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Hải Phòng Vietnamese Restaurant

Tonight we were dining at Hai Phong, a long standing Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsway. To my surprise, they have held the same location for the last 18 years. I grew up in East Vancouver, so found it hard to believe I have never been until today; and know that had I, I would have returned many times over.

Not only do they offer the more familiar Vietnamese menu items, but a lot more that many more would not know to order. We were those individuals and tonight we would change that by having the unexpected to share.

The Garlic Butter Chicken Wings were not as buttery or salty as I had envision. Mildly seasoned with a great crunch and a somewhat medicinal after taste. No major issues, we still ate them all.

The owner recommended their Vietnamese Crepe, made with a coconut milk and traditional spice batter. Fried crispy with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. Served with lettuce to fold into your own wrap. The refreshing and raw crispy elements were the highlights for me. More egg than tender beef or juicy shrimp, it all just sings after a dip into fish sauce. This was a really nice and clean start and/or side.

The Vietnamese Style Beef Sashimi was unexpected as well. Whereas we figured this would be razor thin sheets of raw beef, it was actually shredded and left tenderized in chunks. You are not able to make out the meat itself all that much, instead it is all the garlic and fresh herbs topping it that comes through. Tasty as is, we only later realized that we forgot to use the sauce that it came with, and only did so towards the end. Then, we would sadly discover that it was far too salty with it.

The most memorable dish was the Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup. Fresh pineapple, bean sprouts, tomato, ocra, and taro stem in a tamarind broth. Topped with fried garlic and herbs. Here, you can choose your protein between prawn, chicken, or fish. The popular choice is prawn, however the authentic one is fish, (as per the owner), so we went with that. Served in a beautiful floral raised pedestal, kept warm by a tea light discrete within its base. And as a result, by the time we finished our photo shoot, it was still warm and comforting.

Be sure to stir up to uncover the firm boiled vegetable hidden at the very bottom. I did not take note of the listed pineapple, but did really enjoy the lesser seen okra. The soup had a uniquely distinct flavour from the tamarind, that is described as “hot and sour”. Bright and tangy, not thick like the Chinese style hot and sour soup. This was clear and lean with splashes of lemongrass that warmed inside out. Although authentic I would not order the fish again due to the tiny bones we kept having to pick out. Although, with shrimp you would still have to peel back the shell, and chicken as an option feels out of place.

I enjoyed the soup as our drinkable option, but you can also opt to have it as a base for hot pot. We would do this with their fully loaded Thai style hot pot, prepared with traditional tom yum soup as the base. This was an entire meal in itself with beef balls, rare beef, shrimp, squid, mussel, oyster, tofu, tripe, fish, vermicelli, and vegetables.

Served in split pot that houses the same broth on either sides, and allowed to boil over a butane stove. And as is the case with all hot pot, you simply boil up what you want to eat and graze as you go. Given how bold the broth is, I didn’t reach out for any dips or sauces, as I would soy or sesame for Chinese style hot pot. I also do not think such condiments would be all their complimentary, as this was a lot lighter and tangier by comparison.

Not your typical bowl of noodle soup, we opted to try the Duck and Bamboo Shoot with Vermicelli in Soup. The bamboo was the dominating flavour, bold and upfront, you needed the duck salad side to help cut into the one toned taste of shoots and soup.

Also available in chicken, the Duck Salad
is shredded cabbage mixed with house dressing, then topped with crispy fried shallots, Vietnamese coriander, and roasted peanuts. I thought it would be like papaya salad, but I found the base layer of greens more like undressed coleslaw topped with steamed duck meat. The duck was gently seasoned to allow for its naturally gamey and roasted flavour to come through. But not tasty enough to enjoy as is, without a jus or a good char. I paired each piece with the bamboo noodles above and found they jibed so well with one another.

Although pretty common, we all wanted to try their Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, to see how it stacked up to all other. Beef, pork, pork feet, pork blood, pork balls, and Vietnamese ham with thick vermicelli in spicy soup. Served with a side of bean sprouts, basil, banana blossom and shredded morning glory to help yourself to. I was sold on the pork feet and blood, as more unusual ingredients you don’t often see in this neon orangey-red soup. It checked off all the boxes of what I know Bun Bo Hue to be, and gave you much more with the larger assortment of ingredients. The diversity of toppings had me going back for spoonfuls, to mix and match tastes and textures. As for the spice, it was not just a slight back of the throat tickle, but an immediate sting of heat to coat the mouth. This I would recommend.

And their famous Tamarind Crab should not be missed as well. This is a dish you need to call ahead and order, with its price determined by the market value. I have never had crab so rich with so much flavour. It had me willing to go hands in to the extract meat, then licking each finger clean. I especially liked the shell, the tangy tamarind gave the musky intestines and guts a warming heat. No words can do this justice, so I suggest you visit Hai Phong for this alone.

And to help wash down all the pungent flavours above, look to one of their refreshing fruit drinks like the Salty Plum or Lychee Soda on Ice.

I was eyeing the Fresh Sugar Cane, but that is only available seasonally. Thankfully the Jackfruit fruit slush hit the spot just as well, as the only sweet note to the entire meal. This acted as a great palate refresher.

The overarching theme of this dinner was rich and bold, where there was no shortage of colourful flavour. So many unique and distinct tastes that drew you and left you wanting to try more. This may just be my new go to Vietnamese restaurant, and the one I recommend to others looking for a cut above.

Hải Phòng Vietnamese Restaurant
1242 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC
V5V 3E1
(604) 872-3828

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