Michelin spotlight shines on HCMC sticky rice gem

By Van Khanh   September 2, 2023 | 11:00 pm PT
Ho Chi Minh City's Xoi Bat is the only sticky rice restaurant featured on the Michelin Guide's list of tasty and affordable dining spots in Vietnam.

Situated at 8 Hoang Hoa Tham Street, Ward 7, Binh Thanh District, Xoi Bat welcomes patrons daily from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The establishment was honored with a spot on the list of 29 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand restaurants in Vietnam in June.

Bib Gourmand selections are known for their simple and easy-to-enjoy cooking styles, offering delicious food at inexpensive prices.

Anh Phúc Thịnh, chủ quán, đang chuẩn bị nguyên liệu.

Phuc Thinh, the owner of the restaurant, prepares his mother’s ingredients according to her styles and recipes. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

Huynh Phuc Thinh, the owner and culinary benefactor behind Xoi Bat, shares that while sticky rice is a familiar staple in Vietnam, its essence is not recognized among foreign palates. Driven by the mission to share southern flavors with global friends and preserve his mother's cherished recipes, Thinh started his culinary journey that led to creating Xoi Bat, where his mother leads the kitchen.

The restaurant has a simple but welcoming interior with lots of plants and five sets of wooden tables and chairs, capable of accommodating approximately 20 guests at a time.

Xoi Bat began in 2021. Thinh says business grew at first, but then the owner of the rental space took back half the property, so now the restaurant is smaller.

The interior of the eatery is minimalist yet neat, with wooden chairs and tables throughout. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

The interior of the eatery is minimalist, with wooden chairs and tables throughout. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

As the name suggests, Xoi Bat ("Sticky Rice Bowl") specializes in serving sticky rice in bowls.

The restaurant has nine side dishes available - pate, braised pork, peppered braised pork, shredded chicken, pork rolls, intestine stew with coconut juice, char siu, omelet, and braised eggs. Apart from the char siu, Thinh's mother prepares each side dish fresh every day.

The cost of a serving of sticky rice, along with homemade kimchi and carrot soup, varies from VND35,000 to VND65,000 ($1.50-2.70) based on the ingredients selected.

Thinh says that the most popular order is the "mixed xoi bat," which includes pate, braised eggs, shredded chicken, intestine stew with coconut juice, and char siu.

A bowl of sticky rice topped with a variety of ingredients, crowned by a spoonful of braised pork sauce. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

A bowl of sticky rice topped with a variety of ingredients, crowned by a spoonful of braised pork sauce. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

The intestine is skillfully managed to remove any unwanted organ smells while maintaining crispness. Lean minced meat is used for the char siu, making it tender, aromatic, and not dry. Beyond seasoning, Thinh thinks that the restaurant's unique flavor comes from selecting high-quality ingredients. "When I can't make a dish myself, I ensure I get it from trustworthy suppliers known for their dedication to quality," Thinh said.

However, the variety of side dishes is not the only factor contributing to Xoi Bat's success. According to Thinh, people who come for the sticky rice are mostly looking for high-quality rice, valuing it even more than the tasty sides.

Freshly cooked sticky rice for consistent quality. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

Freshly cooked sticky rice at Xoi Bat. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

The restaurant produces soft and fragrant sticky rice, infused with coconut milk and pandan leaves. Thinh said he has even closed his shop at times when the rice did not meet his exacting standards. He explains that crafting sticky rice involves precise steps, from soaking to cooking, a process he has researched and mastered.

"To retain the rice's white color, its firmness, and texture, the cooking process demands a fresh start every time. I cook 15 to 20 kilograms of glutinous rice daily, not in one go, but in batches. As one batch nears completion, I begin the next," Thinh said.

With an average daily output of 200 bowls and peak service stretching to 360, Xoi Bat's popularity surged after gaining a spot on the Michelin's Bib Gourmand list. The recognition elevated the restaurant's visibility and steadied its flow of patrons.

Before the Michelin recognition, the restaurant had a small group of foreign customers, but more have come since, including famous bloggers. Thinh shares that these influencers praise the sticky rice dish after trying it. Moreover, they are often pleasantly surprised to discover the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine, beyond just banh mi and pho. Thinh sees this as a positive sign for his mission to introduce the world to the many facets of Vietnamese food.

Một phần Xôi Bát đầy đủ cùng kim chi và canh cà rốt ăn kèm.

A portion of sticky rice comes with kimchi and carrot soup. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

Drawn by Michelin's seal of approval, Thao Nhi, a resident of Binh Thanh District, was enticed to give Xoi Bat a try. She said that the portion of sticky rice is generous and worth the cost. The rice has a sweet coconut milk flavor, but what stood out for her was the pate, which has a pleasant smell and lacks the bitterness that can be found in other places.

For customers like Quang Anh from Phu Nhuan District, who are not typically drawn to sweetness, the sticky rice here offers a unique flavor profile. He appreciates the restaurant for adding kimchi and soup to the dish, which he thinks breaks the monotony. He likes the tangy and spicy taste of the kimchi, and how it stays crispy. The soup, on the other hand, balances things out and prevents the dish from feeling too heavy.

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