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Hẻm Gems: Piquant Thai Noodles in D7 for the Age of Takeout

It's the simple things in life that sometimes bring the greatest pleasure.

Editor's note: We are fully aware of the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the intention of this Hẻm Gem is not to tell people they should leave their home and be out in public. Please follow health authorities' hygiene guidelines when you leave home and avoid crowded places. XÀO Noodle also offers delivery through Now, Grab and Baemin, or you can call 0903417606.

For whatever reason, Saigon is not exactly flooded with food from other parts of Southeast Asia. That's not to say it doesn't exist, but it's generally easier to find pizzas or burgers than Malaysian or Indonesian food.

When it comes to Thai cuisine, there are a few stalwarts, but it's always exciting when someone new appears. A few weeks ago I stumbled across some Facebook posts about XÀO Noodle, situated on Tran Xuan Soan, the lengthy road that borders the Kenh Te Canal in District 7.

I lived on the street a few years ago, and while it's not exactly a hotbed of amazing food, there are some solid Vietnamese spots. Unfortunately, like District 2 and Thao Dien, District 7 is often synonymous with Phu My Hung, so a huge part of the area is completely overlooked. This isn't to say that Phu My Hung is bad, but it's a hike for a lot of people, and not somewhere you go for affordable restaurants.

Enter XÀO. From outside, it looks exactly like your standard local spot: a table in the motorbike parking area, and an open dining room filled with basic tables and chairs. The seating is at least more colorful than usual, and two brightly lit aquariums filled with vibrant fish add a splash of excitement. Plenty of plants also add a welcome green touch to the proceedings.

XÀO is run by Quan, an affable guy who lived in Australia for 10 years and worked in Thai restaurants for half that time. He brought his affinity for the cuisine back to Saigon with him, and while the flavors aren't a perfect copy of what you'd find in Thailand, they're a damn fine substitute, and at a price point that can't be beat.

The menu features pad Thai with a choice of seven different toppings, stir-fried glass noodles with the same topping options, a number of steamed rice dishes, two Thai salads and several noodle soup dishes. Amazingly, XÀO also offers canned Singha and Chang beer for just VND22,000 each.

We went for the pad Thai with char siu pork and prawn (VND50,000) as our first dish. Some pad Thai renditions go a bit over-the-top with their egg presentation, but this one is simple: shredded egg is mixed into the noodles, while juicy pork slices and a plump prawn sit on top.

The noodles were, to be honest, on the chewy side for my taste, but the flavor was fantastic, and easily goes toe-to-toe with much pricier places in town.

Next was the yum wao sen salad with prawn and squid (VND60,000). This dish served up a healthy kick that left my nose running a bit — but that's the just the level of spice I like. The squid was tasty, and not at all rubbery, as is often the case, while the prawns were nice and juicy. Quan definitely has a good shrimp hookup.

Finally, we had the stir-fried minced pork with basil and fried egg (VND48,000). This is an absolute star of Thai cuisine (in fact, our photographer has the Thai script for it tattooed on his arm), and though the basil used here is not the same as that in Thailand, this is an excellent rendition. Meanwhile, the portion size, as with the other two dishes, is an absolute steal, and sharing these dishes among three hungry diners was more than enough food.

Support Quan by ordering delivery for now, and once this is era of social isolation is over we can hang out canal-side while enjoying some delicious Thai food and cheap Thai beers. What more do you need to look forward to?

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand. 

Thai food

401 Tran Xuan Soan, D̃7


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