Looking up to find delicious Vietnamese comfort food

If you’ve ever wondered where your food comes from, then head to The Fish Sauce (OCB Building, Rooftop, 6th floor, 41 Le Duan, D1) for the answer. All the vegetables are organic and locally sourced, and the pickles and sauces are made in house. Prepare for a culinary tour of the Vietnamese countryside, with flavors that are comforting and hearty, or new and unexpected.

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The celebration of local flavors begins with the cocktail menu, each inspired by a district in Ho Chi Minh City or a city in Vietnam. For example, the District 4 features passionfruit and gin, a nod to its port location (VND85,000). More herbal and complex, the Trang An is made with white wine, lime and homemade fermented apricots (VND85,000), and is named after a UNESCO site in northern Vietnam where fermented apricots are a popular snack. While we sipped, we admired the woodwork of the lofted ceiling and the lights that sprout like banana flowers from the ceiling. On all sides the clear glass walls allow diners to take in views of the city skyline.

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The Fish Sauce’s fishcakes are made entirely of real fish, not added fillings, and we can taste the difference from the supermarket versions when we ordered their fishcake spring rolls with herbs (VND80,000). Thick slices of springy chewy fishcakes tightly wrapped in rice paper, accompanied by a dipping sauce that features the restaurant’s namesake, which was fermented by small producers in Phu Yen Province. It has the deep amber color and complex nutty aroma of the high-quality stuff, with an addictive umami twist.

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The roasted duck salad (VND95,000) delivered perfectly caramelized fatty slices of duck. These decadent meaty morsels were balanced by the fresh crunch of sliced banana flowers, basil and green bananas. If you have any doubts about the merits of banana flowers, this is the dish to prove you wrong. The freshly sliced flowers soak up the citrus ginger dressing, providing a light crunchy backdrop for stronger flavors.

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A highlight of the menu is the many delicious soups. Out of all the tempting options, we chose the chayote squash soup with minced pork (VND70,000). The clear broth seemed both rich enough to serve on special occasions, and healthy enough to eat when you’re sick. Grated chayote ‘noodles’ gave the soup body with morsels of pork and green tea buds swimming in each spoonful.

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We paused in awe when they brought out the braised howling fish in claypot (VND75,000). This showstopper comes to the table still bubbling, with a caramelized sauce that smells like carnivore heaven. The tender fish soaked up the sauce, surrounded by crispy garlic and cubes of pork fat.  You definitely need some rice to temper this indulgence and absorb the sauce (side of white rice, VND10,000).

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After those rock star dishes, the steamed farm-raised chicken with steamed rice, mung bean, onion, coriander and greens (VND140,000) was a welcome dish of comfort food. Shreds of succulent chicken and fresh green papaya rested on a bed of rice and mung bean, with a side of fiery ginger soy sauce.

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Diners can also choose from an extensive list of organic vegetable sides, we went with a morning glory stir-fry with fermented bean curd sauce (VND45,000) and were pleasantly surprised. Traditional ferments of fish and soybeans translate to flavors that are meaty and complex without being overwhelming.

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Don’t leave without trying some desserts. We couldn’t resist the Fish Sauce signature taro cake (VND40,000) when we heard that its caramel sauce was made with real fish sauce! It had a smooth chewy texture like mochi. Our first impression of the caramel sauce was simply butter and sugar, but on the third bite there was a faint whisper of fish sauce. We kept eating, trying to taste it again. For the less adventurous, the light lime cheesecake (VND55,000) is perfect, fluffy and melts in your mouth. The creaminess is complemented by a crunchy salt and sugar crust, and fresh lime zest.

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The Fish Sauce impressed with their fresh local flavors and unfamiliar ingredients. Rather than reinventing Vietnamese cuisine, it feels like they have found the best parts of it to showcase.

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IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN