I’ve been to Vietnam twice, and not once have I had authentic Vietnamese cuisine there. I had most of my meals along a street nicknamed Malaysian Street, aka the easiest place to get halal food. Many of the restaurants were helmed by Malaysians which made the food taste annoyingly familiar. I thought I had to wait for my next trip to Vietnam to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese food until I heard of Eminami, located at Old Airport Road Food Centre.
Eminami ticks all the boxes of it being a promising authentic halal take on a particular cuisine. Its owner, Emina Abdullah, is a Vietnamese Muslim who moved to Singapore nearly 8 years ago. Whilst trying the halal Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore, she couldn’t put up with how different it tasted compared to back home and missed them.
She decided to take matters into her own hands and cooked them herself. Almost everything at Eminami is handmade, including dipping sauces, pickled vegetables and her very own beef stock for pho that requires 3 hours of boiling. She also insists on not catering the flavours to that of locals, to better showcase their authenticity.
What I tried at Eminami
Before I placed my order, Eminami impressed me with its concise menu featuring only 5 items. Upon research, the small menu was a necessity for Emina as each dish had its own individual prepping requirements. I had what I should have had when I was in Vietnam, which was the Pho Bo (S$6) and Banh Mi (S$5). The Banh Mi had both Grilled Chicken or Beef options and I opted for the former.
The other dishes sold include Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Beef Noodles Soup) (S$6), Goi Cuon (Spring Rolls) (S$3) and Com Tam (Grilled Chicken with Broken Rice) (S$5). I was really tempted to try the spicy variation of Pho but not knowing how spicy it was stopped me.
The piping hot bowl of Pho Bo had meatballs and a couple of sliced beef with a piece of tendon slid in. It was also topped with bean sprouts, sliced crunchy onions and a green stalk vegetable that I can’t name. There was also a small sample of sambal-looking chilli paste on the side.
My first bite was admittedly an underwhelming one. I mean, the rice noodles were cooked great— it was silky and chewy. The crunchiness from the sliced onions and the bean sprouts made it texturally satisfying. Even the sliced lime had a say with a tiny citrusy twang to the overall dish.
The beef pieces were also tender and easy to bite, and the single piece of tendon made for a satisfyingly gelatinous chew. I also liked their homemade meatballs which had a nice saltiness to them.
But I felt that the highlight of the dish, the beef broth, was lacking in terms of body. It had a faint sweetness that was often associated with beef broths, especially homemade ones, but that was about it. It didn’t leave me lip-smacking for more after every sip.
That was until I carefully utilised the chilli paste and saw the light. I can’t tell you how much of a difference the thick chilli paste made. It amplified all aspects of the dish, especially the broth. It added a tolerable heat that went hand in hand with the sweetness of the broth. And yes, I felt like a neanderthal who’d just discovered fire.
I wouldn’t recommend going all out with the paste. Instead, taste the broth while adding small amounts to it. I found 2 half spoonfuls to be just the nice threshold for me.
That lunch was the first time I’d ever had Banh Mi. Eminami’s rendition stayed mostly true to tradition with it consisting of pickled carrots, cucumber, coriander leaves, grilled chicken, and chilli sauce served on a bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette). The baguette was also toasted in a mini oven.
This was the definition of a sensory bombardment. Within my first bite, I had to deal with the spicy, tangy and sweet flavours from the sauce and pickled carrots, the delectable crunch of the cucumber bed and the crackled bread crust, the floral and peppery aroma of the generous cilantro leaves and the bits of grilled chicken that preferred the plate over my mouth.
In other words, I fully enjoyed my very oriental sub sandwich. I don’t even like cucumbers but I found no problem in downing them by the slices. I’ve also never felt so sorry for those with an aversion to cilantro as they freshen up the dish with welcoming herbal notes.
The short answer is ‘come eat here’ and the long one is ‘come eat here now’. Seriously, you can’t get halal Vietnamese food any more authentic than this, not to mention at such an affordable price. One thing that I would like to see in the future is the inclusion of Vietnam coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker by nature but I remember chugging at least 3 cups per day when I was there.
As an added bonus, it helped me right my wrongs of yesteryears without having to cash out on a one-way ticket to Vietnam.
Expected damage: S$5 – S$6 per pax
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