Four of seven beef dishes: bo la lot, bo mo chai, bo sa te and cha dum / PHOTO: TAN NHAN
Just going by the nationalities and the national cuisines involved, one would expect something special.
Henry Adams was Indian and French, and his wife, Huynh Thi Que was Vietnamese.
Together, in the 1930s, they opened a small eatery at the Tan Hiep Market (now part of Chau Thanh District, the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang). They called it Au Pagolac, because it was situated next to a pagoda (also “pagoda” in French) and a lake (called “lac” in French).
With the idea of serving a different main dish every day, they created seven beef dishes, but customers wanted all of them served together, every day.
In 1949, the couple left Tan Hiep for Saigon (now HCMC) and opened an eatery in what is now Go Vap District. Three years, later, they moved to Nguyen Trai Street in Cho Lon (Big Market).
The eatery was taken over by their youngest son Francois Adams, who, when immigrating to Paris in 1978, took the brand name Au Pagolac as well as the traditional recipes with him.
In the capital city of France, Adams opened a restaurant but closed it more than one year later.
He returned to Vietnam in 1990 and re-opened Au Pagolac in HCMC and the southern beach town of Vung Tau.
Today, Au Pagolac, located on District 5’s Tran Hung Dao Street, still prides itself on being the birthplace of the seven-beef-dish meal that has gained great popularity in southern Vietnam.
The meal starts with bo nhung dam (literally, “beef dipped in vinegar”), a do-it-yourself dish.
Diners are served slices of meat and tripe, and a small hot pot containing vinegar broth and raw egg which is stirred into the broth to make it tastier.
978 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ward 7, District 5, HCMC
Vung Tau’s branch: 247 Truong Cong Dinh Street, Ward 7, Vung Tau Town
Open hours: 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Prices: VND252,000/set menu with seven beef dishes for two persons
The beef is dipped into the boiling broth and then placed on a rice paper together with raw vegetables and some shredded lemon grass.
Its dipping sauce is either nuoc mam (fish sauce) or mam nem (sauce made from fermented fish).
The next course is four dishes: bo la lot (seasoned and minced beef wrapped in la lot, or wild betel leaf, and skewered); bo mo chai (seasoned and minced beef wrapped in caul fat, and skewered); bo sa te (satay minced beef); and cha dum (beef mixed with pork and other ingredients, all minced, wrapped in banana leaf, and steamed).
For the first three dishes, the beef is rolled in rice paper together with raw vegetables and banh hoi – rice vermicelli that is woven into bundles. Dipping sauces are similar to that of the first course.
The fourth dish, cha dum, is simpler as it is eaten with thin rice crackers.
Next comes the beefsteak, which is thin and well seasoned.
The last course is chao bo, in which minced beef is cooked with vegetables and rice porridge.
A meal with all the dishes for two people costs VND252,000, or less than US$12.
Au Pagolac’s trademark beef dishes are still hailed for staying true to their traditional taste.
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