“Fresh herbs, lots of vegetables and seafood, and cooking techniques that use water or broth instead of oils — these are some of the standout qualities of Vietnamese food,” described Annie Corapi as Vietnamese food lies among CNN’s top 10 healthiest cuisines in the world. And more importantly, it’s delicious! The combination of different flavors and textures is fundamental in every dish. And no it can’t be compared to Thai, Chinese or Japanese food, Vietnamese cuisine really has its own set of tastes.
If you have never been to Vietnam or known about its cuisine before, you probably ask “What should I try?”
Phở: Rice noodle soup with very flavorful broth that comes with beef or chicken. The real phở takes some 20+ hours just to cook the broth. Seafood or vegetarian phở are just, I don’t know, not phở.
Chả giò (south) or nem rán (north), our classic deep fried spring rolls that comes in different versions including vegetarian friendly ones.
Gỏi cuốn fresh summer rolls: pork belly, shrimp with lots of herbs wrapped in rice papers and accompanied by either peanut sauce or sweet chilly fish sauce. Vegetarian option is available, meat is replaced with tofu or egg.
Bún chả: fresh rice vermicelli with grilled pork and a lot of herbs accompanied with fish sauce and pickled legumes
Bánh xèo: This yellowish savory crepe should have a crunchy texture and filled with shrimps, pork and bean sprouts. You wrap it in a lettuce leaf and dip it in, you guess it, fish sauce before devouring it.
Now you’re thinking, but where is the rice? Don’t you worry, you’ll find rice in every Asian restaurant in the world. I just thought you might be more interested in something you don’t encounter everyday. Keep in mind that this list is only scratching the surface. I’ll have to write a separate post about the Vietnamese cuisine!
The Vietnamese community in Spain is relatively small which makes the food supplies limited. Many ingredients and products are imported from France. For the review, I’m giving the location, authenticity, variety and value a numeric system for you to easily compare. I have spent many years in California where Viet food is pho-nomenal. Yes I have tried them all (not everything on the menu but enough to make a judgement) and all my opinions are honest. Bare in mind that this is my own personal opinion as a southern Vietnamese borned and raised in Saigon with one side of my grandparents is native Saigonese and the other from Central coast. In no particular order, each place has its own pros and cons.
Mekong Restaurant: Calle Isabel la Católica, 11, 28013 Madrid
If you know any bit about Vietnam geography at all, you know the Mekong delta run through the southern part where rice fields are most fertilized in the whole country. However, this Mekong restaurant does not carry any southern specialties. In fact, its owners are from the north. Why does it matter? Although roughly sharing the same food, different parts of Vietnam (mainly divided into the south, the central coast and the north) have its own kicks. It does because the dishes and their taste are not the same. For example, bún chả is a northern dish and several restaurants serve it in Madrid, southern specialty like bún riêu or central coast delight bún bò Huế is nowhere to be found. Back to Mekong Restaurant, I’d say their phở and family sharing style dishes like duck, tofu and beef are really nice. I also approve their Vietnamese coffee, beer and desserts. Its menu is relatively complete if not the biggest of all Vietnamese restaurants in Madrid (with lots of northern specialties) so you’ll find something for everybody. I did feel like I had to spend quite a lot to fill up a group of 4, definitely not the biggest portion you can find.
Vietnam Restaurant Calle de las Huertas, 4, 28012 Madrid
Vietnam restaurant, how original is this name?! This restaurant is cozy, so cozy if you come with a big group (let’s say more than 4) it will be a problem finding space. Buttt let’s skip the logistics aspect of it and dive into what’s on the menu. The only item that got me there at the first place was bún chả. Another item that caught my attention was the fish curry which turned out to be a wonderful surprise. It’s not something super typical but worth giving a shot. The disappointment is that there’s no Vietnamese dessert. Their dessert menu seems decent but sorry, my stomach can’t process mango lassi with pho at the same time.
Vietnam 24 Calle San Marcos, 24, 28004 Madrid
Vietnam 24 is well presented online and offline, just like Vietnam Restaurant because guess what, they have the same owner(s). The atmosphere is exceptional, everything was on point from the decoration to the music. The restaurant is spacious enough for big groups too. Okay, its beef dishes are really good, especially the beef curry. However, if you crave pho or fresh summer rolls, this place is not for you. There are no Viet desserts either but the matcha chocolate truffles are to die for.
Mr. Vu Restaurant Calle del Capitán Blanco Argibay, 21B, 28039 Madrid
This is the fanciest looking of them all but probably the most affordable one as it’s the furthest from the city center. Its food? Vietnamese and Japanese. You read it right, they serve phở and sushi on the same table if you ask for it. Then it must be terrible? Not at all but I might be biased because I’m a fan of both cuisines (separately) too much and they always offer me free soups, free promo sushi, discounted coupons which make the whole experience very pleasant every time I’m there. Its decent variety makes it easy to share among a big group as well.
Le Petit Hanoi Calle Velarde, 8, 28004 Madrid
There’s a reason why it’s not called le Gran Hanoi. The place is small and cozy and simply decorated. The menu is small but enough for a date night. Phở Hà Nội is worth a try and they claim that their bún bò (not to be mistaken with bún bò Huế) is the best in town. I also tried the fried shrimps with coconut flakes which were good and different. Nothing was ground-breaking but everything was pleasant. The chè chuối – banana with tapioca dessert is a winner since no other places has it.
Vietnam Express Calle del Dr Cortezo, 10, 28012 Madrid
It’s a new comer in town located in a humble corner of the Yatai Asian food market a few steps away from el Puerta del Sol. The menu is small but excellent in terms of presentation and taste and fit perfectly to the food market, where you can munch on different “Asian tapas” from the many kiosks. Must try? All the rolls! The Bún bò is also worth it (again, not to mistake it with bún bò Huế). This place is not recommend for big group (more than 4), you’ll have a very hard time finding a place to sit during meal time especially from 9pm to midnight.
The Big Banh Calle Don Felipe, 4, 28004 Madrid
The Big Banh is the only bánh mỳ (or bánh mì – Vietnamese baguette) shop in town owned by some Spanairds who has some French acquaintances who are Vietnamese cuisine enthusiats. The bottom line is that it’s not authentic. So don’t walk in and expect a 50 cent pate-loaded baguette. But it’s good! It tastes oriental and has that Viet components of chilly sauce and picked carrots. And I especially like the way the store is designed, making the concept of build-your-own Vietnamese styled sandwich simple. And can we just give a munite to acknowledge the great name it has – the Big Banh.
Other Viet fusion places in town:
Tuk Tuk has a few locations in Madrid which are oddly decorated and also deliveries if you prefer having dinner while lounging in your PJs. Its food is Asian fusion and although not authentic, I’m quite impressed with all the dishes I’ve tried. They are delish!!
Saigon Cafe: I don’t know how much I could trust a Vietnamese menu with broken Vietnamese, the place is definitely not own by a Vietnamese. The photos of the food look decent but the price, the mixtures of other Asian cuisine, and the inaccurate Vietnamese language combined have thrown me off a little bit. I could be terribly wrong, of course. So I guess I’ll update on this later when I can pull myself together and pay this restaurant a visit.
Pho 26 is not pho-tastic in my opinion. At 9 euros, it does the job for the cold winter days but the taste don’t even come close to a real bowl of pho (whether in Vietnam or the US). Perhaps the fact that the owners are Chinese who have no connection with Vietnam explains why.
Have you tried any of these restaurants? Or which restaurant are you planning for your next meal? Let me know your thoughts! Until then, chúc ngon miệng (Bon appetit!/Buen provecho!)