I developed a fondness for Vietnamese food since I tried eating at Pho Hoa just for the heck of it. As a noodle soup lover, I went straight for the Pho, a soup with flavorful broth, tender slices of meat and enchanced with herbs like basil and cilantro. The closest I came to tasting authentic Vietnamese food was in Melbourne, not having traveled to Vietnam yet. The huge Vietnamese community in Melbourne meant having plenty of Vietnamese restaurants, each having Vietnamese cooks and staff. So when Verdana Homes took members of the media to a southern sojourn in Tagaytay, my eyes widened with excitement when I saw Bawai’s Vietnamese Kusina in the itinerary.
Bawai, which is Vietnamese for grandmother, is a homey restaurant inside one of Tagaytay’s retirement communities. It’s actually the home of Ver & Yong Tatlonghari. Yong, a Vietnamese, settled in the Philippines after marrying her Filipino husband. A great cook, her home was always open to her children and grandchildren, who wanted to share their bawai’s fantastic Vietnamese meals. When strangers started showing up at their doorstep, they took that as a sign to open a portion of their home as a restaurant.
Appetizer plate: Goi Cuon (Php 145; 3 pieces per order), Nam Nuong and fresh veggies (Php 250; 3 pieces per order)
Anton Diaz, considered as an insider in Tagaytay, discovered Bawai’s through the Tagaytay grapevine. Soon after Anton blogged about it, people started calling in and making reservations. It wasn’t long before tv, broadsheets and magazines started featuring Bawai’s. Mr. Ver said after all these publicity, the phones kept on ringing off the hook. And it was with good reason; Bawai’s really is the best Vietnamese restaurant.
We started off with a sampler plate with two pieces of Goi Cuon (Vietnamese fresh lumpia), a sampling of Nam Nuong (grilled Vietnamese sausage) for some and for others Chao Tom (pounded shrimp on sugar cane), served on a bed of fresh greens and dry rice noodles. There were two dips for this set: peanut sauce for the Goi Cuon and the special Vietnamese fish sauce for the Nam Nuong and Chao Tom. One bite into the Goi Cuon and we know it’s freshly made. The shrimp is tender and the veggies crunchy. Both the Nam Nuong and the Chao Tom are cooked with just the right amount of flavor.
Next comes what I’ve been looking forward to since I learned that we were headed to Bawai’s: Pho Bo. After a several minutes spent taking numerous photos, I finally gave up and started digging into my bowl. It’s really as good, even better than it looks. The broth didn’t really need the kalamansi or the spring onion saw leaves, but they certainly enhances the flavor. The hot soup was perfect for Tagaytay weather; there’s always a fresh, cool breeze even at high noon.
We were all full — the rice noodles in the salad, in Vietnamese fresh lumpia and in the Pho were very filling, but it seems Bawai still have a little surprise for us. The waitstaff came out of Bawai’s kitchen bearing trays of Banh da Lon, or the Vietnamese equivalent of our sapin-sapin. Made with pandan and monggo beans, the green layer is like kuchinta, while the yellow layer is like a coarse maja blanca. It is topped with coconut cream and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts.
To go with everything was a tall glass of refreshing Pandan Iced Tea. This is certainly different from the other ice tea I’ve tasted. Different in a very positive way — the pandan flavor made it taste somewhat like gulaman, my favorite Filipino drink.
Writing this post and looking at the photos made me reminisce about that lunch, my mouth watering ever so slightly. I can’t help thinking when I’ll go back to Tagaytay, and hoping it would be soon.
Because lola Yong herself cooks all the dishes, Bawai’s kitchen is only open on weekends for lunch and dinner. Also, due to Bawai’s limited space, reservation is a must. For reservations, call 0920-9722924.
Bawai’s Vietnamese Kusina
Brgy. Bukal, Silang, Cavite
+63 920 972-2924
A big thanks to Verdana Homes and to Anton for this awesome Tagaytay food tour, and to the Tatlonghari family for welcoming us into their home.