Hoi An’s first restaurant to serve local customers and foreign tourists
Mermaid, the first of Ms Vy’s restaurants, and the first to serve foreigners in Hoi An, is situated just a few metres from Hoi An Market – where Ms Vy cut her teeth in the food business while helping out at her parents’ restaurant. Mermaid served, and continues to serve, many of the dishes that are now considered Hoi An specialities. Many of these were Ms Vy’s own family recipes or recipes created by Ms Vy herself.
The following excerpt is taken from Ms Vy’s book, “Taste Vietnam”
“Since its opening in April 1992, Nu Y (literally meaning “as you wish”), has enjoyed considerable success – due in part my parents reputation among the stallholders whom they had served in the market when running the family restaurant. It wasn’t long before my own restaurant rapidly grew in popularity with a reputation that went beyond Hoi An and towards the end of 1992, I had an experience that would change my life. A small group of foreigners came to the restaurant. Unable to speak English we communicated by gesturing back and forth. Not knowing what food foreigners liked to eat my only option was to put all the ingredients I had into a basket to show them. There were river shrimp, squid, a fish and lots of vegetables. To my great surprise, they wanted everything. They must have been very hungry, or very curious, I thought. But then, the next problem – I had no idea how to cook it for them. Eventually, Father turned to me and said, “Whatever way you want to cook, just cook it!” So, I cooked everything as if I was preparing a special meal for my own family.
It was a roaring success. Our guests had drunk a lot of beer, eaten a lot of food and enjoyed themselves and it was a financial success too. But more importantly, it nourished our spirits and gave us energy. I wanted to do the same thing again and again. Fortunately, that night I had taken the opportunity to get those first foreign customers to write down in English the name of each dish they had eaten. The next day I wrote out these three dishes on an A4 size paper sign with a felt pen and put it up in front of the restaurant. This was probably the first English menu Hoi An had seen since 1975. Tourists soon started coming more regularly and we were the first restaurant in Hoi An to cater to both locals and Westerners.
Wanting to expand my menu, I continued to consult with Grandmother about specialities she could remember from her younger days in Hoi An. She recommended that I visit an old lady who used to make a famous fried wonton dish. When I approached the woman and asked her if she could make the speciality for me, she was hesitant. The crispy fried wonton was served with a crabmeat sauce mixed with tomato. It was divine. I asked her if she would consider making these for the restaurant and she agreed to make the wontons. We could then just add the sauce before serving. This dish became an instant hit. The same was true of a dish Father remembered that Grandmother had cooked for him. He suggested that I substitute the baby catfish that were used for Spanish mackerel or white tuna, since they had fewer bones. That dish became known as, ‘Fish in Banana Leaf’ and it soon became one of the town’s most popular menu items and can now be seen in restaurants all over Hoi An.
By 1994, business was still strong and we were attracting more tour groups. One of our regular tour leaders suggested I give the restaurant a Western name. The name ‘Mermaid’ came up. It was a definitively Western name, and set the tone for the restaurant which mostly served seafood.”
Mermaid Restaurant • 2 Tran Phu Street Hoi An • VN
tel: +84.0510.3861.527 • fax: +84.0510.3911.431