This is the problem with working in the big city at the height of summer: when noon hits, you find yourself reluctant to brave the intense heat outdoors to grab a bite to eat. Given how hot it is even in the wee small hours of the morning, you’re too flustered to fix yourself a boxed lunch. And, even if you do manage to brave the heat, you find yourself heading to places closer to the office. In my case, this means convenience stores – and you can only go so far before you find yourself dumpling-sick and fried-chicken-sated.
But good things come to those brave enough to go a hop, skip, and jump farther. Thus, it was a serendipitous thing when I found myself trotting over to the food court on the 12th Floor of the nearby GT Tower because that’s where I found Xành Quán Vietnamese Food.
Xành Quán’s stock in trade is a dish called Cơm tấm or “broken rice”; so called, because it makes use of the grains that are broken in the milling process. In most Asian countries, raw broken rice is sold at a lower price and is eaten by poorer folk or used as animal fodder, a base for brewing alcoholic beverages, or as a foundation starch for cosmetics. In Vietnam, particularly in the southern city of Saigon, it is considered a delicacy because of its fluffier, mealier texture and mildly sweet, nutty flavor.
At Xành Quán, you can order broken rice served in the classic Saigon manner (P 150.00) where it is served with slices of sweet grilled pork, a slab of steamed, egg-wrapped Vietnamese meat loaf (chả trứng), and a selection of fresh and pickled vegetables. Personally, I went with the grilled pork chop and fried egg rice (P 140.00); it is a tasty and filling combination. The pork is rather thin, but very tender and has a sweet, savory taste heightened by the addition of sesame oil, annato (hence the golden color), and nuoc mam (fish sauce) in the marinade. The egg adds richness to the dish and is set off beautifully by the crisp, tangy Vietnamese pickles (carrot and daikon radish), along with slices of fresh tomato and cucumber. It is deeply satisfying, yet the flavors and textures are light enough to make it a meal you can enjoy even on the hottest of summer days.
However, in case your appetite is seriously flagging in the heat but you still want something substantial, you can opt for Xành Quán’s take on the highly-popular gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese summer rolls) which go for P 25.00 a piece. Here, fresh herbs (mint and Thai basil), bun (rice noodles), small prawns, and slivers of grilled pork are wrapped in translucent rice paper. The resulting rolls are served with a chili-flecked peanut sauce that adds a fiery sweetness to the bland bun and heightens the fresh, green flavors of the herbs as well as the savor of the meat and prawns. It is also a fascinating play on textures with crunch coming from the herbs and the al dente noodles, the chewy rice paper, tender meats, and creamy dip. Not a bad way to nosh up for the day and a refreshing one, as well.
Xành Quán Vietnamese Food: Art and Food Galerie, 12th Floor – GT Tower, Ayala Avenue cor. H.V. dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati.