Last Saturday, we were invited through Penang Tua Pui(PTP) to join in a food tasting and cum review at Miss Saigon at E-Gate. It was our first time there but not the first time savouring Vietnamese cuisine. It was was joyful event for the bunch of us bloggers from Penang. From previous conversations with PTP, their initial review of this place was a thumbs down. And because of the review there were some negative comments at their blog, but as time goes by we saw a huge change in the reaction from this Miss Saigon and a lot of improvements have taken place. The main purpose for food floggers are to share what is good and to encourage improvements for those eateries who are not performing well in their food offerings. We do not like to see any food business go bust, but to see them flourish.

Vietnamese cuisine or food differs in the north, south and central regions, but 2 key features are shared in all these regions. One, rice is the staple through out the country, which is the typical of any South East Asian Country. Two, almost every meal is complimented or not complete without fresh green, be it vegetables or wild herbs like coriander, mint, basil, etc.
Vietnam's food culture or habits are a reflection of its history and geographical location. Vietnam was once a colony of China, thus the influence of the use of chopsticks, woks, soya sauce, etc. Their use of European cooking ingredients and style were due to the colonisation by the French. That is why one will often find ingredients like cheese, white potato and French bread on their menus. Geographically, Vietnam is blessed with the Red River Delta and Mekong Delta where rice plus a wide variety of fruits and vegetables which provides for the country.
North Vietnam is near to China and coupled with harsh weather, their ingredients and taste differs from the South. They tend to use less meat, fish and vegetables, and for seasoning black pepper and soya sauce is the norm instead of chilies and fish sauce. North Vietnamese tastes are strict and less sweet but saltier than other regions.
In Central Vietnam there is a distinct and extreme use of spices and color in their cooking because of the influence of their ancient history as the royal capital of the country. Hue’s cuisine, emphasised on the quality and quantity, with lots of small and complex tasting dishes.
Southern Vietnam tastes are heavily affected by Cambodia, Thai and China(due to trade and immigrants). Their taste preference are sweeter, richer and spicier as compared to other regions. Fish sauce and chillies are a must in this region for seasoning.
Now back to the review! The place is comfortably situated next to Old Town at E-Gate. The interior and exterior looks kind of normal, so don't expect a lot on the ambiance. The interior would be a bit tight when it comes to peak-hours due to the space constraints. The outdoor seating would be my choice during a cool and breezy night. With the lights switch on at the bridge and on the mainland, it would be a view to gaze at after mouth fulls of fresh and flavourful makan.
The review was mainly to try out their somewhat new menu and dishes. They have actually introduce quite a number of new dishes and improved on some of the old ones. To make it easier for the customer to choose their meals or snacks, Miss Saigon's management has categorised their offerings into 5 main categories, which are Summer Rolls, Exotic Sides, Salads, Rice & Noodles and Vietnamese Sandwiches. The new menu outlook is something that even I agree that will really help reduce the 'deciding' duration for the customers and also speed-up the table service from one table to another. The pictures and short description really helps. But if you are not really keen in those new dishes, you could ask for the old ala ca rte menu. There are more varieties in it.

First to come from the kitchen were the Summer Rolls or hand rolls Vietnamese style. In this category there are 8 varieties to choose from. There is the Traditional Northern Rolls (Prawn or Chicken Slices), Farmer’s Egg Rolls, Mini Prawn Paste on Sugar Cane (with some DIY wrapping action with rice paper), Crispy Gourmet Seafood Rolls, Crisp Fried Hanoi Rolls, Fresh Vegetable Rolls, Southern Fish Rolls and Classic Rice Flour Rolls.





