In the early ’70s, as the war in Vietnam ended, many Vietnamese sought refuge in other countries. The Philippines was one of those that took in these refugees. As far as I can remember, they were mostly based in Palawan and Bataan. Not long after that, these Vietnamese residents created their own community and started planting their vegetables and cooking their own cuisine, which somehow spilled over to us curious foodies. There are still remnants of many of these in Palawan and Bataan, albeit no longer as authentic.
Around this time, we had just opened a newest branch of our French restaurant Au Bon Vivant in Makati. Right beside the Au Bon building in Makati was a fast food joint, a brand-new concept at the time. I remember walking into it and my jaw just dropped with excitement and confusion for I didn’t know where to begin. There were just so many varieties to choose from. The first stall from the entrance of the Kimpura building side was a Vietnamese fast food stall run by three Vietnamese women from Bataan, I believe. They had displays of samples of the food they had on offer. I had very little knowledge of this cuisine, except for my little exposure to it in Paris. (Vietnam was a colony of France at some point). Everything I saw on display was new to me and anything I tried I loved for they were all flavorful, healthy, unique, and so, so delicious. I didn’t get to eat there often. I only got that chance when I came home from Paris for a visit. Eventually, it closed.
I crave for good authentic Vietnamese food. Unfortunately, this cuisine is not very well represented in the Philippines. There are a few Vietnamese restaurants but far from what those three women offered as authentic cuisine. Once in a while, however, an authentic dish pops up here and there.
Every Saturday morning, I play badminton. After the games, I jump into my car and drive to the Salcedo Saturday market, sit inside my Casa Daza stall, and order from the Vietnamese stall nex to mine. I’d usually have a fresh spring roll, a shrimp salad, and a tall cup of iced Dalandan juice. Delicious! This has been my routine for months. A must try!
Leny Yusay, a friend, once told me about a Vietnamese restaurant somewhere in Marikina. “Authentic and masarap,” she said. So, off I went.
Ca Phe Saigon is my type of discovery. Tucked away on the side streets of Marikina, it is a house transformed into a restaurant. Vegetables surround the house and this is where many of the ingredients in the dishes come from. As soon as I saw the menu, confusion. I got rattled, wanting to order everything. So, I started with a platter of spring rolls—fried, steamed, and fresh. With a sweet patis dipping sauce, every single one of them was not only worth the trip to Marikina, they were also as I remember them to be in Saigon. I also ordered a beef pho. This had a delicious broth that went well with the rice noodles. Although the beef was a bit tough, I enjoyed it. Fried chicken was good but ordinary. I also had the tamarind spare ribs with rice, which was very good. I took home a dry noodle dish called Bun Thit Cha Gio. It’s a dish of dry noodles topped with fried spring rolls and a choice of beef, pork or chicken, which comes with the standard sweet patis dipping sauce. Also very good, it reminds me of the popular dish in Hanoi called Bun Cha. After that, I went home smiling about this newfound discovery. After just two days, I was back and this time I just had the fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp, a crispy crepe called Bahn Xeo. It’s a savory crepe made of rice flour and turmeric and stuffed with slivers of pork, shrimp, green onions, cilantro, and bean sprouts. You slice the pancake, wrap it in lettuce and the cucumber, drip some sauce over it, close your eyes and enjoy. I also had the fried pork chops. Sarap! I intend to go back and try everything on the menu. I was so happy I wanted to kiss the waiter. What a discovery!
Ca Phe Saigon is my type of discovery. Tucked away on the side streets of Marikina, it is a house transformed into a restaurant. Vegetables surround the house and this is where many of the ingredients in the dishes come from.
As soon as this travel restriction is over, my first destination is Saigon, where I will eat healthy and hoard sweet, sour, and salty champuy from the Ben Tah market. In the meantime, it’s Ca Phe Saigon for me.
Now, my authentic Asian restaurant list is complete. Check this place out. And happy eating!
Ca Phe Saigon is at 14 Red Cedar Road, Marikina Subdivision. (02) 8646 1438. Use Waze to find it.