Food – May 7, 2022 | 9:00 PM PT
Whenever Taiwanese cuisine is mentioned in Vietnam, the first term that appears is tra sua or milk tea. There is much more than that, of course.
Likewise, it is speculated that the best place to find Taiwanese food, which many consider to be a derivative of Chinese cuisine, would likely be Cho Lon or its somewhat hazy geographical boundaries extended over many decades thanks to Vietnamese influence- Chinese.
Well, guess again.
Once Vietnam embarked on its Doi Moi, or open door policy more than three decades ago, Taiwanese merchants were among the first to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, seeking affordable labor and land to start factories.
Today, most of this activity in the south of the country continues in Binh Duong province and the Binh Tan district of Ho Chi Minh City, where Taiwan’s shoe-making industry thrives. It is here that one can find samples of authentic Taiwanese cuisine.
And it is here that we come across a dish that is a feast for the eyes and the palate – “snowdust” potstickers – an iconic highlight of Taiwanese cuisine.
Located on Ten Lua, one of the widest roads in Binh Tan District, Cuu Long Sui Cao (Jiulong Shuijiao in Mandarin) is one of many Taiwanese restaurants in the area that cater to hungry Taiwanese expats looking for a snack. a taste of home.
The name of the restaurant is somewhat of a misnomer—Cuu Long can mean Kowloon in Hong Kong or a collective region in Vietnam’s southwestern Mekong Delta region, and the word Sui Cao likely triggers memories of style soup dumplings. cantonese dyed in yellow lye filled with shrimp and/or meat.
Indeed, Taiwanese chef and owner of Cuu Long, Cheng Jenyu, serves terrific plates of northern Chinese pale white dumplings filled with chives and ground pork, but the star of the show at Jiulong Shuijiao happens to be rather unique in the humble joint itself—Taiwanese potstickers.
“Non-Taiwanese customers often ask me if it’s Japanese gyoza!” Cheng said, explaining how the restaurant’s signature snowdust potstickers resemble cooked gyoza with a similar layer of crispy, burnt batter, commonly seen in places that serve ramen.
We haven’t attempted to investigate the dubious origin of the dish, but the purpose of that crispy layer goes beyond “trypophobia” and taste.
The popularity of Cheng’s dumplings and potstickers means that a team of at least four nimble-handed ladies make over 2,000 pieces a day.
Unlike typical dumplings that are pinched and sealed, potstickers start life as typical dumpling wrappers that are hand-pulled after adding toppings like pork and shrimp.
The final action of pulling them all the way through is in itself a testament to the elasticity of the dough for making al dente potstickers.
Ironically, although he was also a chef in his previous life in Taiwan, Cheng said wholesaling dumplings in Taichung’s traditional wet markets was secondary to his style “western breakfast” business. Taiwanese who mainly sold burgers, sandwiches and Taiwanese pancakes.
“A friend suggested to me (to open a restaurant in) Vietnam, so I said to myself; nobody makes potstickers here yet, so why not? »
Why not, indeed.
Thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations and frozen ravioli, the restaurant survived all the odds even after the pandemic hit just months after it opened in late 2019.
The trick to savoring this dish to the fullest is to mix up your own dipping sauce using squeeze bottles filled with vinegar, flavored oil and soy sauce. A pinch of minced garlic makes it even more true to the Taiwanese spirit. Cheng even had to pre-mix a dip for confused locals after Sui Cao Cuu Long rose to fame for an entire weekend thanks to a visit from a local Tiktoker.
Rules of authenticity
The restaurant is also popular for its Taiwanese-style fried rice, fluffier than most, which contains cabbage and the customer’s choice of toppings, including julienned egg, shrimp and pork. The notable use of short-grain rice gives every bite a delicious chew.
Rare Taiwanese stir-fries such as oysters with ginger and bean paste fill other parts of the menu. Cuu Long Sui Cao’s popular hot and sour soup is also of Taiwanese origin – milder than its Szechuan counterpart, but also packed with a generous amount of sliced mushrooms, tofu and pork.
Asked about “adapting” to local Vietnamese taste buds, Cheng insisted he has stuck to his guns when it comes to authenticity, even as he hopes more local diners will sample traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
It may seem like an unassuming place, but expect to see unofficial second-round “meetings” between the upper echelons of various Taiwanese-run companies when you come for lunch.