Northern Comfort Food

Rice Fields brings regional Red River Delta dishes to Saigon

Across the street from Bitexco Tower, up two flights of stairs and behind a curtain of hanging beads is Rice Fields – Homecooked Vietnamese Cuisine (75-77 Ho Tung Mau, D1). Here, in the heart of the city, hides a peaceful countryside oasis complete with murals of pre-1975 Vietnam and bordered by literal terraces of rice plants. But Rice Fields isn’t about escaping to the past; it’s crafting a narrative of traditional Vietnam that complements its stunning views of downtown skyscrapers, and presenting classic Vietnamese food to an international standard.

Rice Fields is the latest creation from Tran Dinh Huy, the visionary restaurateur behind other popular eateries that include Secret Garden, Mountain Retreat and Hue House. At 34 years old, Huy has a reputation for combining enchanting atmospheres with world-class Vietnamese cuisine. Rice Fields, his seventh restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, continues the theme, this time drawing on the rural scenery and society of the northern countryside province of Nam Dinh, Huy’s home.

Entering the restaurant, guests are greeted by friendly and helpful staff. We started with a glass of the house red, a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon (VND120,000). The beautiful, fullyillustrated menu includes popular Vietnamese dishes from all regions of the country. The portions are kept on the small side so guests are urged to share and sample many varieties. All food is served family-style and presented on picturesque banana-leaf trays.

Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls
Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls

At our server’s suggestion, we started with the Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls (VND85,000), which came in a sesame-seed rice paper wrap with a sweet, tangy and spicy dipping sauce. Four bite-sized spring rolls, with bright red shrimp tails sticking out the back, piqued our appetite for what came next, the Banana Flower Salad with Deep Fried Eels (VND85,000). This common Vietnamese salad is comprised of stringy banana flowers, peanuts, cilantro, carrots and onions, and is served with fresh lime fish sauce. With crispy, salty eels on top, it makes a fresh, summery dish and our instant favorite.

Banana flower with deep-fried ells
Banana flower with deep-fried ells

Next up was Deep-Fried Mackerel with Green Mango Flowers & Fish Sauce (VND75,000). It’s served with a chili-garlic fish sauce and we couldn’t get enough of the sweet and tangy shredded mango. Our final dish was the Fried Salted Bacon (VND75,000). Several pieces of thick, tender bacon with crispy fried edges are served with a chili soy sauce and garnish of tomatoes and cucumbers. The textures are impeccably balanced and the salty soy sauce brings out the savory sweetness of the bacon.

Deep-Fried Maxkerel with Green Mango & Fish Sauce
Deep-Fried Maxkerel with Green Mango & Fish Sauce

After our meal, we took our wine up to the rooftop for a stunning view of downtown. There’s a banana boat filled with beanbags for lounging and benches/tables for eating. Rice Fields will soon add additional seating and tables on the rooftop as well as an area to accommodate groups. The gentle breeze and soft peaceful music make it an easy place to get stuck chatting long into the night.

What Huy has done with all of his restaurants is create an image of traditional Vietnamese culture that’s refined and stylized enough to stand on a global stage while still remaining authentic. He’s  selected the best traditional dishes that represent different regions of the country, all while maintaining an impeccable level of quality, cleanliness and service. If rice fields were the original inspiration for Huy’s entrepreneurial spirit, Rice Fields may be the launchpad for bringing Vietnamese culture and cuisine to a global audience.

 

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