Star of Vietnam

Sao Nam opened its doors in Tong Shin in 2003 and, with increasing popularity among locals and expats, opened another outlet in Sri Hartamas in 2005.

We were invited to a gorgeous dinner at the latter location, hosted by Lye Kin, one of the partners of the establishment. With her background in advertising, she is a spirited bundle of artistic energy; creative, adventurous, and possessing a keen eye for detail. “Why Vietnamese?” I asked. The quick and ready response: “Because I fell in love with the country and its people.”

Lye Kin follows this with a spontaneous and insightful observation: “It is probably closest to ‘Western’ cuisine and yet has all the allure of the mysterious Far East. Therefore it is a cuisine that bridges well.”

With its fresh salads, generous use of herbs and delicate flavourings, I couldn’t agree more. But above all else, I just adore Vietnamese food for its incredible simplicity; it is delicious, healthy and best of all, calorie friendly.

We began with a potpourri of Vietnamese starters on a Combination Platter; consisting of Lemongrass Fish Stick, Prawn Spring Roll, Lotus Leaf Rice and Shrimp Cakes. Bite-sized and to be eaten with a crunch of basil, chive and lettuce, dipped in a sweet and tangy sauce, this is perfect in variety and portion as a prelude to the main feast.

Hue (Imperial) Pancake follows, smaller and formed like a Spanish Omelet, but with a topping of chicken, prawn, fish mousse and bean sprouts. It’s delicious.

A variation on this theme is the more common Vietnamese Pancake, which is bigger, fried to a fluffy crisp, encasing the same ingredients in ‘Calzone’ style, folded to a crescent shape.

Both are excellent, and display how ingenious the Vietnamese can be when turning similar ingredients into two different culinary experiences.

Beef in Bamboo Tube is a beautifully aromatic stir-fried dish, presented in a bamboo receptacle. Accompanied by fresh rice paper wraps and crunchy greens, this is a DIY Vietnamese Fajita, with textural and taste differences that provide a pleasurable departure from the norm.


A popular Hanoi dish is Claypot Fish with Dill, served with noodles. Fillets of Mud Fish (that abound in the rice fields) are marinated with fermented sour rice, then stewed with lots of dill.

It arrives piping hot and rice noodles are then tossed in with basil, mint, peanuts, and shrimp paste. This is inspired, ordinary fare; creatively manipulated with basic, local ingredients and elevated to sophisticated proportions.

Mangosteen and Prawn Salad is the signature dish of Sao Nam. Created by Chef Pham Minh Thien at Tong Shin, it is a refreshing combination of sweet, sour, and salty overtones. The unusual role of mangosteen segments adds an unexpected but fantastic surprise to the whole.

We concluded our memorable meal with steamed Caramel Pumpkin. Silky smooth, rich and milky, this flan melts away on the palate. It is perfect with aromatic Vietnamese Coffee that comes complete with your own personal ‘dripper’; freshly brewed indeed!

Source: The Expat Magazine

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