Can Tho has a vibrant local food culture with a huge variety of dishes distinctly different from those found further north. Vietnamese street food here is king: get yourself a good local guide and foodies will be in culinary heaven. That said, however, the choices for meals in a finer setting are few and far between. Azerai Can Tho fills the gap with its all-day-dining restaurant by serving delicious Can Tho street food in a contemporary setting.
The restaurant at the Azerai hotel in Can Tho is surrounded by warm timber frames holding floor to ceiling folding doors. Mosaic tiled floors base sleekly-structured tables and chairs, with a long bar backed by grey slate the centrepiece – it’s the focal point that is if you can draw your eyes away from the 270-degree views. Magnificent old banyan trees glow with uplighting in the garden and the hotel’s pool gleams around the edges with sensual illumination too. It’s a pretty setting and the menu of traditional Vietnamese food and international cuisine keeps us entertained for the three nights we dine here.
As just mentioned, the long bar is rather lovely and an attractive spot to begin an evening. Newly opened, the bartenders are settling in and working on creating some signature beverages. In the meantime, all of the classic cocktails are available, and if you have a recipe and the time to explain it, the friendly team here seem happy to oblige. We settle on some South American traditions with a Mojito (VDN150 000) and Daiquiri (VDN150 000). Both are well-prepared and do their job of quenching our thirst while browsing the food menu.
Starters – Can Tho Street Food
Chef Sagar recommends new visitors to Vietnam, to begin with some of the sampling platters allowing a taste of multiple recipes in small portions. The Sampler of Vietnamese Fresh Hand Rolls (VDN170 000) holds a trio of rice paper cylinders wrapping pork, shrimp, and beef. All are deliciously padded with crisp vegetables, herbs, and green mango. Shredded red and purple cabbage on the side adds to the freshness, and sweet chilli sauce makes perfect dipping.
I quickly discover with the Sampler of Vietnamese Salads (VDN170 000) that I’m predestined to repeat the words “light, fresh and tangy” over and over again, as that’s exactly what this food is. This platter encourages a taste of those wonderful fresh herbs that the country is known for. Spicy green mango salad with dried shrimp; chicken and white cabbage salad; and beef with chilli and celery. They’re classic street food recipes prepared with premium ingredients – superb.
Traditional Can Tho Soup
Chef Sagar shares with us that each region of the country has their own distinct flavours and the kitchen team at Azerai Can Tho strive to incorporate authentic local recipes in their menus. One such item from Can Tho is that of a Sweet and Sour Spicy Fish Soup (VDN120 000). It’s a simple dish, starting and finishing in the same pot. Catfish, okra, tamarind, tomato, saw-leaf herb, pineapple and bean sprouts are cooked together making a basic recipe into one delicious slurpable bowl. It’s tangy, sweet, spicy and absolutely addictive.
We return to the sampling platters for the mains with curry and stir-fry grabbing our attention. The first sees a bowl of boneless chicken with potato, sweet potato, coconut milk, basil and coriander curry in one dish, and, spicy seafood with shiitake mushrooms, okra, cardamom and cloves in another in the Sampler of Vietnamese Traditional Curries (VDN350 000). Both are smooth and mildly spiced allowing the quality base ingredients to shine.
The Sampler of Vietnamese Stir Fried Seafood and Beef (VDN450 000) presents stir-fried chicken with garden vegetables in one bowl and beef “luc lac,” stir-fried local tenderloin with capsicum and onions in a traditional glaze sauce in the other. Main dishes at Azerai Can Tho can be accompanied by steamed rice or baguette. We find the bread ideal for sopping up the curries and go with rice for the stir-fries.
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t conclude with some sweets right? So “work” on we do. The Sampler of Vietnamese Sweets (VDN120 000) seems an obvious choice. A dense slice of traditional Vietnamese banana cake drizzled with coconut milk, and a dish of rice pudding with mangoes and coconut sauce, I imagine, are comforts across numerous food cultures, not only sweets hits on the Can Tho street food scene.
Reasons to visit: contemporary setting; hygienic restaurant for a good introduction to Can Tho street food; superbly fresh Vietnamese tasting platters; don’t miss the trio of Vietnamese salads – they’re superb.