October 06, 2010 | | Comments 78

Mui Ngo Gai Vietnamese Restaurant on Nanaimo and Broadway, Vancouver

Attention foodies … especially those of you who are adventurous and enjoy exploring new and unique food.

This is another restaurant that excites me … a lot. I think it will you too.

I stumble upon Mui Ngo Gai by accident a couple of weeks ago when we drove all the way from Richmond to Nanaimo and Broadway. That was when we went to the Golden Phoenix for dim sum.

We parked our car right in front of this restaurant with an uncommon name. What immediately caught our eyes as we got out of the car was the picture menu that they had pasted in the front window. It was not just us who stopped to look but there was one other person who stopped too.

Stay with me and let me tell you why this is so exciting. You really must read every page of the menu to understand what I mean (just click on them to show it in larger image).

Starting with the first image above on the left. This is about the appetizers. The normal stuff of spring rolls and deep fried chicken wings are there. However, the one that stands out is their hot chilli oil. I mean, I see this quite common and you can find this in most Chinese restaurants. However, they claim it’s different. I’ll tell you more later.

The middle image above is pretty hohum. It is the various combination of pho. The only difference is that they offer four choices of noodles with the 16 types of pho.

What is EXCITING is the third image on the right above. OMG … there are TWELVE different types of noodle soups! You must check this page out. Late last year when we went to Thien Kim and discovered that they had FOUR types of (non-Pho) noodles soup, that post was a hit and brought a lot of new customers to Thien Kim. I can just imagine how having TWELVE noodle soups is going to excite a lot of people.

There are more!

The left most page above contains even more noodles. Those are the dry noodles common in the southern part of Vietnam … not just 1 or 2 but ten to choose from. And further down the same page is another ten types of rice dishes.

The image in the middle above is their Dinner only dishes. Some of the exciting dishes includes:

  • Tiger prawn and papaya salad
  • Ginger chicken
  • Raw beef in lemon juice

The image in the furthest right above is their more exotic specialty dishes. How does the following sound to you?

  • Goat curry
  • Frog legs with coconut milk
  • Stir fry eel

I was already eyeing the Vietnam style hot pot. It is on the left image above. OMG, reading this menu is just so exciting to me.

So right after we saw this menu, this restaurant visit became our #1 priority.

The restaurant is nothing fancy. It is like one of your neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant. They tried to create a Vietnamese village setting with bamboo and faux plants. The faux plants actually made the restaurant dimmer because it blocks the ceiling lights.

Yeah, most of their customers looked like they are from around the neighborhood. It was busy that night with almost all the tables filled.

Service was very polite and we were well treated. I am sure it is because they saw the camera. They asked me real early about it by saying “you have a nice big camera there.”

But service was painfully slow and it took a long time for our food to come. They were very busy that night. After all it was a weekend night too.

We were served mostly by a middle age lady which we presume is the owner. So we’ll refer her as the owner in this post.

The first question we asked the owner was what’s the big deal with her hot chili oil. I told her that I had seen such chili all over town, especially in Chinese restaurants.

Her answer was that theirs is different. She said she has 35 different ingredients in this and it is made exactly the same way it is in Vietnam. I tried it … and yes, I like it. It has an extra spicy kick to it and the taste is a bit more complex. I think if she bottles this up and sell it just like Tsim Chai restaurant does, this will sell for sure. I will want to be their first customer.

Let’s get on with the food …

The bean sprout and basil was very fresh. We did not expect that because we always assume that dinner time bean sprouts are browned already after a whole day in the kitchen. For us, we don’t like to add them into the soup as it dilutes the taste of the soup but we see a lot of people does it that way. For us, we just munch on them like appetizers until the food comes.

Nanzaro ordered the Bun Cha Ca (Large $6.75). It ended up everyone had equal share of his bowl of noodles. He wasn’t too happy. LOL!

Oh we all loved the crispy prawn and fish patties. They are thin and crispy and tasted so good. The soup has caramelized shallots which adds a lot of flavour to the already nice broth. The broth tasted tomato-ey … mostly from the sauteed de-skinned tomato

For the greens they have Vietnamese water celery and served this with large round rice noodle which is popular in the Hanoi south. The Vietnamese water celery has a quite strong unique flavour and tasted more like a herb.

From the entree section of the menu, we got the Ca Ri De … Goat Curry. This is $14 which we find kind of highly priced.

The yellow thick creamy curry is rich. We can see that this has to be made with lots of different type of spices. For us, it was spicy enough.

You can choose the Goat Curry to be served with rice or vermicelli. We had the vermicelli. The goat meat is kind of old and is not tender (did not expect it to be).

The best part is really the rich creamy curry which we enjoyed a lot. We actually had to ask them for one more plate of vermicelli because there were a lot more curry to lap up.

The star dish of our dinner was the hot pot which the Vietamese called it the Lau.

This is definitely unique. The hot pot they served this in is nothing like I’ve ever seen locally. The owner told us that they bought it from Vietnam. It looked like an inverted top hat. The center holds the soup and the rim is where the ingredients are held.

They came by several times eager to show us how to eat this.

They actually have four types of hot pots. They are:

  • Hot and sour fish (or shrimp)
  • Beef plus seafood
  • Goat with Asian dried herbs
  • Mixed seafood

We got the hot and sour fish version which the owner recommended we try. This is quite expensive. Maybe I should say that this is expensive for a Vietnamese food because we do not associate Vietnamese food with something that costs over $20. But to think about it and comparing it with other (Chinese) hot pots, this is not too expensive.

This hot pot costs $28 and is large enough to serve 2 to 3 people. On the menu, this is called Canh Chua Ca Hoac Tom, Thit Ko To or in English, Hot & Sour fish (Basa) or Shrimp Soup with Caramelized Pork or Fish.

Actually for $28, we also get another dish. The above is the Kho To Southern Style (Saigon). If ordered this by itself, this is $12. So, $28 for the whole set is quite cheap considering.

It is simply called Caramelized Pork in English.

This is so good!

This caramelized pork has the delicate sweetness of a light caramel balance the vibrant saltiness of fish sauce. What I like a lot too is the liberal application of freshly cracked black peppers on it. So juicy … so sweet … so nice.

We were told there are several stages in eating this. Kind of fun.

First we bring the broth to a boil and then we push the fish into the broth first.

The fish (basa) has a quite a bit of small bones. So we had to nimble picking out the bones. Kind of annoying actually.

When the fish are all taken out, we were to push the rest of the ingredients from the rim into the soup.

The rest of the ingredients consists of bean sprout, lady finger, tomato and Bac Ha.

The one ingredient I had never noticed before is the Bac Ha (a spongy kind of vegetable). Suanne had this before and used that in the Community Kitchen. If you are curious to learn more about this, check this post.

Then we are to pick the vegetables from the center of the pot to eat with the vermicelli or rice.

We believe that the sweet and sour soup (known as Canh Chua) gets a lot of its flavour profile from tamarind and pineapple. The owner told us that this is just chicken stock.

It was only after a while I suddenly realized I had this before. It was in Hai Phong on Kingsway and Inverness. At that time, I blogged that I did not like the one in Hai Phong. It was way too sourish for me.

But this one is good. I just enjoyed this a lot.

Price wise … not too bad.

It is certainly one of the higher tabs we had to pay for in a Vietnamese restaurant but we are not complaining.

When I asked the owner what the words Mui Ngo Gai means, she went to the kitchen and brought the above out to us.

Cilantro … Vietnamese cilantro is what Mui Ngo Gai means.

I am quite excited about this restaurant. I felt that they are moving in the right direction by offering more than just pho. It is like what it was with Chinese food about 20 years ago where we get a lot of generic/Canadian Chinese restaurants around. It is in the past decade or so Chinese cuisine in Vancouver had gained a high level of sophistication that rivals the best in the world.

I hope that it is also the same with Vietnamese cuisine. For too long, it is just Pho … and deep fried chicken wings … and spring rolls …and Banh Mi. I know Vietnamese cuisine has a lot more to offer.

A few more trivia for you about this restaurant before I end:

  • Moi Ngo Gai had been operating for three years already. It is only recently that they revamped their menu.
  • The location of Moi Ngo Gai used to be where the Song Huong is until Song Huong sold it after they move to the new location a few blocks north on Nanaimo.
  • Their cooks are from Vietnam, specifically south Vietnam.

Let me know what your thoughts are … does a restaurant like this excite you?

Mui Ngo Gai on Urbanspoon

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  1. Victoria says:

    I absolutely LOVE restaurants like this! I’ve been going to this place for a little while now – it’s right near where I play outdoor volleyball in the summers. We always get the dumplings (item #9 on the current menu). They’re fantastic! And such good value at this place…

  2. hamsup says:

    I was just here yesterday night after my volleyball game. I definately wanted to try the hotpot but it was getting late (10:30pm)…

    Spring rolls were small in size
    My large Pho was surprisingly HUGE
    the chicken wings were crispy and moist (but they were again a bit on the smaller side)
    I also got a chance to try out their No. 9… it tasted something similar to a chinese dim sum dish….

    • Ben says:

      Hi Hamsup: Are you Cantonese by any chance? If so, it feels weird saying “Hi Hamsup”. LOL! It seems like you’re underwhelmed in Mui Ngo Gai. Yeah, the food wasn’t super-super great but it sure is interesting. Ben

      • hamsup says:

        Of course I am cantonese… and yes.. i know the name is a bit odd.. but it’s an alias I’ve been going by since grade 8 !!! 15 years later.. i think i might be time for a change !!!

