You're About to See More of This Cult-Favorite Vietnamese Restaurant From Tagaytay
Their food is pho real!
Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen
G/F Uptown Parade, Uptown Bonifacio
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) Though not as buzzy online as newer restaurants, Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen is a reliable place for your Vietnamese hankerings, gaining a following for their fresh and flavorful fare. Both their Tagaytay and White Plains branches are hidden and unassuming, but they’re about to make a bigger splash in Metro Manila’s foodscape with their newest outpost at Uptown Parade.
While the first two branches of Bawai’s resemble a house more than a restaurant with their wooden décor and rustic interiors, the newest branch adopts a new, more modern look, but with touches that give it a quaint and cozy feel. It still has the vibe of a family home, with framed photos and bamboo light fixtures, but it’s also sleeker, with an Asian-inspired mural providing a hip splash of color.
“My idea was to bring Bawai’s closer to Manila,” says Anderson Hao, the new master franchiser of Bawai’s in Metro Manila. “I feel that the people who drive to Tagaytay are from Metro Manila naman, so here you don’t have to just get Bawai’s during the weekends. You get to enjoy their food and ambience any time you want.”
The newest Bawai’s keeps the menu of the flagship in Tagaytay, using the original recipes by bawai (Vietnamese for grandmother) herself, My Duyen. My, or Bawai as she’s fondly called, is known to be extremely protective of her recipes, preferring to demonstrate to her staff, and even her family, how to prepare her dishes instead of sharing the recipes themselves.“Si Bawai mismo ang nagturo sa kitchen staff,” shares Anderson. “Her mentality is, if you can’t make it right then it’s better not to do it. And if you want your staff to do it right, you have to show them yourself how to do it.”
All these should assure you that’ll you’re only getting the best at Bawai’s, but in case you need more convincing, their menu of classic home-style Vietnamese food should do the trick. You can go the traditional route and have the Goi Cuon (P320), fresh spring rolls with a satisfying crunch and lightness to them. Or start immediately on a full-flavored note with the Pho Bites (P320), with incredibly tender sweet-savory beef wrapped in lettuce together with chewy pho noodles.
Bun Bo Hue
Anyone who’s used to more subdued flavors in their pho will find the spicy broth of the Bun Bo Hue (P375) or pork knuckle noodle soup, a pleasant surprise. This bowl still flaunts the fresh and clean flavors of an excellent pho, but the ginger, cilantro, and chili are more prominent, keeping you slurping until the end. The pork knuckle, too, is surprisingly tender, and will yield easily to the slice of a fork or chopstick.
If the starters and pho are refreshing and light on the palate, the mains offer punchier flavors. It’s almost impossible to have the Bo Kho (P520) without rice (P55), especially with a thick peppery sauce, and a hint of spiced sweetness from star anise, just begging to be smothered over something. But what’s even more noteworthy are the beef chunks. Anderson shares that they drive to Batangas regularly to get fresh beef, which is then slow-cooked for eight hours to get the meat to a point that can only be described as buttery soft. Melt-in-your-mouth is a cliché that was probably born from someone having this beef stew.
Tom Rang Me
The Tom Rang Me (P550) also makes a strong impression. Bawai’s makes their own tamarind paste from fresh sampaloc that’s been caramelized to bring out its natural acidity while also giving it a smoky-sweet flavor. But even when blanketed with this incredibly flavorful sauce, the fresh tiger prawn’s own subdued sweetness still shines through.
Anderson shares that the banh mi at Bawai’s gets overlooked for their entrees and noodle soups. The secret is the generously buttered baguette—the classic Banh Mi (P260) has the baguette pieces stuffed with pork slices, pork-liver pate, and pickled vegetables. You get savory, and tangy, and the deliciously buttery flavor takes this banh mi a notch higher—with a sandwich that packs all these flavor, this could be a full meal in itself.
With sumptuous dishes of the highest quality, and a dedication to staying true to their Vietnamese roots, it’s easy to see why people flock to Bawai’s in Tagaytay, despite keeping a relatively low-key profile. Visiting their newest branch will now be easier for many, but regulars of the original Bawai’s can expect the same flavors and accommodating experience. Though, with food this good, Bawai's won’t be staying under-the-radar for long.
Photos by Hans Fausto