An invitation to Aquaknox brought The Foodie Club together one Sunday lunch. Since we were a big group, we didn't arrive at the restaurant at the same time. Therefore, to while away time for the early birds, we were given a basket of Prawn Crackers to munch on. Delicious prawn crackers very similar to those that you can buy from the grocery and fry at home. I love dipping this in vinegar.
When more than half of The Foodie Club have arrived, the kitchen began to serve our meal. First came the Goi Cuon (Php. 100), fresh spring rolls with shrimps, pork, lettuce and vermicelli noodles. This is my favorite appetizer when dining in a Vietnamese restaurant. I enjoy dipping this into the special peanut sauce that goes with it. Other restaurants also offer a fried version of the spring rolls, I personally still want my spring rolls fresh where I can taste the juicy shrimp without getting my lips all oily. One order comes with three slices of the spring rolls.
Next was the Chao Tom (Php. 160). Another favorite of mine, I love these minced prawns wrapped in sugarcane and served with fresh lettuce and noodles. While others would carefully take the shrimp fillet out of the sugarcane and wrap it with lettuce, noodles and a sprinkling of vinegar. I like biting directly into the shrimp like a barbecue. It's juicy and delicious. I just find it a bit too small for the price though. More shrimps please!!
After our shrimp appetizers, next came the crunchy Canh Ga Chien Voi Toi (Php. 150) which are fried chicken lollipops with garlic and scallions. I love chicken lollipops and I remember ordering these every single time my family dines at Steak Town (is this restaurant still around?). I love the tiny chicken drumstick-like that I would munch on one piece after the other. The Vietnamese version comes with vinegar dip and is covered with fried garlic. Fragrant and tasty just the way I like it. :)
Health buffs will like the Goi Buoi Voi Tom Noung (Php. 150) otherwise known as the Pomelo Salad. At my in-law's house, Manang and my brother-in-law A makes delicious salads and I've made a mental note to ask them to learn how to make Vietnamese Pomelo Salad for us to enjoy at home. I love the mix of juicy sweet pomelo with cabbage, shrimps, carrots and scallions. I think I ate quite a lot as I ended up finishing the plate of salad meant for Paul and I to share.
I didn't know that Vietnamese food also has Sticky Rice combination. I was initially hesitant to give this a try as I really do not see the clear link between grilled pork belly with sticky rice as found in the Thit Heo Noung Voi Gao Nep (Php. 160). Eventually I took up the courage and gave it a try. It was ok, though not something I would go crazy about. There was just something missing with this dish, which later I figured out what.
Then came the highlight of our lunch that day, Chef Danny's Garlicky Crabs. Whoever Chef Danny was I want to commend him for a job well done! I enjoyed this dish because what normally holds me back from enjoying shrimps and crabs outside is the fact that I have to use my hands. Just imagine the hassle of running to the bathroom with your fingers all oily and later trying in vain to remove the smell that you normally get from eating crabs. The crab was served whole but when you remove the shell, you'll see that the meat has been removed from the shell already. No messy eating this time, all you have to do is to keep on scooping up more meat to satisfy your crab craving.
Then here's the secret, Peter told us to try mixing the crab and its garlicky oil with the sticky rice. We did as suggested and actually enjoyed the rice because the fragrant garlic oil perked up the taste of the sticky rice. Peter was a food genius! In no time, everyone followed suit and our sticky rice plate was emptied out thanks to the garlic crabs.
Last dish that was served was the Saigon Banh Xeo (Php. 285) which is a Saigon sizzling crepe filled with chicken, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, onions and beansprout. Despite everyone feeling so full, we each took a bite and enjoyed this one as well. I love the filling and that it has a curry-like taste. This goes well with plain rice and all the other dishes that we have enjoyed that day.
I didn't know that Vietnamese food actually has a lot to offer. The common notion is that it's only known for pho (noodles), spring rolls and coffee. Now, I really can't wait to go to Vietnam. A food trip while enjoying Vietnam's culture sounds good, don't you think?
Meanwhile, while I try to save up for my next trip, at least I know that I can always hop over to Aquaknox whenever I want a taste of Vietnam.
*photo credit: Paul Ang
Aquaknox is located at 800 Arnaiz Avenue, San Lorenzo Village, Makati City. Call them at 894-3380.