Nha Em, Ortigas

Three things come to mind when there is a mention of Vietnamese cuisine: wild, fresh with a hint of spice.

Having recently opened in the new wing of The Podium is Nha Em, a refreshing new Vietnamese restaurant chain.

Nha Em is an ode to Vietnamese cuisine, as conceptualized and created by part-Vietnamese businessmen based here in Manila. The name literally means “my home” and it certainly communicates just that.

It’s interiors are nothing short of pleasant and beautiful. The curious water puppets on the wall (which were carefully hand-carried from Vietnam) would initially be unsettling yet transcending into a kind of welcome into the abode. The lovely accent of their shade of yellow totally rounds up the mix of modern and traditional elements, from the ceramics used to the understatedly simple and elegant menu.

The servers came in parading the freshly prepared and cooked food. First in order were starters to whet our appetites for the rest of the courses. Goi Cuon/ Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls (Php 220) arrived first, and looked fresh as it could look. It came with a peanut dipping sauce that splashes an earthy finish to the fresh and crisp ingredients. Cha Gio/ Fried Spring Rolls (Php 240) were interesting as you have to wrap the spring rolls with the greens it came with. And do not forget to dunk it in the sweet vinegar dipping sauce. And the Dau Hu Chien Trung Muoi/ Salted Egg Tofu (Php 260) was a crowd favorite. Taking on food trends are usually a hit and miss, yet this one is definitely a home run. The salted egg was a comforting play of creaminess and salt that went absolutely well with the texture of the tofu.

A head turning plate of Banh Xeo/ Crispy Crepe (Php 350) ensued. It’s a giant pancake laying beside a combination of lettuce, mustard leaves, mint leaves and Thai basil. Inside the crepe is a mix of vegetables and unpeeled shrimp, an amazing medley once all eaten together.

And what’s eating at a Vietnamese establishment without good ol’ pho? We were treated to steaming bowls of Canh Chua/ Sweet Sour Fish Soup (Php 305) and Pho Bo/ Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (Php 305). Both a warm hug of wild and mild flavors. The Canh Chua had a silky texture to the soup with a light touch of sourness to the fish. And the Pho Bo was a sublime serving of rich broth, tender meat, and perfect noodles. Adding bean sprouts and sriracha is always the best idea.

More entrees! We had Bo Luc Lac/ Shaking Beef (Php 380), which is a very western dish, I must say. Medium-rare cubes of beef stir fried with onions and bell peppers, rather a great contrast to the starkly Asian profiles. The Thit Kho Trung Cuc/ Braised Pork with Eggs in Claypot (Php is something very close to home. It’s tender and sweet-savory pork that almost sticks to the claypot and to your teeth. Delicious!

It was unexpected but the Saigon Special Bia (Beer) (Php 120) had the right level of sweetness and acidity to wash down the feast and get ready for dessert.

I recommend getting the Che Hat Sen/ Lotus Seed Sweet Soup (Php 105) for a different kind of dessert experience. Watch out for the lotus seed, which maybe unpalatable to you since it gives a bitter aftertaste upon chewing. Che Dau 3 Mau/ 3-color Sweet soup (Php 105) is a stripped down version of our halo halo and the Banh Flan (Php 65) is a light and heavenly way to punctuate the whole experience.

Nha Em has great potential to be your next new favorite Vietnamese cuisines destination in Manila. Currently this is their second branch, another one opening in BGC soon.

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