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Hẻm Gems: We Found Huế's Roast Pork Chè in Saigon, but It's Complicated.

When the parent ingredients are such top-tier performers in their respective categories, it’s natural to feel disappointed that the resulting combination is so subpar.

On the father's side, heo quay is probably one of the best ways to cook a slab of pork belly. When done right, the skin on top puffs up into a thick, voluminous crackling that breaks into smithereens between your teeth. A bit of fat, a bit of crackling, and a bit of fragrant tender meat — roast pork will make you sing. On the mother’s side, bột lọc is the queen of central Vietnam dumplings. While rice flour gives rise to delicate, malleable strands of noodles designed to soak up broth and sauce, tapioca flour is the best thing to have emerged from Huế cuisine, lending any finished product an envious shine and chewiness.

You won't guess what's inside this luscious ball!

Chè bột lọc heo quay is in many ways a marriage of the greats: a caramelized nub of roast pork coated in tapioca flour dumpling and submerged in an elegant, subtly gingery syrup. It’s also a rare occasion in Vietnamese cuisine where the line between sweet and savory meet. I have loved it since we first met on the streets of Huế, and it’s a blessing that bột lọc heo quay is so ubiquitous there — one can find the savory chè in fancy platters prepared by restaurants or just in a giant metallic pot that a vendor carts around town. The idea of meat in a dessert might make some feel churlish, but the concept is ingenious: Vietnamese chè options are often so straitlaced in their sweetness that any hint of salt is already an excellent balancing addition. Every time I’m in Huế, I must find my way towards chè bột lọc heo quay twice: on arrival and before departure.

Chè Huế is a subset of desserts with a reputation for its level of craftsmanship.

Finding a rare delicacy in Saigon inspires both excitement and dread in me. The city is a cultural melting pot, so obscure regional and international things will eventually find their way here, nestled in the rucksack of travelers or the entrepreneurial minds of newcomers. Discovering the presence of chè bột lọc heo quay deep in the menu of Góc Huế restaurant in District 3 got the Saigoneer office buzzing with chatter. What if it doesn’t live up to our expectations? There was only one way to find out: we made the trek to Kỳ Đồng Street with the goal to eat every item on the Huế bistro’s dessert section.

The cozy interior of Góc Huế.

Góc Huế’s interior is a blend of rusticity and comfort. Wooden texture and soft lighting coat every corner of the dining area while patrons exchange amicable conversations. The menu features bún bò, bánh bèo and other Huế classics, but our eyes went straight to the five sweet dishes: chè bột lọc heo quay, chè kê (millet), chè đậu ván (hyacinth bean), chè sen nhãn (longan with lotus seed filling), and chè sen Huế (lotus seed).

From left to right: chè đậu ván, chè sen nhãn, chè bột lọc heo quay, coconut milk, chè sen.

In a midnight blue lacquer bowl, our chè bột lọc heo quay looks handsomely luscious with a lattice of sliced ginger and a peppering of sesame seeds. The syrup is light and breezy, not too cloying or thick, but the orbs of bột lọc heo quay are a bit of a letdown. Their texture is pleasant, but the morsel of roast pork is too dry and not seasoned enough to leave a mark.

A scoop of sweet syrup.

A lack of crackling and fat renders the filling boring and the low level of seasoning is the final nail in the coffin. It’s decent, just missing some love from its maker. Tasting it makes me miss Huế and the town’s army of formidable chè vendors whose every glass of chè is a punch in the gut — in a good way.

The rest of the desserts at Góc Huế fared better than chè bột lọc heo quay. Once you’ve nailed the syrup, it’s hard to screw up. The lotus seeds were cooked right and chè đậu ván was right at the border between mush and whole beans. A glass of refreshingly cool pandan-flavored green tea closed out our sweet adventure on a fragrant note.

Chè nhãn bọc sen.

Chè sen Huế.

Chè đậu ván.

At around VND30,000 per chè, the dishes are a little bit on the expensive side. While lotus, longan, and đậu ván desserts can be found elsewhere in Saigon at better price points, chè bột lọc heo quay’s rarity in Saigon might make it worth your time, even though this version doesn’t hold a candle to its Huế counterparts. Considering the alternative is booking a ticket to fly northwards, I would recommend Góc Huế’s roast pork chè to those with a hankering to eat it again, but not bột lọc heo quay virgins. Trust me, you would want your first time to be special.

Góc Huế is open from 7am to 9pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 3/5
Price: 3/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 5/5

Khôi loves curry, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Góc Huế

41 Kỳ Đồng, Ward 9, D3, HCMC

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