Tham Chiak from PTP is seen here trying his hand in the Mini Prawn Paste on Sugar Cane DIY rice paper roll. I hope he had washed his hands! If not, I sympathised with person sharing that piece with him.
Second on the new menu are some of the Exotic Foods found in Vietnam. Although exotic, they very much acceptable by all of us. They are nothing like the the chows from Fear Factor. In this category, one could choose from Cinnamon Beef Chunks La Lot, Grilled Chicken T-shaped Wings, Wok Fried Flower Chicken/Beef, Spiced Grilled Eel Cake, Villagers Grilled Snail Cake, Street Style Salty Soft Shell Crabs and Royal Seafood Skewer. One of these or a few might give you the tang that you need for the night.
Grilled Chicken T-shaped Wings
Wok Fried Flower Beef
Wok Fried Flower Chicken
Spiced Grilled Eel Cake / Villagers Grilled Snail Cake

Street Style Salty Soft Shell Crabs
Royal Seafood Skewer

I especially like the Wok Fried Flower Chicken/Beef and the Grilled Chicken T-Shaped. The Wok Fried Flower Chicken/Beef was stir fried with a herb which is commonly found in Vietnam. Thailand also produces this herb, Pergularia, which it is brought in from. It has nutty taste to it, and almost taste similar to Asparagus tip when it was fried with beef. When the Pergularia was cooked with chicken, this dish produce a light and sweet taste with the chicken taste still in tact. As for the Grilled Chicken T-Shaped, it taste unique with the use herbs spices, which the chef is not willing to part with, and the texture was a bit powdery because of the ground spices used.

The Street Style Salty Soft Shell Crabs was crispy to the bite and was filled with the taste of Dill. Something different from the usual method of cooking soft shell crabs. As for the Royal Seafood Skewer, the Salmon was slightly over cooked. The Salmon had already loss its unique rich oils and moisture and that is why it was dry and too firm. But if taken with the accompanying grilled fresh mushrooms and capsicum would have enhanced the texture and taste of the Salmon chunks.

Next on the new menu was the Salads category. The choices are Sour Green Mango Salad, Miss Saigon Salad, Cold Glass Noodle Salad, Crunchy Papaya Salad and Jelly Fish Salad. The salads did go down well with me and Gill, except for one which was the Miss Saigon Salad. The pineapple and prawns did not really compliment each other in taste and texture. All the salads had the natural sweetness from all the vege, fruit, fungus and seafood ingredients. They were also sour but not too sour, thus they quite an appetiser and 'hoi wai' (start the gastronomic activity) in Cantonese. The roasted peanut toppings were also fragrant and crunchy. With all the various texture of smooth, crunchy and firm dressed with the sweet and sour taste, the salads are a must have any patronage.

After the salad section, next in line was the noodle section. In this section, one could choose from the choices of Crunchy Eel Glass Noodle Soup, Villagers Snail Noodle Soup, Traditional Southern Beef/Chicken BUN and Traditional Vietnamese Chicken/Beef PHO.
The Village Snail Noodle Soup was..... Actually I did not really try this one, I only had the snails. The snails are earthy, sweet and a bit chewy. A good compliment to a bowl of fluffy noodles.

The Traditional Bun is something like our 'Kon Lou' noodles, but without the dark soy and fragrant oils. It is sour with a hint of sweetness on its gravy/sauce. This noodle is quite a appetiser because the sweet and sour really opens up the stomach for more to come. The sourness is light and tangy, unlike the sourness from our local Laksaa. The condiments of mint leaves, bean sprouts and spring onions, compliments the silky smooth noodles with is rough texture and crunch, they also provide some of the sweetness that this Bun has to offer.

The last category on the new menu was the Sandwich section. There are only two to choose from, Vietnamese Street Baguette and Frog Curry with Garlic Spice Baguette. In between the two, I fancy the Street Baguette more because of the taste from the chicken pete(it is actually chicken liver pete) combined with the cold cut meat and the juicy tomato and fresh salad greens. The texture of the baguette was also something to look forward for, in fact the bread wasn't the usual hard baguettes, it was replace with the softer French Loaf. The substitution was because of the hardness of the baguettes that will affect the enjoyment of the soft and smooth fillings.
As for the Frog Curry with Garlic Spice Baguettes, I was too busy mingling around and the baguettes were all gone. But from the looks of it, it should be Garlic Bread to the extreme. The Frog Curry, that I did taste a bit. It was creamy but not too rich and sweet with a bit of heat, unlike the curries here which are spicy and rich(lemak). May be the curry would taste better with the baguettes.

