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21.01.2019

Even though we made sure to provide precise information about when exactly the Vietnamese Embassy Canteen is open to the public – Fridays at lunch – along with succulent photos on Instagram, we got at least six people asking the wheres and what. We’ll say it again, because although we’d love to keep this spot a secret, it’s a little too good not to share: Fridays 12:30-2:30 pm. Go through a blue door in the alleyway right next to the Embassy, and your weekend is off to a great start. 

We’ll say it again, because although we’d love to keep this spot a secret, it’s a little too good not to share: Fridays 12:30-2:30 pm.

This is a canteen, not a restaurant, so if you’ve come to lounge and expect professional service, you’ll need to recalibrate expectations. On the Friday we visit, most diners look like regulars: the couple on the table next to us don’t even bother with a menu, essentially a little paper print-out listing half a dozen items. Groups of men, who look like Vietnamese diplomats, seem to be on lunch break. First timers like us are taken in by the Tin Tin in Vietnam posters that line a wall, and likely to announce the very reasonable prices out loud. Shh. 

It’s bustling at 1pm; shockingly, more people have their faces in pho bowls than on their phones. We have to wave frantically to get a waiter’s attention. Orders happen dim sum style, by filling out a little sheet. If you’re vegetarian, you may do better going up to the desk and clarifying your non-meat diet with the patriarch of the restaurant, who seems to earn most of his power by being the best English speaker of the staff. ‘You’ll still get fish sauce,” he warns. Vegetarians, we suggest you cheat, just this once.

And then our meal arrives, beginning with Nem Cuon or fresh noodle salad rolls. Essentially gardens in a rice wrap, eating these chunky rolls make us feel like rabbits in heaven. A light, vinegary peanut sauce provides a perfectly tangy flavour. This an excellent appetiser before the pho - the canteen’s raison d'etre – comes out. Meanwhile, people distract themselves with fried rice, bun cha, and spring rolls.

Everyone loves pho, partly because the dish lends itself to deep customisation. We’re pretty sure no two bowls, even on our table, taste the same. Some people douse their teary broth with oodles of lime, others unload excesses of chili sauce into their mix; few leave the soup in its pure form, taking time to discern the depth of flavour, the wave of star anise that hits you only when you are concentrating.

Essentially gardens in a rice wrap, eating these chunky rolls make us feel like rabbits in heaven.

Today we are distracted by our new find, and unable to properly gauge the nuances of flavour; but we know that the pho is just damn good. Our phobulous friends tell us this is the most authentic pho in Delhi. Copious amounts of birds eye chill, three limes, and a smattering of table chili sauce is what goes in to our mix. Next time, we’ll add more punch from cinnamon, cloves, and the pure, full spices that we are aware, will Indianise the dish. 

Ritualistically, we like bringing scallions and coriander to the top, to run them in to some bubbles of the broth and take big bites, twirling noodles carelessly around the fork. We like making a mess of the bowl, clouding our faces in the steam, and walking around to get an extra napkin because we’ve gotten soup everywhere, all over our cable knit sweater.

But this lunch, dear reader, is well worth the dry cleaning bill.

Getting there: The Vietnam Embassy, 17 Kautilya Marg, Chanakya Puri, Malcha; open only Fridays from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm; Rs. 750 for two, no drinks.

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals. 

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