Last week on a business trip to Vietnam, I delightfully indulged in two of my favorite foods ever: banh mi and pho. I blame it on my bloodline.
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner I enjoyed slurping slick vermicelli rice noodles, rich broth swirling with flavors, and lean, tender beef topped with crunchy bean sprouts, fragrant basil, and spicy chilies- not something I get to enjoy in Phnom Penh without a MSG headache or gristly meat.
While I did go on a hunt for one of my favorite US spots, Popeye’s, to no avail- I left Ho Chi Minh supremely happy after a meal at Monsoon. The restaurant, specializing in pan-Southest Asian foods boasting varieties from Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and of course, Vietnam- had something for each palate. Sitting at our table were a few French, a Canadian, a Vietnamese American, a Vietnamese, and a few Cambodians and we all enjoyed the array of food that continued to parade out to the table.
Tung, the gent who ordered for us all, went heavy on the menu and chose a large sampling of starters including fresh pork spring rolls, fried Vietnamese spring rolls, fried corn fritters, four kinds of salads all paired with accompanying sauces. Added to the table was tender, fried catfish adorned with banana leaf salad… not my favorite but still tasty. I tried the laab (minced beef or chicken salad tossed with red chilies and abundant mint leaves), something I’ve had in an adapted version at Khmer restaurants, and it was tender, spicy, and one of the highlights of the meal. Everyone shoveled it into their mouths so fast I didn’t even have the chance to snap a photo. We then moved onto my favorite Thai soup, Tom Yam, filled with huge succulent shrimp, meaty mushrooms, and flavored with lemongrass. I finished up the meal, already full but determined to get through it all, with banh mi, with a perfectly crispy shell of a baguette and fluffy insides with tangy pork christened with cucumbers, peppers, and a bit of zesty cilantro.
Putting together the tastes of Asia was a brilliant idea on Monsoon’s part and allowed each diner to try something from across borders without having to leave their seats. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed (with a gorgeous blood red cabinet I drooled over decor-wise), somewhere you could go for lunch and work on a project for a few hours or with a group a friends for dinner to really try a host of options!
We hurried off to hop onto the Mekong Express bus which would take us seven hours back to Phnom Penh and quickly downed a Dramamine and Valium before drifting off into a dazed, full-bellied, and satisfied sleep.