        • Ben says:

          Hi Hamsup: No, keep that name. It is unique although it does conjures up speculation of your character, particularly to the ladies. When I mentioned your name to Suanne, she shuddered. LOL! Ben

  3. Shmoo says:

    Hey Ben, you blew up our spot! :)

    I’m a big supporter of Mui Ngo Gai, because I am so excited to find Vietnamese dishes other than pho raising their heads in Vancouver.

    I’m very fond of canh chua, and find the one at Mui Ngo Gai has a nice balance and is not over-poweringly sweet (a problem in some spots around town). Canh chua is the dish that introduced me to bac ha. This vegetable is so tasty in soups, soaking up all the soupy goodness.

    We haven’t tried their ca ri de, but the goat in coconut milk (de xoa lan) was very tasty, if a bit salty. I have no idea whether or not theirs is a typical preparation, because I have never had the dish elsewhere. The english name does not do it justice. Along with coconut milk, there is pounded lemongrass and a variety of other spices. Almost reminiscient of rendang in over all cooking style, though with a different flavour profile.

    The banh bot loc and bo la lot at Mui Ngo Gai are about as tasty as anywhere I’ve tried so far in town.

    As you mention, their complex, lemongrassy, chili oil is admittedly very good, as well.

    So to answer the question at the end of your post, yes a restaurant like this excites me. Vietnamese food has so much yummy variety to offer, and it is exciting to see the local offerings finally move beyong the “safe” basics.

    Althought, to be fair, I don’t know if there may already be many exciting Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver but just due to the language and cultural barrier they are much harder for the uninitiated to find (compared to the many operations declaring “Pho!” on bright neon signs). On a note related to this, I am slowly noticing that many of the bakery/snack/che/drink shops along Kinsgway are actually hiding com binh dan (worker’s lunch, cafeteria-style take out) counters.

    By the way, have you found anywhere in town that serves cha ca thanh long (fish fried with dill and turmeric)? So far I have not found this dish anywhere closer than Seattle.

    • Cha ca thanh long is the one dish I’ve been trying to find in Vancouver. I’ve been close: Pho Pampanga (now gone) had it on their menu but I didn’t get to try it.

      If you find this dish in Vancouver, please do let us know.

      BTW, do the Seattle restaurants serve it fried or Hanoi-style?

      • Shmoo says:

        To be honest, we did not try the dish when we were in Seattle. I just remember seeing it on the menu when a friend took us to Tamarind Tree:

        http://www.tamarindtreerestaurant.com/index.php?page=seafood

        We had it in Hanoi sometime after that, and now we know what we were missing. (Yeah, it’s a tourist dish, but it’s good anyway!) :)

        Not sure if Tamarind Tree serves it in its full fry-it-at-your-table pageantry.

        • Ben says:

          Hi Shmoo:

          Did you know we also have a post on the Tamarind Tree in Seattle? It is here: https://chowtimes.com/2008/05/17/seattle-the-tamarind-tree/

          How we wish we have a restaurant like this in Vancouver.

          Ben

        • Shmoo says:

          Update on Cha Ca Thanh Long at Tamarind Tree in Seattle. No Good. Or, at least, missing important aspects of the dish in Hanoi.

          There were 4 or 5 small (breaded?) fish fillets, served luke-warm on a bed of raw green onion stalks and dill, and scattered with a couple peanuts. These components came on a normal plate (rather than a sizzling plate or with accompanying frying pan). There was a side plate of lettuce, noodle, banh da, and basil. To go with this was a very small bowl of fermented shrimp dipping sauce.

          So the TT version technically seemed to be made up of most of the right ingredients, they just weren’t put together in a satisfying way.

          I think the base problem was that the fish should be in nice, big, moist, chunks, and should be sauteed with the green onions and dill. The thin, dry, breaded fillets with raw green onions and dill just didn’t work.

          Aside from our disappointment with the Cha Ca, we also experienced some amusingly misguided service (attempting to clear our dishes while we were still eating, obviously losing orders but pretending otherwise, taking away the cheque when we hadn’t paid it yet, etc.).

          All in all, the rest of our dishes were fine, and we were mostly bemused by the well-meaning but mildly incompetent service, but I’m really not in a hurry to go back any time soon.

          • Ben says:

            Ahh … hope to hear more report from your Seattle forays. We had been to tamarind Tree once only and from that visit I kept lamenting the fact that Vancouver does not have a TT equivalent here. It’s about time someone open an upscale Vietnamese restaurant. Oh we have one upscale Vietnamese resto … Chau is the closest to that but me thinks its more of a drinking bar/small bites than a full fledge culinary destination. Anyway, we were there 2 years ago and it was more of drinking bar/small bites … things may have changed. Yeah yeah … “George” is gonna slam me again for saying this about his beloved $11 spring rolls. Ben

            • Shmoo says:

              Hmm. I will think about what to share from Seattle. :)

              Regarding Tamarind Tree, we had been there once before and had liked it quite a bit.

