Việt Nam News

Xuan Hiep

(Việt Nam news)

vn news thumpHave you ever dined at an eatery that has no menu from which to choose your favourite dishes?

Well, I did recently at Cuïc Gaïch Quaùn, where the chef creates a new menu every day.

Owned by architect Traàn Bình, the restaurant opened in 2009 but has already acquired a large number of clientele, both Vietnamese and foreigners.

Bình says he was inspired to open the restaurant because of his passion for promoting traditional Vietnamese cuisine.

But equally influential was his very old grandmother, with whom he has lived since he was a small child.

Bình uses the image of a brick, which in Vietnamese is Cuïc Gaïch, as the logo for his business and restaurant.

A brick, he explains, is a small object but it makes up a wall, a house and other significant construction works. It also refers to a strong foundation of success, he adds.

Cuïc Gaïch captured my attention at first sight. I didn't think I was entering a restaurant but rather a house artfully designed.

The two-storey eatery, only 4.5 metres wide and 25 metres long, can accommodate up to 60 diners. Peak time is at noon when office staff at nearby buildings come to have lunch.

One special thing I noticed was the antique look of many items, including fans, a TV, a radio set and other decorative pieces like vases, jars and bottles.

The tables and chairs are also old furniture, bought and redesigned by Bình to make them look even more unique.

I was amazed and, honestly, a bit disappointed at first to see that all the bowls and plates were not made of luxurious porcelain but of old earthenware, many of which were chipped.

Bình told me that all of the bowls and plates were made of earthenware and had been in use for a long time.

"We won't change but will continue to use these old earthenware bowls and places until they are broken, for they represent and symbolise the image of the countryside during economically harsh times," he said.

Another highlight was the traditional music playing quietly, which added much value to the cosy, warm ambience at Cuïc Gaïch.

In particular, well-known songs of 1970s sung by popular singers like Khaùnh Ly, Thaùi Thanh and Leâ Thu helped diners recall old memories.

Of course, since we did not have to order we could relax and eagerly await the standard set of traditional Vietnamese meals, which includes meat, fish, soup, fried and steamed vegetables together with dessert and iced tea.

Traàn Thò Haûi Nghóa, 31, an engineering consultant who lives close to the restaurant, told me that she had eaten lunch and dinner at Cuïc Gaïch every day for the last two years, other than the weekends.

"Although the meal menus change every day, the food is good and I love the service here," she said.

Most diners are friends of the owner who understand his service concept and approach.

Bình says he wants to create an atmosphere in which all diners are treated like guests.

"I want to cook and prepare the meals in my own way to treat my guests, trying to make them feeling at home. By following this concept, we want to promote Vietnamese culture and traditions that show hospitality to foreigners," he said.

The chef should be seen as a mother or grandmother who goes to the market every day to buy fresh food, and the waiters as brothers of the same family, who are all there to serve the guests.

"We don't provide a five-star restaurant service, but we try our best to preserve traditional Vietnamese cuisine and culture," Bình said.

He also wants to present dishes from the southern countryside, which are a fitting complement to the old tables and chairs, old chopsticks and spoons, and earthenware bowls and plates.

Most importantly, all the food is fresh and authentic. The restaurant makes the tofu itself according to a secret recipe.

Vegetarians can take heart as Cuïc Gaïch serves non-meat menus on the 1st and 15th of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The restaurant has become so popular that Bình opened an offshoot on 10 Ñaëng Taát Street in District 1 in HCM City. The only difference from the first Cuïc Gaïch eatery is that diners can order the meals there.

I was told that the popular American band Backstreet Boys visited Cuïc Gaïch during their first show in Vieät Nam in March this year.

Diner Philipp Essl, 32, from Austria, was impressed with the fresh and healthy dishes. "It's very pleasing to me to learn about Vietnamese culture through its unique cuisine," he said.

I left Cuïc Gaïch eatery with wonderful memories. It was obviously not the most luxurious gastronomic experience, but it made me even more proud of the country's culinary culture and traditions, and left a lasting impression on my mind.