HANOI – Xoi Com, a restaurant on Michelin’s recommended list for “delicious and cheap”, gives diners a feeling of closeness with simple, home-style dishes.
At around 12 o’clock, Xoi Com is almost full of 14 tables because it is located in the office area in Dong Da district. The crowded, noisy atmosphere of the restaurant contrasts with the nostalgic decorative details of Hanoi in the 1990s with floral tiled floors, yellow walls and wooden tables and chairs. The gentle music of “Winter’s Tale” in the cold year-end of Hanoi reminds diners of a bygone era.
The shop is an old-style dormitory house, kept almost original after decades. Rice bowls and plates are imported from craft villages. Particularly, the dessert plate is made from ash glaze, a typical glaze of Vietnamese ceramics since the 11th century, which has now disappeared much. The ash enamel is rugged and rough because it is molded by hand. The connection with the past at Xoi Com can also be seen from the chopsticks with both big and small ends used to stir rice.
Le Minh Tung, the owner, is an expert in the culinary world. Xoi Com has just opened since 2020 and is only part of his job, besides his main job in communications. However, after three years, the restaurant was honored by the world-famous culinary ranking organization Michelin in the “Bib Gourmand” category, for eating places that meet the criteria of delicious and cheap, in the middle of the year.
Like the name Xoi Com, the dishes at the restaurant are not too sophisticated, just right and decent. The restaurant’s menu includes familiar dishes on the Northern rice tray such as stir-fried beef, fried shrimp, stir-fried chayote, and sweet and sour stir-fried ribs. That was also Tung’s wish when opening the restaurant – diners would feel close and cozy, like a simple home meal.
The chef is often said to be the “soul” of the restaurant, but at Xoi Com, that is not the top factor. The owner emphasized that bad ingredients cannot make delicious dishes. Regarding the processing stage, he said the kitchen staff only needs to do it the traditional way and ensure it is neat and clean. Ingredients such as meat, fish, and eggs are imported from a large supermarket chain in Vietnam. The vegetables are sourced from two small farmers in Mu Cang Chai in Yen Bai and Son La.
Ingredients are selected according to the principle of seasonality, focusing on local characteristics to bring a good experience to guests. For example, when choosing pumpkins, Mr. Tung will choose old pumpkin varieties, weighing about 6 kg each. Or ginger will be the type that has been kept for many years, ensuring fragrant essential oils and not being too hot to eat. Beans must also be old varieties, fleshy, sweet, with a light purple color on the edges of the fruit, not appearing much in the city.
A meal including one vegetable dish, two protein dishes, a pot of rice, and dessert costs about 150,000 VND per person. The portions are just enough to fill you up, a plate of sweet and sour fried ribs has about 5-6 pieces, priced at 85,000 VND. When eating, diners do not find the flavor superior to home-cooked rice.
Ms. Thanh Ha, working in Dong Da district, commented that the dish was well seasoned and the quantity was a bit small compared to the price. Female diners highly appreciated the quality of each plate of food, the service style and the space of the restaurant.
Hong Ngoc, visiting the restaurant for the first time, said the quality of the food is quite good, most of the dishes are slightly seasoned. A meal of 5 dishes and drinks costs about 320,000 VND. She likes braised meat with eggs the most because the meat is soft, or the pickled eggplant is well-cooked, not sour.
According to the owner, the restaurant’s prices may be a bit high compared to people with an average income, but just because Vietnamese rice is branded as home-cooked food doesn’t mean it’s cheap.
He believes that foreign fast food or sidewalk grilled hot pot “also costs about 200,000 VND per meal”, while the food is mostly frozen. Therefore, Vietnamese dishes with guaranteed quality “can absolutely be sold at the same price”.
The restaurant changes the menu every day and does not reuse leftovers to ensure the freshness of the food. Dishes are also innovated seasonally to suit the weather, for example, summer will favor sour dishes, winter will focus on spicy, hot, fried dishes. On average, every day, the restaurant has about 15 dishes, made from 30-45 ingredients. Every day, the restaurant will change 6 dishes, the remaining 9 dishes are seasonal or fixed dishes such as eggs, soup, rice.
About an hour before opening time, the restaurant will check all prepared items to ensure standards. Although he is new to the culinary world, Mr. Tung and the restaurant’s manager have been eating lightly and learning to taste cuisine for many years. Thanks to that, both are able to evaluate the flavor, find the advantages and disadvantages of each ingredient and improve day by day.
The plaque marks the occasion of being honored by Michelin. Photo : Tung Le
Roasted shrimp dish. Photo : Tung Le
The shop’s dessert yogurt is served in ceramic plates. Photo : Tung Le
Mr. Tung said that when Michelin first called his name, the restaurant was overloaded and had to refuse many customers who did not book a table in advance. The increased number of customers makes the restaurant space noisier than before.
“The Michelin effect also has good and bad sides, but I am proud that the traditional Vietnamese rice tray is introduced to the world by experts with the word ‘delicious’,” he said.
Currently, the shop has about 6-9 employees per shift. Since being on the “Bib Gourmand” list, the restaurant has had many foreign customers, so the staff also had to learn English to help with ordering and introduce Vietnamese rice culture.
Many people also came to ask about franchising or investing more in the shop, but Mr. Tung refused because he wanted to keep his own “quality”. For him, Xoi Com may not need to be too grand or ostentatious, but each guest who comes here must always feel “the close taste of a home-style meal”.
Photo,Video: Internet (Vinlove.net)