It’s always been difficult to find authentic Vietnamese eats in Malaysia and Singapore. Very much was due to ideological differences between Malaysia/Singapore and Communist Vietnam during the Vietnam War/Cold War period. From the 1950s till perhaps only a couple of decades ago, Malaysians/Singaporeans hardly have any personal contact with the Vietnamese.
But with greater cohesiveness and interaction between the countries which constitute the ASEAN (Association of SE-Asian Nations) common market these days, Malaysians & Singaporeans are discovering that Vietnamese culture is, in fact, about 90% the same as Singaporean/Malaysian culture, even more so than Thailand, a traditional neighbouring county which Malaysians/Sigaporeans are very familiar with.
VIetnamese festivals are, in fact, similar in origins to the major Chinese festivals celebrated in Malaysia & Singapore:
Vietnamese Tet Nguyen Dan/Lunar New Year = Chinese Lunar New Year. The Vietnamese also divides its years into 12-year cycles and uses the same animal zodiac symbols as the Chinese.
Vietnamese Tết Trung Thu/Mid-Autumn Festival = Chinese Zhōngqiū Jié/Mid-Autumn Festival, with children carrying paper lanterns, lion dances, and food booths selling mooncakes.
Vietnamese Wandering Souls Day = Chinese Qing Ming (All-Souls Day), 15th day of the 7th lunar month, which locals believe is the day when spirits of their ancestors are able to visit their homes. Families pray at Buddhist/Taoist temples and graves of their departed ones, with flowers & sweetmeats.
Vietnamese Tết Đoan Ngọ = Chinese Duan Wujie, the rice dumpling festival.
Vietnamese food are also more similar to Chinese food than Thai. Bánh lá (leaf-wrapped glutinous rice, with meat or bean filling) share the same origin as Chinese zongzi.
Some varieties of bánh lá are virtual counterparts of Chinese zongzi, for example, this is the Vietnamese bánh ú nước tro:
The Chinese in Penang & Singapore call this “kee chang” (where alkaline water imparts a yellowish hue & a springy texture to the glutinous rice)
Despite the shared cultural similarities, limited contact & social interaction between Malaysia/Singapore and Vietnam resulted in rather limited knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine in Malaysia & Singapore. Up till now, in fact, Vietnamese food in Singapore and Malaysia lacked authenticity and, in fact, tasted nowhere as good as those one finds in, say, Paris’ Chinatown or even Sydney’s Cabramatta area.
But with increased numbers of Vietnamese now coming to live & work in Malaysia & Singapore, the availability of good, authentic Vietnamese food - especially in places which cater to the large & growing Vietnamese diaspora here in Penang - students, professionals, etc. - has increased significantly.
One of the more popular Vietnamese dining spots in George Town is Quê Hương Tôi, Translated as “My Hometown”, Quê Hương Tôi is a popular dining spot for Penang’s Vietnamese community, and is located in the working-class neighbourhood of Jelutong.
Our dinner last night consisted of:
- Gỏi Cuốn - Vietnamese spring roll with a filling of pork, prawn, vegetables, bún (rice vermicelli), and herbs/vegetables, wrapped in Vietnamese bánh tráng (rice paper).
- Banh Khot - savoury pancakes topped with shrimps, pork & parsley.
- Chả Giò (known as nem rán in North Vietnam) - deep-fried spring rolls.
- Bánh Xèo - Vietnamese savoury fried pancake made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder, stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimp, diced green onion, bean sprouts & shredded jicama/yambean.
- Bún Riêu - thick vermicelli in pork soup, with pig’s blood, pig trotter, pork & tofu puffs.
- Bún Bò Huế - vermicelli in beef soup.
- Miến Gà - chicken with glass noodles soup.
- Bánh Flan - the version here serves the custard flan in an iced coffee sauce instead of caramel.
- Chè Đậu Trắng - rice/semolina pudding with black-eyed peas, topped with coconut creme.
- Chè Bắp - corn & semolina pudding, topped with coconut creme.
The tiny, bustling dining room was filled to the brim by 7.30pm. Parking is a bit hard to find along the busy road - one can find limited spaces behind, at Lorong Sungei Pinang. But I;d recommend Uber.
Quê Hương Tôi
56-W, Jalan Jelutong (Jelutong Road)
11600 George Town, Penang
Tel: +604 281 0633
Lunch: 10am-3pm Mon, Wed-Fri, 9am-3pm on Sat & Sun. Closed on Tuesday
Dinner: 5pm-10pm, daily except Tuesday.