              I think a few things changed since then: our standards may have gone up (we’ve travelled to Vietnam and we’ve found more of the options hiding around Vancouver), and the restaurant itself is comfortable in its popularity and may be “resting” a little bit.

              Anyway, it was mostly okay, but I remembered it as being really good on the first visit so long ago.

      • fmed says:

        They also had the turmeric fish at the now defunct Pho Viet IIRC.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Shmoo: From reading your comments I have a feeling you have a few other spots that I could help “blow up”. :-) I really like places like MNG because there is so much to discover. Oh … and no, I have not even heard of cha ca thanh long before. But I googled the image of it and it seems like it’s a fish cake/paste kind of thing, is that right? I thought I came across that before but I just can’t remember. Ben

      • Shmoo says:

        Hey Ben,

        Actually, I first discovered Chow Times when we got back from a trip to Vietnam and, armed with vague memories of an infinite array of tasty foods, were using the internet to try to find non-Pho Vietnamese food in Vancouver.

        We stumbled on your posting for Thien Kim (aka “FOUR different kinds of noodle soup… and none of it is Pho”), and I was hooked. (Although I’m embarrassed to admit we have not made it to Thien Kim yet.)

        I’ve been appreciating your food adventures ever since.

        I think you’ve already found most of our hidey-holes. About the only places I can think of off the top of my head that we’ve enjoyed AND you haven’t covered yet (AND have not gone out of business lately) are Ziada Eritrean in New Westminster, the Sushi Zero One lunch counter on Pender, and New Novelty and JR Taste of Ceylon on Fraser.

        Thanks for finding us all these great foods, and also lately eliciting interesting details from the owner-operators of the many small establishments!

        • Ben says:

          Hi Shmoo: Thanks for the recommendations. I would certainly want to check out Zaida and JR. Tell me more about New Novelty. There are hardly anything written about them on the internet and with a name like that with an unremarkable store front (checked that on Google Streetmap), I thought that is a souvenir shop or a dollar store. LOL! BTW, thanks for letting us know how you stumbled on this site. Ben

          • Shmoo says:

            New Novelty basically sells all the classic north Indian dishes at reasonable prices. They also sometimes have a buffet, but I haven’t tried that in some time. My favourite dish at new Novelty is probably their saag anything. (I happen to like saag more than palak, which I believe is a similar preparation but based on different green vegetables.) I’ve enjoyed their fish masala on some visits, too, but I think that one is less consitent.

            With JR Taste of Ceylon, we haven’t tried them since they moved. But what I remember is they have some interesting starches, like kotthu, and a number of tasty, well-priced, Sri Lankan goodies. Also a handful of Malaysian (or Sri Lankan-Malaysian?) dishes scattered around the menu, but I’ve never tried those. I think the new location may be bigger than the old one, which was essentially take-out. Hmm. I’m going to have to get over there sometime soon!

      • Shmoo says:

        Oh yeah, as for cha ca thanh long, from what I remmeber it’s basically a firm white fish fried at the table with turmeric, copious amounts of dill, green onions, and probably some combination of fish sauce, ginger or galangal, and maybe other spices. It is then eaten with rice noodles, peanuts, herbs, and a strong fermented seafood paste.

        Although I might not have thought to put all of these ingredients together, it really works, and is very tasty. The main vendors in Hanoi are very tourist-oriented, though, because it has become too famous with us tourists. :)

    • Ben says:

      Hi Shmoo: Regarding you saying “I am slowly noticing that many of the bakery/snack/che/drink shops along Kinsgway are actually hiding com binh dan (worker’s lunch, cafeteria-style take out) counters.” … tell me more about this. I think this will be really interesting for everyone of us to find out about. I would love to go check out one of those hidden com binh dan counters. :-) Ben

      • Shmoo says:

        Hmm. Well, off the top of my head, the shop beside Tung Hing bakery to the north-west (aka the right, if standing outside the bakery looking in) has a wide array of pre-packed snacks, as well as a little com binh dan counter. Also there is a snack shop between the Roc Seafood restaurant and Clark that also has a little com bin danh counter.

        These were the two I recently noticed. I bet there must be many more dotted around Kingsway. To be honest, though, I have not tried either one of them (yet). I was full of other foods when I found them. (Vietnamese subs and dim sum, respectively, as you can imagine by my directions. :) )

        One other caveat is that I don’t know what the turn-over would be like at one of these stalls in Vancouver, so you might want to choose your items accordingly and/or heat them up at home.

