hot dishes despite the wide variety, which included fish paste noodle soup, snakehead fish noodle soup, stuffed rice pancakes and many more.
Instead, we went to pick up more grilled prawns, snails and beef rolls while my twins kept trying their favourites: grilled squids, prawn and chicken legs with sauce.
After the starters, my twins went to play lô tô or bingo and then watched a live performance of đờn ca tài tử , a musical art with both scholarly and folk roots. The music and songs evoke the people's life and work on the land and rivers of the Mekong Delta region.
"Though I don't understand all the songs, I love the melody. It is really beautiful," my daughter said.
My next dish was fresh spring rolls with different stuffings, one of the most popular in the south. My son shared the rolls while my daughter tried some steamed rice cakes with purple and orange colours and crispy stuffed small rice pancakes.
"The steamed cakes are delicious with beautiful colours, the first time I have seen and tried them. And the sauce is fine too. But I prefer the pancake because it’s flavourful, and so crispy and rich thanks to the coconut milk, " she explained.
With such a selection of BBQs, cakes and salads, you might think desserts were an afterthought. But not at all.
Next up was the juicy, flavourful steamed veal. The dish could not be perfect without the fish paste and herbs. Together with the grilled river fish, the veal was a standout of the buffet.
For those with a sweet tooth there is an extensive dessert selection including homemade cakes and sweet soups. For southern people, coconut milk should be the key ingredient for deliciousness.
Among the memorably good desserts were bánh da lợn or steamed green bean cake, and chè đậu trắng or sticky rice, and white bean sweet soup.
We chose a variety of desserts and finally felt satisfied with our "culinary journey" to the southern land. But my twins still wanted to try some folk games, and we did not forget to buy some leaf-made toys before leaving to return to the city centre. — VNS
Bình Quới Tourist Village
Add: 1147 Bình Quới, Ward 28, Bình Thạnh District, HCM City
Phone: (028) 35565 891 – 0901 889 701
Hours: 5pm-8:30pm (Saturday, Sunday and holidays)
Comment: Largest outdoor buffet with traditional specialties from the Mekong Delta, lovely garden-like dining space perfect for a family or group. Playground with folk games including a kids' corner is also available.
Price: VNĐ320,000 /adult and VNĐ190,000/child
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