The scruffy territory of lower Kingsland Road has been rechristened Pho Road, for the wall-to-wall restaurants serving pho, or noodle soup. Vietnamese people arrived in Britain in large numbers in in the 1970s, following the fall of Saigon. Today the Vietnamese community and restaurant scene is thriving in Hackney, but Mein Tay is one of only two southern Vietnamese places, serving the delicately flavoured and veg- and fish-rich cuisine of the Mekong Delta. I went along for a full-blown banquet, and to meet the delightful owner of Mein Tay, My Le.
Interview with My Le
With her daughter translating from Vietnamese, My Le explained that the restaurant is named for the region of southwest Vietnam where the family come from; the lush banks of the Mekong river provide beautiful vegetables and fruit, and fish is in bountiful supply. Frog and eel are mainstays, and the menu at Mein Tay features Mekong catfish and even jellyfish.
My Le came to Britain for her sister’s wedding twenty years ago and stayed, setting up the restaurant with her chef husband Su Tran. Su worked in Chinese and Japanese restaurants in London, and had a stint as a barman in Stringfellow’s before saving enough to buy the restaurant on Hackney’s Pho Road. Mein Tay is staffed by family members, and home and family inspires both the food and the welcoming spirit of the place.
Having served me enough delicious dishes to sink a sampan on the Mekong, My Le knelt to light an incense stick in the little Buddhist shrine in the corner of the restaurant. And she helped me source two authentic Vietnamese recipes, as a basis for your own Mein Tay banquet.
Vietnamese food is served with several dishes offered at the same time, rather than in courses. My Le suggests you head to nearby Far East supermarket Longdan for some of the more unusual ingredients here, such as sugar cane for the prawnballs. This can be substituted for a skewer, but the chewy sticks infuse the prawn mix with sweet flavour.