There’s Mortar Meets The Eye At Saigon Malaysian Restaurant Lesung

Chefs Eden Daus and Tommy Tran have raised the Stripes Of Glory, the Malaysian flag. And they’ve gone all in with Rendang Short Ribs, Chicken Curry with Roti, and sour and spicy Asam Pedas fish stew. This is the Saigon Malaysian restaurant Lesung.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Before all this, at S79 on the 79th floor of the Landmark 81 Tower, Eden and Tommy had brushed off the idea that sky-high restaurants had to be all about the view. And they’d shrugged and said ‘whatever’ to the idea that that big, in-your-face Malaysian favors couldn’t co-exist with delicate and balanced Vietnamese cuisine. Sometimes on the same plate. So, on the tasting menus, there was ox tongue with a mắm cáy sauce and steak marinated in budu – a Malaysian fish paste. 

Inside Lesung restaurant
Inside Lesung Restaurant, they keep the lights turned down low, giving this Saigon Malaysian restaurant a romantic ambience.

Home-Cooked Goodness At The Saigon Malaysian Restaurant Lesung

Lesung, comes from the Malay words ‘batu lesung’, meaning a pestle and mortar. It symbolizes how Eden and Tommy are going for something less-refined, but no less flavorsome. There’s batik shirts and Nyonya-style outfits but a distinct absence of white table cloths.

They’re clearly having more fun at Lesung (72/1 Tran Quoc Toan, District 3). After all, they conjuring up home-cooked goodness this time and lots of warm nostalgia around.

“The batu lesung reminds us how our forebears would take the time to make a family meal. It would be as much about spending quality time together as eating good food,” Eden explains. He even has a 150-year-old pestle and mortar in the kitchen. Eden’s family passed it down to him through generations.

But, naturally, Eden and Tommy couldn’t resist elevating things a little. So, they’re making Rendang with Short Ribs and an Opor – a rich coconut dish infused with lemongrass – with beef cheek. But mostly it’s Malaysian staples: Ikan Bakar, Chicken Kuzi and Mango Kerabu, made the way all those generations who passed down to Eden that pestle and mortar would have approved of. 

Ikan bakar, grilled fish in Saigon
“The Ikan Bakar [at Lesung Restaurant Saigon] is my mom’s recipe,” Eden Daus tells us.

“The Ikan Bakar is my mom’s recipe,” Eden nods. ‘Ikan Bakar’ is a catch-all term for grilled fish in Malaysia. The one at Lesung is flaky, creamy and aromatic thanks to Eden’s mom’s secret marinade and a lick of flame. 

The satisfyingly springy Prawn Otak Otak – a kind of ground fish cake – is served still held in the warm embrace of the banana leaf it was steamed then charred in. And, alongside it, a accessibly spiced sambal.

And there’s the Opor Beef Cheek, a special occasion, slow-cooked dish with fall-apart beef, whole spices, tamarind and coconut milk. It’s made for weddings and other special occasions like Hari Raya – the celebratory meal then ends the month of fasting for Muslims. 

Prawn otak otak at saigon malaysian restaurant lesung
Saigon Malaysian restaurant Lesung’s Prawn Otak Otak with an accessibly spiced sambal.

Pointing Out The Obvious

Lesung was partly Arieff Yong’s idea. The Malaysian comedian and content creator pointed out the obvious to Eden during a recent visit to Saigon over a roadside bowl of che Thai. Hurry up and open an authentic Malaysian restaurant here, Arieff had told him. 

Eden concurred – it would be a way, he figured, to honor his heritage while also giving back to the restaurant scene in Saigon that had given him a lot.

And Tommy was immediately aboard. When they’d been studying in Malaysia together it had been something they’d dreamed of doing one day. 

There’s a disarmingly honest friendship between them that is underpinned by the respect developed while sharing the kitchen together. “Eden is a bit of a drama king,” Tommy laughs, “but he’s also incredibly disciplined and meticulous in his work.“ 

“Tommy is brave and hardworking too,” Eden reciprocates. “He’s probably one of the most generous people I’ve ever met and he’s always got my back no matter what.”

Crab meat lemak nenas at Saigon Malaysian restaurant Lesung
Lesung’s Crab Lemak Nenas.

Taking The Plunge 

Tommy had taken the plunge when he went to Malaysia, his first trip overseas, without any English proficiency or even much money to protect him. There he’d met Eden, “someone who shared the same passion.” But he’d eventually return to Vietnam to join Francis Thuan’s exciting project at Esta

Eden had been learning his chops with Chef Val Muruga at the Kuala Lumpur fine dining restaurant Samplings On The Fourteenth, and after that at the Asia 50 Best ranked Nadodi, at Four Seasons, helmed by Chef Sri Charan. There they served Indian and Sri Lankan food as fine dining, something of a revelation for Eden. The discovery inspired him to start a private dining business, before he decided to move to Vietnam too, and follow his old friend.

“It’s the love and care that goes into the cuisine…that we share.”

By then they’d begun to see endless similarities between Malaysian and Vietnamese culture and cuisine. “There’s the appreciation and incorporation of lots of herbs and spices,” Tommy says. “And there’s always a variety of flavor profiles in dish from both cuisines. Plus, of course, both countries have a vibrant street food culture.”

“Both countries use fermentation extensively,” Eden adds. “And rice is a staple in both Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine.’

Of course, there’s differences too – Vietnam with its fluffy baguettes and stews influenced by the French, and lots of fish sauce. Malaysian food, that mostly eschews pork and sometimes beef too, often incorporates coconut milk, and has diverse influences, from Indian, Chinese, Malay and even Thai cuisine

“But most of all, it’s the love and care that goes into the cuisine on a daily basis that we share that stands out,” Eden smiles.

Rendang short ribs
Rendang short rib, one of the succinct Lesung Restaurant’s menu’s stand-outs.

Lesung Malaysian Restaurant In Saigon Is A Place Full Of Heart 

Eden and Tommy’s version of Malaysian cuisine that they serve at Lesung Restaurant is the flavorsome, evenly-priced food (the appetizer Prawn Otak Otak is 110K and for a main like the Rempah Fried Chicken is 150K, and it’s 410K for the shareable Ikan Bakar up to 620K for the Rendang Short Rib) you could return to Lesung Restaurant again and again. 

“For everything except the rendang,” Eden politely disagrees. “Although it’s my favorite dish, it has sentimental value to me. I remember my grandmother, mother and aunties preparing it late into the night, ready for Hari Raya. I’d only get to eat it once a year and I still only eat it rarely to preserve its special place in my heart.”

And Lesung Restaurant is a place filled with heart. There’s the memories of family meals in Malaysia, that 150-year-old pestle and mortar in the kitchen, and the special bond between Tommy and Eden, that’s begun a new chapter. 


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