[Penang, Malaysia] Vietnamese dinner at Saigon House Cuisine

Dinner at our current Vietnamese restaurant of choice in Penang: Saigon House Cuisine on the Sri Bahari Road dining precinct. Opened in mid-2017 by the husband-and-wife team - Penangite, Michael Tan, and Huếian, Laurent Nguyen, the nifty family restaurant offered an amazing plethora of Vietnamese street snacks, like those I’d had at in Hue, Vietnam, last year at Bà Đỏ, besides the more complex Vietnamese dishes, some of which needed advance booking.

We started off with an appetizer platter which consisted of: chả giò trái cây hải sản (crisp spring roll with passionfruit, mango, apple, pineapple and shrimp filling); gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls); chả giò (crisp-fried spring rolls); and chạo tôm (shrimp mousse on sugarcane)

Gỏi rau tiến vua tôm thịt (Vietnamese king’s vegetable salad, with shrimps and pork-belly)

Like many salads we’d had in Vietnam, it’s served with crisp rice crackers:

Trứng vịt lộn (duck foetus egg) a delicacy in Vietnam, as well as the Philippines.

Whilst the Filipinos consume this with a dash of vinegar and a sprinkle of salt, the Vietnamese have theirs with a sprig of Vietnamese mint (rau ram) and flavoured salt.

Bánh bèo nóng (Vietnamese water-rice cakes) - I love these to a fault: steamed saucer-shaped rice cakes, topped with finely-chopped dried shrimp, scallions and crisp pork-crackling.

Bánh khọt (Vietnamese mini savoury pancakes) - these delicate little crepe-like hors d’oeuvres were topped with minced pork & shrimp, and went perfectly with the nước chấm dip.

Bánh ướt chả lụa (rice noodle sheets, topped with fried shallots, and chả lụa/Vietnamese ham, drizzled with nước chấm dipping sauce)

Gà Bó Xôi - this was the piece de resistance for the evening: a whole chicken encased in glutinous rice, stuffed with lotus seeds, gingko nuts and shitake mushrooms. The glutinous rice casing, cooked till crisp and golden-brown, was the best thing I’d tasted in a long while. The delicious edible crust also kept the chicken encased inside moist and flavoursome.

Desserts consisted of:
Bánh flan (Vietnamese crème caramel)

Chè Đậu Đen (Vietnamese black beans with coconut milk)

Chè trôi nước (sticky rice balls in ginger syrup)

We certainly enjoyed the meal, and the restaurant’s rather extensive menu meant that we can return again & again in the future, and can still choose new dishes to try.

Saigon House Cuisine
77, Jalan Sri Bahari, 10050 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-261 2301
Opening hours: 11am to 10pm daily


All looks lovely. Which is a contrast to Vietnamese places in my neck of the woods. Those are all very casual with quite limited menus - once you’ve been two or three times, you’ve fun out of things you fancy eating.

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I know what you mean - most Vietnamese places in the UK tend to offer the standard pho bo beef & noodles in soup, cha gio spring rolls, and the like.

It was like this, too, here in Penang, even as recent as a decade back. The long Vietnam War drove an ideological divide between the West-leaning Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines on one side, and Communist Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia on the other.

Most of us grew up knowing next to nothing about the Vietnamese, despite our proximity. But in recent decades, because of the ASEAN economic grouping (modelled after the EU), and the resultant rapprochement between our countries, we started having Vietnamese students coming over to study in Penang’s colleges and universities, and Vietnamese workers in many sectors of our economy.

With the growth of the Vietnamese expat community here, the standards of the local Vietnamese restaurants in Penang improved drastically within the last 4-5 years alone, and the variety of dishes which we could only find in Vietnam previously started appearing here as well.

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I guess many of the local people with Vietnamese heritage will be descendents of the group, known in the UK, as the “boat people” - those who fled Vietnam finding refuge first in Hong Kong. Many of them then relocated to the UK settling in London and Manchester. We have two Vietnamese restaurants in a neighbouring suburb. The serving crew in one all speak with Manchester accents whilst the vrew in the other must be more recent arrivals.

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Yes, the Vietnamese “boat people” and their horrendous experience was something we’d always remember from the 70s/80s. Since most of those who fled were from the losing South Vietnamese side, they took their southern cuisine over to the West, where many of them resettled as war refugees. Many Westerners usually have their first taste of Vietnamese food in a South Vietnamese-run eatery - in America, UK, France or Australia - and, as a result, identify what they had as the Vietnamese food as they know it.

My first taste of Vietnamese food was from Kim Anh, a popular Vietnamese restaurant in Perth, Western Australia, where I grew up. I actually dreaded going to Kim Anh (a fave among my family and friends), because it served the spiciest food I’d ever had, and I couldn’t really take much chilis in my younger days. I couldn’t even eat its fried rice because of the amount of chilis added into it during the frying process! So, for many years, I tended to associate Vietnamese food with deadly spicy cuisine. It was only from 2000 onwards, with my constant business travel to Vietnam, that I realized what a misguided impression I’d had of the cuisine.

Vietnamese food is quite regional - from the mild-tasting North Vietnamese, to the spice-loving Southerners with their predilection for fresh herbs and vegetables. So, as one moves down Vietnam’s long coastline (3,260 km / 2,030 miles), the food gets spicier and spicier, and sweeter, too. Northern-style banh mi ham sandwiches start having fresh vegetables and crunchy pickles added to them, whilst pho bo has chili-spiked nuoc cham as a side-condiment.

Saigon House Cuisine here remains rooted to the Southern-style cuisine of Vietnam, which probably suits the spice-loving palate of Malaysians and Singaporeans.

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Is that the picture of the owner on the wall too?

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Yes, the wife’s portrait, painted by the husband!! :grin: :+1:


Day 536 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020. Fully-vaccinated individuals are now allowed to dine out at restaurants. Unfortunately, I’m not one yet, so I had to be content with take-outs at the moment.

Dinner this evening was from Saigon House Cuisine:

  1. 𝗚ỏ𝗶 𝗰𝘂ố𝗻 - fresh spring rolls with shrimp & rice vermicelli.

  1. 𝗕á𝗻𝗵 𝗸𝗵ọ𝘁 - mini-savoury pancakes.

  1. 𝗣𝗵ở 𝗯ò - beef with rice noodles.

  1. 𝗕á𝗻𝗵 𝗰𝘂ố𝗻 𝗰𝗵ả 𝗹ụ𝗮 - flat rice noodles with Vietnamese ham.

Somehow, Vietnamese food taste so much better when it’s served immediately - piping hot and fresh from the stove. Take-outs just don’t quite cut it, but we just have to make do with whatever we can get at the moment.


Also my experience.