Photo cred - Benoit Vermette
Vietnamese food has a lot more to offer than just spring rolls and phở soup, and its time you learned all the deliciousness the cuisines can bring to your tastebuds, like we did at Ngan Dinh. The CDN resto has all the staples Vietnamese dishes most know, along with some less standard fair you'll be happily surprised to find incredibly tasty.
We were taken by the hand on a food tour of Ngan Dinh's Vietnamese cuisine located at 5540 De La Cote-Des-Neiges. None of us are aficionados, so we went in with open minds and mouths, with nothing disappointing our taste buds. Authenticity isn't a claim we can make by flavour, but the elderly Vietnamese women cooking everything in the back gives some serious cred to Ngan Dinh's many offerings.
To get the ball rolling, we got a slew of sensational appetizers. Papya salad with marinated-grilled beef, fresh springs rolls stuffed with chicken and shrimp, fried imperial rolls, peanut butter dumplings, and Vietnamese rice cakes graced our table, joined with a healthy amount of sauces, including homemade vinegar, spring roll, fish sauce, and of course, sriracha.
You'll find the papaya salad to be a cool combo of smoky, sweet, and crunchy, and entirely refreshing, as are the fresh spring rolls. Filled mostly with carrot (rather than cabbage) the imperial rolls are a nice switch from your typical deep-fried roll, and the peanut sauce covering the chicken dumplings make the dish deliciously rich. Do try the rice cakes, with a potato-y texture and a savoury-sweet sauce, they're a lesser known starter that you won't be glad you tried.
Bridging the gap between Vietnamese and French cuisine was our first main dish, a Vietnamese crepe filled with onions, bean sprouts, chicken, and shrimp. No egg is in the crepe (despite the yellow colour) and the texture is much crispier than a regular crepe. Rich with the illusion of being light, the crepe is a filling main course, and a great way to try some new flavours in a familiar form.
Food is more fun when you get to eat with your hands, and that's the perk to ordering Ngan Dinh's beef grilled "La Lop" rolls. Basically a make-it-yourself spring roll, the platter comes with all the fixings, including the rice paper (on easy to roll place mats separating them), marinated grilled beef, and plenty of veggies. The beef has a great mesquite taste to it, which pairs very well with the homemade pineapple-fish sauce meant for dipping, similiar to grilled pineapple on a burger, to give you a North American correlation.
Soup is obviously on the menu at Ngan Dinh, and their phở is nothing to scoff at, with some pretty cool soup creations on the menu too. The standard beef-broth tonikinese soup is simple, but huge on flavour. Even though its a basic beef broth, Ngan Dinh brews it 8 hours, and you can taste condensed flavour. Tons of beef (thin shavings and ball-sized chunks) and rice noodles fill out the soup, making it an obvious, but still very tasty main-dish choice.
For those looking to taste outside of the standard soup bowl, try out Ngan Dinh's special "Satay Soup," the resto's signature dish. If you love peanut butter, you need to try this, as the soup is made with a unique peanut butter broth that's a simultaneously creamy and spicy. Throw on some sriracha and you have a dish that puts two-dollar chow mein to shame, along with many other pho you can get around the city.
Tons more is on the Ngan Dinh menu, and you can find a lot of standard Asian-resto dishes which are no doubt prepared with the same attention to detail and flair for flavour. Still, Vietnamese cuisine is Ngan Dinh's forte, and with a healthy mix of traditional and creative dishes to try, you can't really go wrong.