Mekong Rest Stop

As I previously mentioned, one of the dangers with joining a pre-arranged tour for your holiday is that you don’t get to pick where you eat.  Usually, restaurants that offer the tour operator the best margin and can have the food ready as soon as you sit down are favoured.  No regard to authenticity or enjoyment of the tourists.  This was the case for many of the places we ate at in Vietnam.  But every so often, we were stunned and delighted to be taken somewhere superb.  Not just clean – but posh, not just yummy, but AMAZING, and not just satisfying but also innovative too!  Mekong Rest Stop is such establishment.  We were on our way back to Ho Chi Minh City when we pulled up at this complex in the middle of nowhere (Well, we had all fallen asleep by then).  We were taken to a beautiful garden, where we were seated at an outdoor pagoda, and seated in a room that had no more than 5 tables in it.  The furniture was antique, and the only thing that was missing was a fan – it was stinking hot!  But our stickiness was alleviated by the cool sugar cane drinks (US$2.50 each, which is considered expensive in Vietnam!!); and forgotten as our pre-ordered menu was delivered to us.  First up, for entrees, we were given mini vietnamese pancakes.  Crisp tumeric infused discs with a prawn, bean sprouts and pork; served with nam chuoc sauce; and the Hanoi Crisp parcels – fried spring rolls which are made with a delicate net style pastry.

Next up, individual beef noodle soups.  As you can see here, what we have as “pho” in Australia is sooo much better because it’s made in beef stock. Whereas in Vietnam most of the time we got it in MSG style soup :( No meaty flavour at all. :(   Unless what we have in Australia is westernised??

Things were looking good! And then along came this BALL!!  What was this fried perfectly rounded thing?? 

We were rushing to take photos as our scissor wielding waitress was racing us to attack it before we could get a photo.  Our curiosity was satisifed and in fact it was hollow! A glutinous rice ball, slightly sweet in flavour and gooey in texture.

Then along came this fish.  Elephant ear fish apparently.  Lucky I had seen it on Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam program on SBS, or otherwise I would have gone to the waiter “oh … umm… you seem to have forgotten to descale it!”  But since I had watched it, I knew that the scales are meant to be delightfully crispy. Well in theory anyway… I decided I wasn’t game enough to try.  It’s a speciality of the mekong delta region.   What a dramatic preparation!  We were sad that the table of 2 next to us had the same banquet and had the fish between 2 and we had it between four :(

This time, our waitress came wearing gloves, and she proceeded to peel the flesh off the fish and wrap it in a rice paper roll for us, which is something I haven’t tried before. Usually it’s pork or beef or prawn for me.  Also, she put in a slice of fresh pineapple, plus the usual vermicelli and lettuce and cucumber.  We loved it! (I picked out the scales though).

We couldn’t fault the satays. But we were so engrossed in the fish it was cold by the time we ate it.  it was also surprising that they were so meaty.  Our the rest of our tour, we got the impression that meat was very expensive and as a result we never really got that much of it.

And the fried rice filled what room was left in our tummies but wasn’t anything special to comment on.

And for our 8th dish, tropical cool fruit.

The Mekong Rest Stop also has a shop and convenience store. The landscaped gardens are so beautiful and we spent some time taking photos around the place.  It’s a haven in such a busy country.  I wanted to sticky beak to see how much that amazing banquet cost, given that our tour budgets only US$5 per person per meal.  However no prices were available on the website.  But regardless, please check it out if you are in town!

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