Indoctrination doesn’t usually define a dining experience, but at Ming Jih (銘記越南美食) it’s difficult to avoid — and hard not to swallow.
A mannequin dressed in an ao dai, or Vietnamese qipao, greets customers at the door. There’s a small salon prive that doubles as a boutique stocked with Vietnamese handicrafts.
Inside the main dining room, which seats about 100, the puce and orange walls are plastered with Vietnamese calendars, posters extolling the virtues of Vietnam’s tourist destinations, Vietnamese contemporary lacquer art, an advert for Vietnam Airlines, and certificates from Vietnamese cultural bodies. A festoon of Vietnamese flags runs the length of the room and a projector fills an 80-inch screen with a looped promo film about the Sea of Vietnam.
Hither Vietnamese this, whither Vietnamese that. There’s no escape. Outside, a veranda, charmingly named the “passenger discharge area,” faces two 3m-tall billboards, one bearing a collage of images from the Vietnam War, including armed victorious Vietcong and menacing Yanks in tanks.
Ming Jih’s most convincing propaganda, however, is to be found on the menu, which features 131 options, many of which are available in three types of noodle and choices of meat or seafood. Dithering over the selection elicits the attention of the wait staff, variously dressed in black bow tie, white shirt and black waistcoat or ao dai.
Of five visits, the only disappointment was Vietnamese papaya salad (NT$100), which was overly sweet, especially when compared to its Thai cousin.
The chefs at Ming Jih handle archetypical Vietnamese fare such as spring rolls with aplomb, but there are far more interesting choices, including boiled incubated duck egg (NT$40).
Address: 536-1, Kangning St, Sijhih City, Taipei County (台北縣汐止市康寧街536-1) Telephone: (02) 2692-7015
Open: Open daily from 11am to 9pm; closed Mondays
Average meal: NT$330
Details: Chinese, English and Vietnamese menu; credit cards accepted; reservation recommended for lunch or dinner; free WiFi
Highly recommended is the stuffed crepe with shrimp (NT$200), a 35cm-diameter disc folded in half and filled with bean paste, prawns and bean sprouts. To form wraps at the table, the dish is served with a plate of lettuce, basil, mint and houttuynia (魚腥草) leaves, which have an unusual fishy flavor that amplifies the eggy-ness of the batter.
Skewered beef tossed with noodles (NT$110) is a melange of contrasting textures and flavors: tomato, fried garlic, shredded pickled cabbage and carrot, spring onion, cucumber, basil, beef, bean sprouts and peanut powder.
Located in Sijhih near the Dream Community (夢想社區) artists’ village, Ming Jih is a NT$250 to NT$300 cab ride from Taipei’s East District and well worth the trip.