About China

Beijing Restaurant Review: Saigon Mama

By Thatsmags | 2016-12-30

In the words of rapper Christopher ‘Ludacris’ Bridges: Took yo mama nine months to make ya / Might as well shake what ya mama gave ya (‘Money Maker,’ Def Jam Records, 2006). Beijing restaurateur Kevin Chu is indeed shaking what his mother gave him.

As he should be. (Note: This is an extended metaphor. Kevin Chu does not, to our knowledge, dance for the affections of mid-00s rappers.) Because when it comes to Vietnamese food, Chu got it from his mama – and she can occasionally be spotted training cooks in his restaurant’s kitchen. But despite its name, Saigon Mama is no humble mom-and-pop shop. The Taikoo Li outlet is a sleek splash of bright colors and patterns.

Perhaps this is the first sign that Saigon Mama was imported from our equally sleek and splashy sister city to the south. Even in Shanghai, where quality Vietnamese options far outnumber those in Beijing, lines wrap around the block for Saigon Mama’s pho. So will lines form in Beijing? Quite possibly. While the capital excels in regional Chinese cuisine, pan-Asian fare is where it lacks. In short: There aren’t nearly enough Southeast Asian options in this city.

And Saigon Mama, well – it’s a solid option. Its expansive menu features generous portions of Vietnamese comfort food at bargain prices. Take the classic beef pho (RMB58), for example – a massive bowl of what is quite possibly the best pho we’ve had yet in Beijing. The Vietnamese spring rolls are bursting with fresh shrimp, and the fried egg rolls are close to perfect (RMB45).

As Bridges once said: Luda, I’m at the top of my game. Chu is too. The Vietnamese chicken salad is refreshing with house seafood dressing on top (RMB45), and the fish-tofu pancakes (RMB45) are a delightful snack to go along with all of the above.

There are some minor disappointments – the seafood soup (RMB68) underwhelms, while the banh mi (RMB55) is not for the faint of heart. And we mean this quite literally: You may experience an aneurysm after consuming all the banh mi’s pâté. The following is a sentence we never imagined we’d write: There is such a thing as too much pate. This, however, is easily rectified. Just ask for less pâté.

Fortunately, you’ve got serious options to wash all that pâté down. The Vietnamese coffee is on-point, but we like the fresh coconut best. Trendy bottled coconut waters be damned.

Saigon Mama may not offer the same food authenticity as, say, actual Saigon would. But it’s pretty darn close. And with rockin' Northern Thai joint Cacha Cacha under construction until after Chinese New Year, Saigon Mama just might be the best option for Southeast Asian in town.

After all, Kevin's mama didn't raise no fool.

Previous:  Language Learning Tips for Chinese Newbies
Next:  Jan 5 Chinese Laba Festival (Rice Porridge Festival)