When we entered this two-floor establishment before the lunchtime rush, the lights were dim, the furniture wooden and the tablecloths delicate and white, with embroidered red flowers. The overall effect was a simulated entry into my grandmother’s homely kitchen, if she was really into Russian decor of course.
Red-and-yellow babushka dolls and propaganda posters line the walls. It’s not tacky, it’s engulfing. The menu is written in Vietnamese. This is no problem as big coloured pictures of the dishes are there to help you make your choice. The pictures are an almost exact representation of what you will get on the table. Service is on hand to assist you with translation, and most dishes are offered in small and large sizes.
To start, we tried the shuba salad. A round, three-tiered salad made with shredded potato, fish and purple cabbage. Mayonnaise is laden between the layers and zig-zagged on top. It is a substantial portion and lasted throughout the courses. Depending on where my fork sliced, the taste varied from mild to intense fishy. It is priced at VND90,000 which, considering its size, is reasonable. A large serving of black bread accompanied the dish.
Determined to try out the traditional Russian cuisine, I looked through the menu to see what was on offer. There was a lot. Served with a dollop of yoghurt and sprinkled with light herbs, the borscht — a beetroot-based soup — was hearty. With tender carrot and potato mixed through the purple soup, I found no need for salt or pepper. It cost VND35,000 for a small bowl.
The pelmeni was another good pick. We were asked to wait 10 minutes for this one, which suggested the dish would be made fresh. This was confirmed, as the Russian dumplings arrived in a steaming hot pot. Costing VND65,000, the tortellini-shaped bites of beef were light on the stomach compared to other types of dumplings — not too oily or doughy.
The blinchiki were next up. The thicker-than-usual, pancake-styled crepe was folded onto itself and smothered with what we assumed was smetana, a type of sour cream sauce popular in Russia, offset with dill. Stuffed with a subtle layer of minced pork, this was my favourite dish of the meal, at a light VND39,000.
Meat, Fish, Potato and Dessert
Flicking through the menu you see a number of recurring themes. Shashliks are available in a range of meats; whole fish is carved into easy-to-eat pieces and many different forms of potatoes make up the savoury mix. One sweeter option was the blinchiki tvorog, a dessert version of the Russian pancake. Served with cream and a red berry sauce and priced at VND35,000 per pancale, the blinchiki itself was not sweet, but the accompanying sauces helped to push it into the dessert realm.
To drink, kompot is available by the glass, or by the jug at VND75,000. This red drink tastes like liquid strawberry jam and is drunk during the summer months in a Russian setting. My small glass lasted the entire meal as a sip at a time was enough. Russian beers and vodkas are plentiful as well, with brands such as Beluga.
CCCP Saigon provides what it says it will, a taste of Russia in Ho Chi Minh City. With an appropriate thank-you in Russian from the waiter, we left full and satisfied with the experience.
CCCP Saigon is located at 48A Nguyen Binh Khiem, Q1, HCMC and is open Monday to Sunday from 7.30am to 11pm. Lunch is served from 10.30am to 2.30pm and dinner from 5pm to 9.45pm. For more info, go to facebook.com/cccpsaigon
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals.
Photos by Bao Zoan