  4. angel van says:

    its actually not vietnamese cilatnro but culantro or another name for it is saw tooth herb. but glad you enjoyed it. canh chua is too sour for me to enjoy but when my mom makes it fresh pineapple versus the canned, i love picking out the pineapple to eat.

  5. angie says:

    The food looks good! Fyi, Bac ha is taro stem and is used in Vietnamese soups and the “cilantro” is called rice paddy herb.

  6. grayelf says:

    Okay, that tears it. I’m going to have to check this place out. I haven’t had a decent porc au caramel since Pho Viet on Kingsway bit the dust earlier this year. Thanks for point out that dish in particular. Also going to have to try D10, the raw beef in lemon juice, despite the polite warning on the menu :-).

    • LotusRapper says:

      Make way people, Grayelf’s tearing through !

    • Ben says:

      Hi Grayelf: A friend at work told me that it is very easy to make porc au caramel at home. She’s gonna give me her recipe. Can’t wait to try it at home. Ben

      • I consider the porc au caramel similar to the Chinese red-braised pork, except you add fish sauce. We made a version before with fish sauce and young coconut juice.

        • fmed says:

          It is a dish with Chinese roots for sure. Once you make a batch of the burnt caramel sauce (Nuoc Mau), then these dishes are a easy to make “one-pot” type dish.

    • Speaking of Pho Viet, the former West Lake in Richmond is now a Pho Viet. Don’t know if it’s the same people running the joint, but everything seems to look the same.

      It’s located in the Empire Centre strip mall, where Bushuair, Shiang Garden, and Kings Buffet are.

      • Sorry, that wasn’t clear. What I meant was I don’t know if the same Pho Viet Kingsway people are affliated with this new Pho Viet. I know definitely that the West Lake owners have sold the restaurant and are no longer in the business.

        • Ben says:

          Hi JS: I have not been at the Empire Center for a long time and so was not aware that there is a Pho Viet there. However, there is also another Pho Viet in Richmond, on Westminster Hwy (the same strip mall as Kingspark). That Pho Viet on Westminster Hwy does not seem anything like the Pho Viet on Kingsway for sure (serving mostly pho, nothing exotic). Ben

          • The change is fairly recent: it was still West Lake before I left and it is now Pho Viet when I came back. So, just within the month?

            • Rmd_Foodie says:

              I don’t believe either Pho Viet’s in Richmond are at all affiliated with the one on Kingsway. But the both in Richmond are affiliated with each other. The original restaurant was on Ackroyd in the same mini mall as Nando’s Chicken. It then moved to one of its current locations on Westminster Hwy in the same mall as Kingspark. A few months later (I believe it was early Sept), they opened up the new location at Empire Center occupying the shop that Westlake used to take up. I’ve tried both locations in Richmond and it doesn’t compare to how it was when it was still on Ackroyd even though it’s under the same management. Weird, but sad.

  7. Julie says:

    I’m not even going to lie…you’ve made my neighbourhood that much more interesting.

    I see they’ve still kept Song Houng’s decor.

    I can’t wait to go back and try these places! Thanks :)

  8. bill says:

    Nothing like home style cooking.
    Meal is typical everyday affair especially the caramelize pork but you can also do it with salmon too :-)
    YUM

  9. fmed says:

    I’m eating through the menu one dish at a time now. So far, the winners are the chicken wings and the papaya salad. The pho and bun rieu are mediocre. Going back soon!…perhaps even tomorrow night.

  10. bubblenes says:

    I always drove by this restaurant but always dismissed it due to the large Bubble Tea sign. But after seeing the menu you posted and you description of the food, I think I will most definitely try there now.

  11. grayelf says:

    Though I like to cook at home, there are some things I want to eat at a resto and porc au caramel is one of them :-). Though I’ve had to resort to making shaking beef at home because no one makes a decent one in town, so maybe the recipe would be useful!

    Speaking of finding little gems in funny places, we hit Joyeaux Cafe on Howe last night before a screening. We’d been sent for the dumplings (the tapioca ones) which were just okay. But the banh bot chien was excellent, as good or better than Green Lemon Grass, and cheaper too ($5.98). You’d never know this place served Vietnamese food from the outside but they have quite an extensive menu.

    • Shmoo says:

      Hey Greyelf,

      I agree, Joyeaux Cafe is definitely an extensive Vietnamese menu hiding behind what looks to be a western sandwich deli. It took me a couple years of working nearby to figure that out! :)

      I think they may have slowly increased their Vietnamese offerings over time? I am not sure.

      Thanks for the heads-up on their banh bot chien, I didn’t even realize they carried it.