Overall the dishes that were presented to us was quite interesting in the sense of the composition of the aroma of the herbs and spices used in the dishes, taste of their unique seasoning, texture of the ingredients and the use of various vegetables to compliment almost every dish. Definitely I would try to make an effort to go try the Vietnamese Cuisien at Miss Saigon again. May be the whole range of the new menu again because me and Gill did not really experience what could be offered by the dishes, but not at one seating because the prices of certain items are a bit on the high side.
From this outing with this group of PFB, we can see that we are all doing it because of the passion we have on food. It was a great time to mingle arround and get to know one and another. But as a formal review of a business or restaurant, it was not quite a successfull one becasue we(me & Gill) did not really sat down and let dishes arouse our senses. After everything was over, I felt a bit guilty because Miss Saigon has taken the effort and time the organise this session, but no justice was done for them. Then PTP's Huat Kuih and I got thinking, it would be better to have a proper procedure and pre-arrange with the restaurant so that we can make the best the opportunity and give a quality review rather than something which cannot justify the effort and cost on the restaurants part. To really savour and enjoy food, we must be comfortable and relax so that we can really experience what the dish can offer! Anyway, I would like to give thanks to Leslie from Miss Saigon and PTP for making this event happen.
On a more serious side, I can see that Miss Saigon still have long way to go to promote their Vietnamese cuisine and restaurant. As a marketer, my suggestions to them are, provide more education on the specialty and benefits of Vietnamese cuisine, tell people the history and culture that shaped and influence Vietnamese cuisien to what it is now, put more effort in the promotions. Entice people to try their food with special discounts, like happy hour or tea time treats to attract the crowd who are always there at their neighbouring Old Town or Starbucks, special Purchase-with-Purchase Deals, Bring-in-More patron discounts and etc. The food is healthy and wholesome niche market it to the healthy consciouss.

On average, I would give this place:

  • 3.3/5 for value
  • 3.7/5 for taste & texture
  • 4/5 for service
  • 4/5 for cleanliness
  • 3.5/5 for atmosphere

8 comments

  1. cariso // November 20, 2008 at 7:34 PM  

    I agree with you on the quality review part.

  2. Food Paradise // November 20, 2008 at 7:52 PM  

    I think Miss Saigon will appreciate your information of vietnam food culture. It let people understand more. As I think some ppl never taste Vietnamese food b4 and the food preparation btw the north, south and central region is some what different.
    But still in Penang, my friends and families still cannot get the nice PHO in Penang Island. lol And hope that Miss Saigon can do something about this. We want authentic PHO. lol

  3. Christy // November 20, 2008 at 8:21 PM  

    OOooo...now I know why all of a sudden everyone is blogging about Miss Saigon...hahaha:)

    Glad that it turned out so well and looks like everyone enjoyed the outing yea;)

  4. Allie // November 20, 2008 at 9:03 PM  

    What a detail review you have here.

    I hv the same feeling with you on the review procedure.

  5. Faye fly // November 21, 2008 at 9:07 AM  

    hang around penang food blogger ..look like quite enjoy there ah u all ! nice photos ^^

  6. ck lam // November 21, 2008 at 10:58 AM  

    Totally agree with you that we did not really get to sit down and enjoy the food as we were standing around taking turns to capture the photos of the food.

    But anyway, we had a great time there, thanks to the management of Miss Saigon.

  7. CRIZ LAI // November 21, 2008 at 10:34 PM  

    I also agreed to be in a more relaxed environment. It was quite chaotic that day with everyone shooting and at the same time trying to grab whatever that was left on the plate.

    Nicely done on this review. Thumbs up! :)

    http://crizfood.blogspot.com/

  8. Penang Tua Pui // November 21, 2008 at 10:55 PM  

    hm.. really do a study on viet food.. like what i did before i visit the restaurant.

    ur photo shooting skill is supreme la.....


    not only good at eating.. but shooting too...