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Dec 7, 2011 05:40 PM

Canton Restaurant – Delicious Cantonese Fish Congee (Porridge) and Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill) in Little Saigon

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Canton Restaurant is emblematic of something that I’ve found over my time trying to discover everything that Little Saigon has to offer, which is that Chinese influence is fairly prevalent in Vietnamese cuisine.

Canton Restaurant specializes in two dishes, one is completely Chinese and the other is completely Vietnamese. The specialties I’m speaking of are Cantonese-style fish porridge (congee) and Vietnamese cha ca thang long, which is turmeric fish with dill.

I did a little research on Wikipedia and turns out ~1% of Vietnam’s population is Chinese, but it is significantly higher in some bigger cities, making up ~6% of Ho Chi Minh City’s population. As it turns out the main Chinese ethnicities are Cantonese and secondarily Teochew. All of this seems to jive with what I see when I visit Little Saigon as all of the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon are either serving Cantonese or Teochew food. I really like the combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food as they complement each other very well.

The restaurant looks like a typical Little Saigon restaurant meaning it has no décor to speak of. Like most Chinese-Vietnamese places everything is translated into Vietnamese, Chinese and English. The waitress was nice, however she didn’t really speak English although she seemed to sort of understand me when I spoke to her in Mandarin. However, the boss guy and boss lady were able to speak some Mandarin, I heard them speaking Cantonese and they obviously spoke Vietnamese as the entire customer base was Vietnamese except for us and one older Cantonese gentleman. It was an interesting communication experience, but they were pretty nice.

Anyhow, onto the food:

- Cha Ca Thang Long: This is white fish filets (not sure what type of fish) covered in turmeric powder and cooked on a cast iron skillet with onions and dill. It’s served with a plate of fresh vegetables (lettuce, mint, cilantro, lime, onions, jalapeno and peanuts), banh da (black sesame rice crackers), rice noodles and a fermented shrimp and fish sauce. The fish has a turmeric and dill flavor and also a smoky flavor from being on the skillet. The fish is very tender and not fishy at all. The seasonings are a little more heavy-handed than at Vien Dong, which is where I normally get this dish, but the rendition here is still excellent. The fermented shrimp and fish sauce is sweet, but has a fairly strong flavor to it; however, the version here is not as strong as at Vien Dong. The way I like to eat it is to wrap the fish, rice cracker, noodles and peanuts into a lettuce wrap and then dip it in the fermented shrimp and fish sauce. Overall, this was very good, I’d give Vien Dong a very slight nod on this dish because I feel like their version is more delicate, but it’s a close call. 8.25/10

- Fish Congee: Congee is simply rice that is cooked with a lot more water, so instead of getting the dry rice you normally see you end up getting a thick porridge. The congee itself is fairly plain tasting, but you add different meats and other condiments to it to give it flavor. It is usually eaten for breakfast and it’s sort of like Chinese chicken noodle soup in that people always want it when they are sick. You also eat it with you tiao, which is a long fried donut that you dip into the congee. The congee here is on the thick side and it tastes creamy, which is how it should taste. They are quite generous with the amount of fish they give you and the fish was very good; it was a white fish that wasn’t fishy tasting at all and the texture was very tender, but not mushy. They garnish it with ginger, scallions and cilantro, which really taste great with everything. I also like to put a healthy dose of white pepper into the soup. This tastes like classic excellent congee; this is comparable to what you find at a regular congee place in Hong Kong. The you tiao was decent although it wasn’t freshly fried, but the combo of you tiao and congee is a must for me. This is very much a comfort food for me and I don’t know if non-Chinese people will enjoy this as much as I do, but this was probably the best congee I’ve had in CA. 8.5/10

- Soda Chanh: Soda chanh is soda water, fresh lime and sugar mixed together. I think it’s one of the most refreshing drinks so I get it pretty much every time I get Vietnamese food. The version here was pretty decent, a little more of the lime flavor than most places, but still good. 7.75/10

Overall, I enjoyed the food here a lot. If you want fish congee or cha ca thang long, this is definitely a place you want to check out.

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    1. Wow. Haven't been there in over 20 years. Glad to hear it's still going strong--not many Chinese restaurants last that long. Back in the 1980s they restaurant carried a subtitle (House of Soup). Did you notice if they still used that?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chandavkl

        what do you mean by subtitle? you mean a sign?

        actually if you click on the pic of the restaurant and click on the pic again, it will blow up and if you look at the top it still says house of soup. btw i doubt they've changed the decor since you were there!

      2. Keep in mind that Vietnam was colonized by the Chinese and they do share a border. Saying there is a Chinese influence in Vietnam is like saying there is a Mexican influence in California.

        If you go to District 5 in Saigon, there is a huge Chinese population and a really cool market Cholon.

        There are many ingredients that are similar. The great thing about the Vietnamese (my wife is Vietnamese) is that they have a knack for taking the best things about a culture (the French or Chinese) and adapting to their own. Thus , a Banh Mi or Caphe Sua Da is French influenced, but still distinctly Vietnamese.

        I love seafood congee and will have to try this place. When we were in Nha Trang, our 2 year old daughter ate seafood congee for breakfast and loved it. Of course, that was the freshest seafood you could get.

