The most authentic Vietnamese cuisine I’ve tasted is in Davao


Our show “Foodprints” landed in Davao to explore dining destinations. The province is known for fresh tuna and exotic fruits, but I really didn’t expect much. I thought the food would be ordinary and at least we’d be eating healthy.

I was correct in assuming the latter, but not the former. My dining discoveries went way past what I expected. And this was only on the first day.

For breakfast, I was shown how to make a seafood sinigang while using mangos-teen as souring agent. Chef Teng of Park Inn Raddison showed that this sweet fruit has a sour quality. What a discovery.

Lunch at the Hanoi Vietnamese restaurant came with lessons on how to make crab with rich tamarind sauce. The sauce was sweet and sour and quite good.

But what surprised me was the authenticity of the dishes in this undiscovered dining destination. I have tasted good, authentic Vietnamese cooking and I can tell you, this place has it.

I started with Bahn Mi, a healthy Vietnamese sandwich—baguette, mayo, pate, a variety of meats, pickled carrots and radish, cucumber, wansoy, seasoning sauce and jalapeño. Superb!

Then came the Bahn Cuon—pork, mushrooms and fresh veggies rolled in thin rice paper and topped with fried onions. Dipped in patis-lime sauce, it is also a winner.

Cha Nuong are noodles, grilled pork barbecue, pickled carrots and radish, herbs and lettuce all wrapped in rice paper and served with dipping sauce. Another winner.

Goi Cuon are fresh spring rolls filled with shrimps, pork, herbs, all wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce. Sarap!

Another crab dish was the garlic butter crab, cooked right before your eyes. Served with dipping sauce of salt, pepper, calamansi and Sriracha sauce, this dish combined with sauce and piping hot rice is still another winner. A must!

In the Philippines, I have never experienced Vietnamese cooking as authentic as this. Hanoi will be such a hit in Manila. The owner, whom we call Christian, says he flew in Vietnamese cooks to train his staff.

Tuna cooked 10 ways

We also went to Lacchis where we stuffed ourselves with more delicious homemade dishes such as laing, crispy tofu, spareribs, crispy chicken, callos and excellent desserts.

After that dream of an experience, we were off to Marina Tuna where we would be have tuna cooked 10 different ways. Again, my expectations were not that high—but all that changed after my first bite.

We started with a whole, newly caught, 30-kilo big-eye tuna. Right in front of me, the chef cut off the panga, and the tail to make fresh sashimi. Then and there, I dipped the fish meat in soy sauce, with little wasabi, and had the best tasting tuna, ever. It just melts in your mouth. Fantastic!

The key to the success of this place is the fresh catch. The owner is an exporter of high-grade tuna to Japan.

I was full but was eager to try the other dishes. The nine other ways were grilled tuna belly, which tasted much better than all the belly I have tried. Tuna bagaybay or sperm sack was good, too; the sizzling tendon was fantastic—grilled, chewy and had no fishy taste.

Sizzling bihod, or tuna eggs, was also delicious. The grilled tuna jaw was a lot better because of its freshness; the tuna eye soup was also a winner, but I guess this must be an acquired taste.

The tuna kinilaw was still red despite the vinegar’s acidity. I guess the freshness again is key.

The tuna kare-kare was a fascinating cooking demo. The tuna tail is tender, sticky and, like ox tail, had bones surrounded by healthy meat. The peanut sauce was fantastic. Sarap with its home-made bagoong.

The fresh durian as dessert capped the exhilarating meal. What a delicious, healthy dining experience!

The owner, Domingo Ang, says he throws tuna parties in Davao. Instead of lechon, he brings whole fresh tuna and cooks it various ways. It is a wonderful idea. Not only does it taste good, it is also healthy.

Davao has raised the bar for tuna, as far as I am concerned. I love it! I wonder what else is in store for us in the next four days.

Happy eating!

Hanoi Vietnamese Cuisine is at J. Camus St., Davao City; tel. (082) 2210901.

Marina Tuna is at Bo. Pampanga, Km. 8, Sasa, Davao City; tel. (082) 2358653, 2856319.

Call Lacchis at 0917-8557411.

Visit the author’s blog at www.sandydaza.blogspot.com; follow him @sandydaza at Twitter.

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