      I sometimes get their canh chua when I am craving for it. But it is more so-so, so it is best left to when the craving is strong. It’s a bit too sweet for my taste, and iirc they may leave out the pineapple. But it’s still a nice change from the usual downtown offerings. There is not much in the way of Vietnamese fare downtown.

      Joyeaux Cafe’s banh xeo is respectable. Although they don’t provide much in the way of herbs, the crepe itself was well prepared when I tried it. Their lotus root salad is pretty good, as well. (At least, it was yummy. I have not had the dish elsewhere, so I had vague expectations.)

      Also hiding among their desserts is sticky rice with strawberry or mango. The rice itself runs the risk of being a little dry, depending on your luck and how many customers have been ordering it lately. But it is very tasty. And it is garnished with a sort of simple, dry-toasted almond(?) topping that I fell in love with at some che shop on our one trip to Vietnam and thought I would never see again.

      The trickiest thing I find with Joyeaux Cafe is negotiating their menu, which is entirely in english, to reverse-map names like “hot and sour soup” or “creped panckae” to “canh chua” or “banh xeo”. :)

      Mmm. Now I am hungry for lunch.

      • grayelf says:

        You are so right about the menu, hopeless. I think the trick is to stand and scrutinize the photos on the south wall. You may feel a bit silly but it is worth it as all the Viet dishes are up there and the pix are not too bad. That’s how I spotted the bot chien — I can’t even remember what it was called in English but not recognizable :-)

        We also had a dish that I do remember the name of: “deep fried shrimp balls with corn flakes” — of course we had to try it. Turned out the be more like rice crispies and probably not worth ordering again. We also had a salad roll with my favourite minced pork in it (special order) which was okay. Bot chien takes the prize for that visit.

        • Shmoo says:

          Tried the banh bot chien. It was good.

          My challenge is that I am usually working from the take-out menu to phone ahead, and it has neither vietnamese names, photos, nor item numbers.

          As a result, even when I figure out what an item is, it often gets miscommunicated over the phone. (e.g. banh bot chien turns into fried rice noodles, etc.) :)

  12. Chubby Chick says:

    Hey Ben! :)

    I’ve only been to this place once, and I actually gave it a thumb down on Urbanspoon because their Pho didn’t wow me. Their DURIAN SMOOTHIE on the other hand was phenomenal. After reading your post I will need to give this restaurant another try some other time :p

    • Ben says:

      Hi Chubby Chick: Be warned though … am not saying that Mui Ngo Gai has fantastic food. I am more impressed with the menu and their offerings than anything else. :-) Ben

      • ChubbyChick says:

        LOL, no worries. I have the feeling I’ll get dragged down there sooner or later because my friend’s a big fan of the place. Will need to try a few more things :)

  13. Elaine says:

    Another interesting Vietnamese place! If only Richmond has more of these interesting places T___T

  14. Michelle says:

    Hi Ben,
    How does the canh chua (hot and sour soup) compare with the one and Phnom Penh Restaurant. I fell in love with this soup many years ago….and with the bac ha in it. I’ve been trying to recreate the broth but just can’t get the right proportions.
    As for the cha ca thanh long, I remember eating this in Hanoi about 10 years ago. I thought then what a unique dish!!!
    Reading the bloq of MNG makes me want to go back to Vietnam just to eat. Here’s a blog that has the 10 ten dishes of Hanoi and where to get them in Hanoi. http://gastronomyblog.com/hanoi-top-10/
    I’m so glad you’re discovering these little restaurant gems in Vancouver that serve unique dishes besides just pho.

    • Ben says:

      Hey Michelle: Hmmm, I don’t know. I have never had the canh chua at Phnom Penh before. I did have it in Hai Phong though and Mui Ngo Gai is better by far. Thanks for the link … I wish that someday we get these type of food here in Vancouver. You know, it is my secret wish that someday I’ll organize a gastronomic tour to places like Vietnam or China. Something like a group of foodies travel and explore the culinary delights of the country where everyone gets to spend the day as they wish but at 1-2 times a day everyone gather at a certain location at the dining table to savour a feast. He he he … you think anyone would be interested? For me, I would love to travel on my own. I mean, I might enjoy going to a museum and another might want to go shopping and yet another to spend a day at the park … so, everyone go do whatever they want. But at breakfast and/or dinner everyone gets together and feast. My dream … :-) Ben

  15. Crispy Lechon says:

    Hi Ben, this is off topic but I read somewhere in your comments that you are interested in reading blogs on travels and food in China. I just came across one that might interest you. Here’s the link.

    http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/china/

    • Ben says:

      Hi Crispy: Yeah, I follow Kirk’s Mmm-yoso blog for many years already. He started his blog at about the same time as we did. BTW, there is the travel to China series I enjoyed a lot from Novi on the Go. She only writes once a week but I just love that series. Ben

  16. PinoyGourmet says:

    Michelle,Sign up for Vanchow and look up the events its posted there all pork 8 course dinner up to bacon gelato for dessert.Ben I am so looking forward to seeing you eating Pork Blood stew,Stewed Pig head….:-)

  17. John says:

    Great review of Mui Ngo Gai, As one of the owners I am happy to see people come in and enjoy the food. We are planning on another menu change to incorporate some more Vietnamese dishes. Our main problem is finding dishes that can be authentically cooked in Canada on a consistent basis. We are looking at adding several dinner items that the family cooked when they lived in Vietnam and Vietnamese congee for a late night menu.