        13 Replies
        1. re: bsquared2

          yah it makes sense there would be influence, but i mean its very prevalent to the point where i actually go to little saigon get chinese food that i grew up eating (i am chinese) and i end up speaking chinese almost as much as i end up speaking english in little saigon. Also, the chinese influence is not from yunnan or guangxi which border it (where you would expect the influence to be from), it's from guangdong b/c that's where cantonese people and teochew people are from which does not border vietnam although i guess that makes sense as people from guangdong and fujian province were the most active travelers and settled all over the world

          Also, most of southeast asia has very serious chinese influence, but in most cases it's b/c a very significant portion of the population is chinese (malaysia like 25% or singapore where its the majority), not 1%. I'd be very curious to see how strong the vietnamese influence is in yunnan or guangxi which border vietnam

          Totally agree with you on vietnamese adaption, I love their food its my favorite food after chinese and japanese, my family thinks i'm obsessed with it b/c when I come home to CA I end up dragging them to Little Saigon for half their meals

          if you like cantonese style congee (thick not the watery teochew kind) you should check this place out....if they only had freshly fried you tiao this place would be up a notch, but the congee itself is good

          1. re: Lau

            Did you happen to see if they have lean pork and preserved egg congee? It's my favourite kind and I only seem to be able to get it when I go out for dim sum.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              i believe they do have it, i'm sure its probably pretty decent since the congee itself is good

              that's actually my standard order for congee as it's my favorite too! although i don't usually get it at a lot of the dim sum places b/c its usually not very good at dim sum places for some reason

              you should definitely try the fish congee though b/c the fish they use is good and it's definitely their specialty, its one of the best fish congee i've had in the US

            2. re: Lau

              But Vietnam was colonized by the Chinese for a long time. You do see a lot of Chinese influence in many aspects of life, not just food. Even though maybe 1% of the population is Chinese, I'm sure that there is a larger percentage that has some "chinese blood" .

              Congee is something many people eat for breakfast in Vietnam and a dish mothers make for their kids. Like I said, our daughter loved eating fish congee so I want to give this place a try.

              1. re: bsquared2

                yah thats probably true, in thailand something like 15% of the population is chinese, but alot more than that has some chinese blood in them, but almost none of them speak chinese anymore

                definitely give it a try, i think you'll like it

              2. re: Lau

                Chiu Chow cuisine is the ultimate epitome of the hybridization of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  that is true, but chiu chow cuisine is already more similar to vietnamese food as they are the only ones to use fish sauce in china and i think their style of cuisine is already more similar to vietnamese food in that they rely fairly heavily on the freshness of their ingredients and use less sauce than other chinese cuisines

                  although canton restaurant is definitely cantonese as they name would suggest (its guang dong restaurant in chinese)

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    You all noted earlier that Chuen Hing was closing, now the question is, is there anywhere else to get Chiu Chow cuisine anywhere in the SGV or anywhere in LA for that matter?

                    Thanks a bunch.

                    1. re: kevin

                      hey kevin - so with respect to chuen hing, seafood village is your best bet, while they say they are a chiu chow restaurant they are really a hong kong style chiu chow restaurant as alot of their food is cantonese although they have a decent amount of chiu chow stuff.

                      i found their menu online and there is a decent amount of chiu chow food, i linked it in that chuen hing thread, here's the permalink

                      the menu will say chiu chow style or 潮州式 (chao zhou shi) for alot of the dishes, but here are some of the more classic type chiu chow dishes on the menu:
                      - appetizers: all of the appetizers are definitely chiu chow
                      - #29-34: all very chiu chow
                      - #36
                      - #112

                      besides that in little saigon you can find some chiu chow style food (it will say trieu chau as that is the vietnamese translation of teochew which is the actual name, chiu chow is the cantonese transliteration and chao zhou is the mandarin transliteration).
                      - Trieu chau: one of my favorite noodle soup spots in the US, i really like the Hu tiu Nam Vang with a fried crueller (you tiao), word of warning though i'd get here early like 11am as the lunch crowd is ridiculous and they run out of you tiao early and they are not open for dinner
                      - tan cang: its billed as a chiu chow restaurant, but its actually some combo of chiu chow, cantonese and vietnamese. the house special lobster is really really good and i believe you can get chiu chow style steamed fish
                      - royal capital seafood: there are some teochew dishes on their menu (similar to tan cang, but bigger menu) and i believe some of the staff is teochew...#7, #26, #94, #217

                      1. re: Lau

                        And don't, whatever you do, go to New Trieu Chau. It wasn't spun off from Trieu Chau, it was rejected from its host body.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          oh yah good point, thats sort of confusing as they have almost the same name

                        2. re: Lau

                          cool,thanks. seafood village it will probably be then.

                          i've been in tan cang, akka newport lobster before, for the house special lobster, but never knew it chiu chow, just thought it was vietnamese-french with some chinese/cantonese thrown into the mix.

                          1. re: kevin

                            yah its not totally apparent from their english name / sign, in chinese it says they are chiu chow style food. that said, its way fusion-y between sort of chinese / cantonese / vietnamese and chiu chow and really not very close to what actual chiu chow food is like

                            if you ever have time for a vacation in asia, you should stop by singapore....not only is the food in general amazing there, you can get awesome chiu chow food, you can also get it in hong kong, but the chiu chow population is very big in singapore

                2. Thanks for the heads up, Lau. Fish congee with You Tiao and perhaps a raw egg makes my day.
                  Even if Westminster is not in my neck of the woods, have noted it down for a future OC visit.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: selfportrait93

                    haha yah it definitely made my day!

                  2. I love, love, love this place. My Mom and I wandered in here forever ago... like, 7 years ago? She commented that it had the same name as her favorite place back in Saigon, decades ago, and the same specialties. She used to eat lunch there all the time as a young girl back in the early 70s. She mused that it was some sort of reference to the Saigon original. Turns out, it *was* the same place... same cook, some of the same waitstaff.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Thi N.

                      wow thats pretty crazy and pretty cool too!