There are heaps of places in Bangkok that claim to serve Vietnamese food, but what most are serving is actually a Thai take on Vietnamese cooking. In theory at least, this isn't entirely a bad situation; I've encountered many interesting Thai/Vietnamese dishes in places such as Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai and Mukdahan. Where things go wrong is the fact that the vast majority of these restaurants serve virtually the same repertoire of dishes, with very little variation in terms of flavour or preparation. This is a pity, as I really love this type of food: it's fresh, tasty and healthy. I also find it strange that, given the similarity between Thai and Vietnamese cooking styles and ingredients, it shouldn't be too difficult to recreate relatively authentic Vietnamese dishes here in Bangkok. But apparently there's not the demand nor the desire, and what we're left with is a mediocre facsimile of Vietnamese cooking.
This having been said, Pa Kay, a longstanding restaurant in a former Vietnamese enclave near the Chao Phraya River, is one of the better places I've encountered for Thai/Vietnamese food. The menu is largely predictable, but the preparation and flavours were generally above par.
The standout was probably naem nuang (nem nướng in Vietnamese), skewered and grilled pork served with rice paper and a variety of toppings and fillings (seen at 12 o'clock in the image above). The pork here was flavourful and pleasantly charred, and the dipping sauce, which tends to be overly sweet, had a tasty savoury/spicy element, allegedly the result of the addition of minced liver.
The loser was kung phan oy (located at about 7 o'clock in the pic), minced shrimp (and pork?) wrapped around a stalk of peeled sugarcane and grilled. The meat, which appeared to have been grilled several hours previously, was practically unseasoned and the side of pickled vegetables also lacked flavour.
The rest of the dishes were a half-step above their Bangkok counterparts. The khai kata (10 o'clock), eggs served in a tiny wok with Vietnamese- and Chinese-style sausage, was tasty, and came served with tiny French-bread like rolls. And although the khanom pak mor (bánh cuốn; 4 o'clock) weren't made to order and were somewhat thick-skinned, were decent and came with good quality muu yo (Vietnamese-style sausage).
Pa Kay 123/205 Th Ratchawithi, Bangkok 02 243 4788
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