Dining at an ethnic restaurant is supposed to transport diners to the exotic country of the cuisine’s origin.
Most of the time they do not.
The end result is palate numbing combination of forgettable fusion and perpetual fortune cookies with traditional recipes being tailored to suit Western palettes. Huong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant however is the rare exception.
Anyone who has sampled Vietnamese cuisine will tell you that it is a sensory kaleidoscope. It is one that is based on simple flavours, fresh ingredients, vibrant hues, textures and aromas that is reflective of its unique cultural history. On top of its culinary influences from France in the north and China in the south, Vietnamese cuisine also varies from region to region. In the north, you’ll find heartier meals with beef and spices like the ubiquitous pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup). In the warmer south, fresh seafood and herbs are in abundance and the influence of southern Chinese immigrants is apparent with the sweet flavors and colourful ingredients in many of the dishes.
You know a restaurant is thriving if it can survive past the life expectancy of a house cat. Since it opened back in 1998, this family run kitchen has been dishing up unpretentious authentic Vietnamese fare for years. The intoxicating fragrance of pho hangs heavy in the air from the moment you walk through the front door.
The key to Huong Lan’s overwhelming success according to general manager Tom Vuu has been the consistency of their food. Their menu, unchanged in over ten years is the end product of years of experience and of trial and error by owner Lan Huynh. All of her menu items were inspired by her travels all around Vietnam as a child, her recipes developed and perfected by taste.
The pair of us have been eating at Huong Lan for years so any hope of a light meal was quickly abandoned as we proceeded to order the entire menu. A great way to start off your meal is to order some salad rolls: a light appetizer of rice wrappers filled with noodles, shrimp, lettuce and pork. Alternatively, you can do no wrong with a side of the grilled lemongrass chicken; tender bite sized pieces of chicken that’s infused with flavours of garlic, ginger and served with fish sauce.
Noodle soups is what Huong Lan is famous for, so a big steaming bowl of pho is a must! If you are feeling adventurous, try the pho saté: a pimped out version of the original with a richer broth that’s laced with peanut and saté sauce, Be warned, this version does pack a good bit of heat.
Just about every Asian nation has its own take on chicken curry and Vietnam is no different. Unlike its Thai and Indian counterparts however, it is mild but creamy and very aromatic with an emphasis on flavour over spice. Another crowd pleasing dish is the crispy chow mein with stir-fried seafood and vegetables on a nest of egg noodles.
Nanaimo’s hidden gem has been unearthed. The word on this joint is out and the proof is in their popularity. Foodies, professionals, students and families all come together here lining up at the door for the affordable excellence. They do not take reservations as it is first come first serve, so you’re advised to come in early to avoid the lines. For those diners that wish to skip the wait list, Huong Lan offers a 10% discount on all cash take out orders. We also got wind of their latest creation: a frozen, take home wonton soup which will be launched in a few short weeks. Now anyone can enjoy restaurant quality wonton soup at home, perfect for those unexpected late night cravings.
If you are looking for a quick and gratifying meal at a good value, you need not look any further.
Huong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant
#19-1925 Bowen Road
Open 7 days a week
What is your favourite Vietnamese dish to eat/prepare? Post your answers below!