    If you check our website http://www.muingogai.ca/ you can see more about our food and about some of the food travels we do in Vietnam to find recipes.

    • Ben says:

      Hi John: Out of curiosity, how did you find out about this post on chowtimes? Say … if you are introducing new dinner items, please let me know. I would love to gather a few empty stomachs together to be your pilot tasters. :-) Ben

      • Shmoo says:

        I would volunteer. :)

        • Ben says:

          Hi Shmoo:
          OK, will let you know once MNG confirms the plans. I told John I expect the guinea pigs to pay for the food … and that we are there for the fun of tasting new dishes and learning about them.
          Ben

          • John says:

            Hi everyone

            We will be introducing two new speciality soups, two new stir fried vegetable dishes, a new hot pot, a late night congee (chicken and pork) and a secret series of dishes involving beef. I will be doing some testing this coming week and photos for the promotion. We contact Ben to have some pre-tasting. Also we we are lookingat redoing one dish to a different style to see if it will appeal to more people.

  18. Michelle says:

    Hi PinoyGourmet,
    Thanks for the invite to signup at Vanchow….I am already a member there and my first dinner there was the one at Bo Laksa KIng’s. I also avidly follow all the comments on Chowhound. I would have loved to attend the pork dinner but I have a previous committment that day unfortuneately. I’m hoping to go to the one at Szechuan Chongqing.
    I love reading food blogs and usually before a trip, I extensively research and plan all my food related activities….:-).

  19. John says:

    Hi Ben

    I found the post as I am constantly searching the web for comments or reviews about our site. We are starved for good feedback on our food as such we look to the foodies on the net for feedback. It is frustrating sometimes as we have to see the good and the bad about online reviews. From a well written review to a review based on misunderstanding about the food, we see it all.

    We are trying to slowly raise the bar on Vietnamese food in Vancouver with better quality and variety. It has been hard as we started right as the economy tanked and people stopped going out as much. We bought an older restaurant that needs a lot of work but we have had to concentrate on the food and service. Yes it does look a bit run down but we try to make it nicer with a few pictures (taken by me)

    We try to improve the food and how we make it all the time so online reviews help. We also try to help people eat the food that we serve as it needs to be properly eaten to be enjoyed. For example: the caramelized pork is very salty (as it should be) so you need to eat it with a lot of rice. We had one poor fellow tried to eat it without the rice. He wrote a review complaining about the saltiness and that he had to eat with bean sprouts…yuck. I wrote on his review that he ate it wrong and that it is traditionally very salty. I also said he could have asked for more rice. In our next revision of the menu I will be putting a eating suggestion for this dish.

    Our food sometimes is a compromise between what our traditional Vietnamese customers want and the general public want. Some dishes had to be modified to appeal to the general public, same taste but different cuts of meat. Example: Chicken soup with breast meat rather than the traditional cuts (tougher chicken with skin, fat and bones. Of course some of the dishes are mostly eaten by our traditional Vietnamese customers as such the dish is focused on what they like. The goat is a good example, it is tougher (also has skin and fat) as that is what is expected and enjoyed. It is a balancing act for the food, we have to be cautious when deciding how to produce a dish. We had one dish that we introduced that was an exact recipe for an Aunt in Vietnam but when we made it here is was much too strong for most people here (Vietnamese Canadians too)to eat so we had to tone it down. Now it is a good seller that appeals to a wide group of customers.

    As for our new menu items we would love to have some testers to give some instant feedback. Just e-mail me back and we can set it up. We tend to wait for the slow season to do the revisions to the menu as we have more time. Of course we could have some people try the food before we make a final selection for the new menu.

    (I love trying food too http://muingogai.blogspot.com ).

    • It’s nice to hear about the menu development process from Mui Ngo Gai owners. Haven’t been to the restaurant yet, their menu certainly piqued my interest when I saw it. Will make it there soon.

    • Ben says:

      Hi John:

      It’s sad that you had to change the dishes to cater to local tastes. I think a lot of people will like to try the food as it is supposed to be … and with a little education/info to go along with it, people will appreciate it a bit more. I am speaking from experience because Suanne and I had an above average interaction with restaurants where speaking to the owners and finding out more about the food, we see the food in a different light. This is very much like your example with the caramelized pork … we had exactly the same thoughts and we knew about balancing it out with rice or vermicelli.

