Humble Vietnamese diner becomes popular in Seoul

A Vietnamese diner-style restaurant, opened in the Republic of Korea's capital Seoul over a year ago, has become a big hit.

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Hieu Tu restaurant in Yongsan District, Seoul, July 26, 2020. (Photo by seeok_/Instagram)

From its signboard and menu to plastic tables and chairs, the eatery looks uncannily like it is in Vietnam.

Owner Nam Joon-young fell in love with Vietnamese cuisine when he visited Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat a few years ago. He wanted to serve those foods in his city and opened the restaurant.

Quan com binh dan Hieu Tu, as it is called in Vietnamese, has since become very popular, getting 400-500 customers a day. Quan com binh dan is an epithet that refers to a cheap restaurant popular among office and manual workers in Vietnam.

People typically queue up in front even before the restaurant opens to get a good seat. Dinner is the peak business hour. Some people come just to take photos.

Customers can either sit in an air-conditioned room or outside in the yard or balcony on plastic or cane chairs. The interiors are adorned with Vietnamese-style posters, newspapers and leaflets.

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Vietnamese dishes at the restaurant. Photo by @jiae4ever/Instagram.

The bestselling dishes are fried chicken in coconut, chicken pho (Vietnamese traditional noodle soup), fried pho, seafood vermicelli, grilled pork served with noodles and fish sauce, and fried spring rolls.

Some Vietnamese customers have told Nam Joon-young that the food tastes different from home but is very tasty since he uses many spices and herbs from Vietnam.

Nam told VnExpress: "I went to Ho Chi Minh City to buy the tables, chairs and dishes and brought them back. The restaurant has a Korean chef and some Vietnamese staff."

While he buys some of the spices locally, the beers, wines, mineral water, condensed milk, chili sauces, and fish sauces are imported from Vietnam.

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Nam Joon-young (left) brings tables, chairs, dishes etc. from Ho Chi Minh to Seoul. (Photo courtesy of Nam Joon-young)

"I started cooking because I wanted to earn money to help my parents. So I dreamed of opening a restaurant first to help them," he said.

The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays with a break from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. On weekends it closes at 9 p.m. Prices range from US$4 to US$14.

The success of the restaurant has enabled him to open another, this one called Nampark Pho Bo.

Vnexpress