By Louisa Li (16A13A), Qiu Kexin (16A13A), Sean Lim (16A13A), and Vanessa Chia (16A13A)
The ever growing presence of Westernised hipster cafés has caused traditional Asian food to begin falling out of favour with students these days. Occasionally though, one still finds quirky gems that can pull one back to the cultures in our region – Nam Nam Noodle Bar being one of them. Rather than going along with the trend of serving fusion fare, Nam Nam distinguishes itself by staying faithful to its roots, specialising in authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Notably, the restaurant is staffed by many Vietnamese employees and is also a favourite spot for many Vietnamese foreigners – which we all found fitting, given that the bar was born out of the founder’s love for Vietnam’s food and culture.
On a Friday evening, we paid a visit to a Nam Nam outlet situated on the first floor of Plaza Singapura. The quaint environment was comfortable enough, lit up by artfully chosen red lantern lighting. The furnishing – wooden tables, three-legged stools – gave it a semblance of Vietnamese authenticity. However, the restaurant was in a rather open-spaced area, leaving half of the area exposed to the hustle and bustle of the mall. This affected the ambience somewhat; the noise level was high, and customers were constantly reminded that despite the relaxed and exotic feel of the place, they were inextricably situated in the heart of the city.
Still, we found that they made ample use of the space, which helped relieve some of the usual claustrophobia that tends to accompany small food outlets. The place was not as crowded as we had expected, so we were able to find seats and have our food delivered all in the span of 10 minutes, contrary to our expectations.
The first dish to arrive was the highly-recommended Pho Chicken (chicken noodle soup), which cost $8.90. The taste was up to our expectations with the multitude of herbs and spices having lent intense flavours to the clear, unassuming broth. However, we found that the dish was not substantial enough; considering the rather expensive price, we had expected a larger portion. Despite that, the dish still had several other redeeming points that allowed us to look past this minor gripe; there were plenty of herbs that gave the dish a potent kick, the broth was rich and flavourful, and the dish had been supplemented with generous slices of tender chicken meat. A noteworthy point was also how Nam Nam had opted for a healthier culinary choice of using lean breast meat which appealed to the more health-conscious diners among us.
Next was the Yellow Curry Duck Noodles at $9.90. While the curry sauce was flavourful and savory, blending a moderate amount of spice with a delectable sweetness, it was a tad too thick and pasty for our liking. The noodles, too, were slightly overcooked and seemed to form one incoherent mash with the sauce. However, the generous amounts of duck meat made the dish worthwhile. All in all, the portions were sufficient to fill the writer, but she was still mildly disappointed that the dish was not “uniquely Vietnamese cuisine”, or remarkably impressive in any way.
Then came the 5-spice Banh Mi (sandwich) at $6.90, consisting of pork belly slices, liver pate, julienned carrots, cucumber and sprigs of parsley with a tangy dressing. The layered textures inside the sandwich made for a fulfilling meal: the bread was baked to a satisfying crisp, the vegetables inside were fresh and crunchy, the meat was substantially filling. Though the dressing was interesting in terms of flavour – indescribably sour-sweet – it was overpowered by the taste of many other ingredients in the sandwich, and could not be tasted readily. Regrettably, it was also a tad too dry to be enjoyed thoroughly. Considering its relatively cheaper price and it’s novelty as a Vietnamese dish, though, the writer would still recommend trying it at least once!
The Iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk at $3.50 was rich, sweet and came with a subtle hint of bitterness. The traditional Vietnamese coffee was rather different from the lattes and cappuccinos which we were used to; made through an interesting ‘drip’ method and mixed with sweetened condensed milk, there was a creaminess as well as sweetness to the coffee that was addictive, yet surprisingly not cloying.
What also impressed us was the effort that Nam Nam had made to stay green – the straws given for the coffee were biodegradable bamboo reeds, and the tissue paper was also made out of recycled pulp. These thoughtful actions also spoke of an evident awareness of social responsibility on the part of the restaurant management, and added to the green and natural feel of the restaurant.
Though the pricing was not student-friendly, and could easily leave a dent on most Rafflesians’ daily lunch budgets, Nam Nam served delectable cuisine which, for the most part, was a bona fide reproduction of authentic Vietnamese food. This charmingly named ‘noodle bar’ is a good place to visit for those looking to sample a different kind of food, and bask in a cosy, relaxing atmosphere with their friends.
Nam Nam Noodle Bar
68 Orchard Road, Plaza Singapura, Singapore 238839
Open Daily 10 am – 9.30 pm