      I know you will gain a lot of supporters if you continue down the path of introducing newer Vietnamese dishes. The restaurant looking run down is not a big factor as far as I am concerned. So, the pictures in the restaurant were really taken by you on your travels in Vietnam huh? When I knew you had a blog (I surfed to your blog while at your restaurant on the iPhone), I thought it might be the same pictures taken by the author of the blog.

      Ben

      • John says:

        Ben,

        We do try to keep the food authentic in taste but somethings just do not sell well here. Fatty meats, skin and bones, tougher cuts of meat, lots of MSG, and organ meats just turn people off. We do not like those things either but we can supply some of it if they wish. I eat pho with lean meats but we do have fatty meat if some wants it. When I had some pho in one place in Vietnam the meat was mostly tough and I had to work to get it down. Truly authentic but not very good.

        Not all our customers are real foodies rather they want something different but not too scary. We love talking food with fellow food lovers but understanding food sometimes does not help one to like a dish. I have been offered the special blue duck egg many times but I can not get over eating a fully formed duckling in an egg. Call me old fashion but do not like it and I even tried to eat it.

        I took just about all the photos on the wall and on the blog. One picture is a web picture as I could not get a good shot of the main market in HCM, to get a good shot I would be risking my life on the street. The blog is only half done as I have quite a lot more food to put up.

        • Shmoo says:

          Hi John,

          It’s a shame to think there is not a big enough audience for the unmodified recipes (fatty meats, skin, etc.) to round out your customer base. I wonder how much tailoring your marketing to the desired customer base could help with this?

          It must be tricky trying to please traditional palates and educate neophites all at the same time. I salute your efforts thus far, and look forward to the day the audience shifts toward a greater interest in the unwatered down versions.

          Perhaps in some dishes there is a way to offer them in two styles (e.g. white/lean vs dark/fatty chicken meat), perhaps not. Certainly some dishes will take off faster here than others. (I’m putting brain omelette and bamboo rat anything in the latter category. :) )

          Hopefully exposure such as Ben’s write up here will help gather a few more savvy/curious customers to your door. :) I know I would like to see MNG rewarded for its risk-taking.

          I enjoyed the photos on the walls, and I think they do a nice job of capturing impressions a visitor might have in Vietnam. As for getting a shot of the market in HCM, from what I could tell you could probably stand in the middle of Le Loi in heavy traffic and all the mopeds would fluidly go around you! (I wouldn’t try that in Hanoi, though… different driving style altogether.)

  20. pinoygourmet says:

    Hi LR I have tried Cuy in a Peruvian place in LA and it looks kinda sad,the whole poor critter is served whole on a skewer and the meat wasnt that great.lots of little bones and according to BC SPCA,yes I checked, buying a guinea pig in BC and roasting it can get you in trouble.Sorry Grey Elf No legal Cuy here

    • grayelf says:

      Tee hee I was teasing about the cuy. Doesn’t really appeal, to be honest. I’ve seen it on ABNR or some other “scary” food show and it does look sad.

  21. [...] This recipe is from Bonnie Leong, Ben’s colleague after we visited Mui Ngo Gai. [...]

  22. [...] Mui Ngo Gai Vietnamese Restaurant on Nanaimo and Broadway, Vancouver [...]

  23. Tina says:

    Hi Ben,

    FYI..this location has now changed owners/menu as of Dec. 2, 2011.
    Their new location on Kingway and Victoria would be the place to go for their awesome food.

    I am a bit upset as the Nanaimo/Broadway one is closer for me. It became my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, after reading ur blog and went to try.

    Thanks, and hope all is well in Beijing!! : )

    • Ben says:

      Hi Tina:

      Things are well in Beijing. Been very busy and work has been more than I bargained for but am enjoying it.

      Thanks for taking the time to let us know about the closure of the Mui Ngo Gai in Nanaimo and Broadway. Is that old place still carrying the same name or has that changed? We love Mui Ngo Gai and just wish that they are closer to home in Richmond.

      Ben

      • Tina says:

        Hi Ben!!

        Glad to hear things are well in Beijing and that Suanne is able to visit you, as well as check out Beijing!

        The restaurant has changed names. (sorry, I forgot what it is) but the menu looks like the typical variety of vietnamese foods, pho and noodles and rice dishes. I only tried their house special pho and the soup base was good.

        Have a very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year to you and your family!!

        Best wishes,
        Tina

        • Ben says:

          Hi Tina: Mui Ngo Gai has another new restaurant on Kingsway. I guess they decided to close the older one and focus on operating the newer larger outlet. Ben

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