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Photo by Sivan Askayo/AFAR.com.

Travels through Vietnam and Thailand inspired Braden and Yasmin Wages to open Malai Kitchen in Dallas. The husband-and-wife team continue to take trips each year for new ideas and menu inspiration. In January, they traveled around Vietnam and discovered Bia Hoi, an unfiltered, inexpensive beer that is rarely found outside of northern Vietnam. They were unable to find something similar back home in the States, so they perfected the recipe and have applied for their brewpub license in order to brew this rare beer in-house. Many of the flavors of that trip now show up in menu specials. For example, a brunch dish called Hoi An hash features griddled, cooked noodle cakes with pork sausage, egg, green papaya slaw, and soy sauce. “It’s a Vietnamese version of a diner breakfast,” says Braden. They also added a new lunch dish called tiger noodles, a rice noodle dish with beef and chives that gets its yellow coloring from fresh turmeric sauce. “There’s a huge vegetarian culture in Vietnam,” says Yasmin, “so we added a vegetarian soup to the menu that was inspired by the trip.” Here are highlights from their travels:

Yasmin and Braden Wages by Claire McCormack

Yasmin and Braden Wages by Claire McCormack

Quan Com Hue Ngon, Da Nang City
“As soon as we got off the plane we jumped in a cab and had the driver drop us downtown in Da Nang City. We walked by a restaurant named Quan Com Hue Ngon. It was overflowing with people and was full of smoke. We thought, ’that place looks really cool,’ so we went inside. Everyone gets their own little charcoal grill placed at the table and you are served a bowl of marinated meats that you cook on the grill. You also get a huge plate of herbs and lettuce and a giant bowl of hot sauce so you create your own condiments. It was the coolest experience. Everyone there was a local and they were so excited to see tourists eating in the restaurant.” 65 Tran Quoc Toan

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Mango Home Stay, Mekong Delta
“From Da Nang we traveled south to the Mekong Delta for two or three days and stayed in a really cool home stay called Mango Cruises located right on the river in heart of the delta. The place has great views and is really well done. The only way to get in and out is by bike. One woman runs it like a B&B and cooks all of the meals. We were so interested in watching her cook that she let us help cook our dinner one night and she walked us through all of the recipes.” mangocruises.com

The Mekong Delta on AFAR.com

The Mekong Delta

Floating Market in Cai Rang
“Cai Rang is home to the biggest and best floating market. We woke up at 5 a.m. and took a 30-minute boat ride in the dark and then suddenly came upon tons of little boats selling produce. Everyone was screaming at each other trying to sell their goods and get people’s attention. It was so cool. Other boats were floating around selling food items. You can bet anything sold on the river at 5 a.m. tastes good.”

Secret Garden, Ho Chi Minh City
“We spent four days in Ho Chi Min City and our meal at Secret Garden was awesome. We were walking through the city and saw a little plaque on a wall that said ‘Secret Garden home cooked Vietnamese cuisine and tea house,’ so we went for lunch and thought that this could be pretty cool or really bad. We figured if we didn’t like the look of things inside we could always leave. We walked into what looked like an apartment building, and clearly looked very confused, because a guy who was cleaning his bike outside looked at us and asked ‘Secret Garden?’ We were in the right place even though there were women hanging laundry outside. We climbed six or seven flights of stairs in this apartment and came to a beautiful restaurant that was tiny but very well done. It had the cutest little chairs and pillows and great views. The whole experience was just awesome. The restaurant was full of local people and the owner knew everyone. The food wasn’t like anything you’d find back home. The menu was small and we had a snapper hot pot served with a big plate of fresh herbs. We were given fresh egg noodles to create our own soup. Eggplant fritters were another favorite as was a marinated grilled pork served with green mango and a bowl of rice topped with shredded young coconut. There was even a cool wine list. The selection was very small, but appropriate for the cuisine. This was definitely one of our favorite places.” 158 Pasteur, District 1

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19 Ho Chi Minh City Delights

19 Ho Chi Minh City Delights

Quan Ngon
“Quan Ngon was another very beautiful restaurant. The owners realized that many tourists were eating on the street and that this can sometimes seem scary or dangerous for foreigners. They wanted people to experience street food without being scared of it so they built this restaurant and on its edges are little stalls, each serving a specialty. It’s a way to experience street food but in a monitored, very clean, food-safe way. Each region of Vietnam has its own specialty much like Italy. Obviously, if you go to Vietnam you have to try pho. It’s shocking how different it tastes by region. Ho Chi Minh City is known for its noodle salads and I think the best banh mi can be found on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Banh xeo is a crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, meat, and herbs and served with dipping sauces. Coffee is huge in Vietnam. There are so many different versions. As you walk down the street you see people putting up little coffee stalls and they are always packed.” 138 – 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1