Mai Fish Restaurant’s Focus on Family
By now, the name Tran Thanh Duc, aka Chef Duc, is no secret. Major news outlets have shared his story, and each year, tourists and food-lovers travel from around the globe to try one of his mouth-watering dishes. Not only is he a notable character in Hoi An’s food-scene, but to locals, he is known for his kind, generous heart and his focus on family. Take Mai Fish Restaurant for example, named after his daughter.
Located on Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa, and overlooking the Thu Bon River. Mai Fish Restaurant encompasses what it means to have an authentic taste of Hoi An’s dining culture. The warm, yellow exterior of the restaurant is both calming and alluring. At night, the iconic paper lanterns illuminate the entryway, inviting you home. The elegant bar display reminds you that you are free to relax with your family and friends. Then select from an ample offering of distinctive, local craft beers, cocktails, and wine.
Meeting Chef Duc
Upon meeting Duc, it becomes clear that he radiates positivity. His enduring smile and calm disposition make guests in his restaurants feel right at home. Whether dining solo or with others, Duc desires to bring people together through a shared meal. He does this by encouraging his staff to interact with guests on a personal level. Calling them by name, and being open to engaging in conversation.
When asked about what he loves most about Mai Fish Restaurant, Duc said, “food and drinks are for friends and family. I love the sense of connection that people have over food.”
Hidden sat down with Chef Duc to discuss everything Mai Fish. From the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name to the classic menu, and how all of this points to Duc’s focus on family.
Mai Fish Restaurant Information:
Menu: Asian, Vietnamese, Vegetarian
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Address: 45 Nguyen Thj Minh Khai, Hoi An (a 2-minute walk from the Japanese Covered Bridge)
Phone: +84 (0) 235 3925 545
Chef Duc’s Focus on Family
Born and raised on a farm in Southern Vietnam, Duc’s earliest memories are of his mother’s cooking. A simple story of a mango shared by Duc’s mother sparked what was to be his lifelong passion turned career. She described to him its three stages of maturity, and how the flavour profile changed during each phase. A natural progression that showed Duc just how complex food could be.
“When the mango is green,” Duc’s mother said to him, “use it in a crispy, refreshing salad. When it is half-ripe, the taste is both sweet and sour, which gives it more variety and flexibility. Finally, when the mango is ripe, use it in a dessert.”
“[My mother] was a loving critic. Emphasising the importance of not only having a dish that tastes good but looks good too,” Duc nodded.
The love and appreciation Duc has for his mother’s traditions is apparent through his careful crafting of the Mai Fish Restaurant menu. As a child, Duc understood the importance of taking pride in the food you make and serve to others. Farm-to-plate was the norm, as much of the produce and meat was locally sourced. Despite the rise in tourism over the last decade, Duc recognises the desire of many visitors to partake in an authentic Vietnamese experience. That is precisely where Mai Fish comes into play.
Hidden Hint: If you’re looking for the real thing, a place to focus on your family, gimmick-free, and without the tourist price-tag, Mai Fish Restaurant is the place to go.
Mai Fish Restaurant’s Convenient Location
Upon entering Hoi An’s Ancient Town, a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th Century, there is evidence of both indigenous and foreign influence. All this combined makes it the perfect location for a heritage-based restaurant. The rustic décor and hand-crafted furniture perfectly complement this traditional Hoi An house. Add in the special touch of a riverfront courtyard, and Mai Fish Restaurant quickly becomes the favourite spot for guests to gaze upon the serene, lantern-lit views of the Thu Bon River.
The Cosy Atmosphere of Mai Fish Restaurant
Approaching Mai Fish Restaurant from the riverside, it is clear that much thought and care went into nourishing its comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Shades of red, orange, and yellow give guests the impression that it’s sunset, even in mid-afternoon. On the outside, the restaurant flourishes with life. Carefully selected, plants and bushes transform the courtyard and outdoor patio into a tranquil, garden-esque landscape. Copper lighting casts a unique, golden glow over the tables. Meanwhile, the interior encourages you to relax. You’re home. Paintings line the hallways, and ornate, wooden cabinets house antiques, locally made cups, glasses, and bowls. If you need a private room for a special occasion, Mai Fish Restaurant has a charming space available for reservations. There’s a separate dining area with room to seat up to eight guests.
“I built [Mai Fish Restaurant] from the ground up. Everything from the flooring to the counter space in the kitchen. Through to the design of the plates and bowls – it is my mama’s way. There is no other way,” explained Duc.
The courtyard is home to an extraordinary artifact. A well from the original Old Town of Hoi An. Even better, guests have the unique opportunity to dine at a table that hugs this ancient structure. It’s delightfully adorned with a small fountain and other embellishments.
A Menu Inspired by Family Tradition
Despite its name, Mai Fish Restaurant has much more to its classically inspired menu than seafood. From Hoi An specialties, such as White Rose – dumplings filled with minced pork and shrimp, and served with sweet and sour fish sauce. Through to Cao Lau – a noodle-based dish with caramelised pork, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. To vegetarian-friendly options, such as Tofu Lemongrass – crispy tofu seasoned with minced fresh lemongrass and a hint of chili served with steamed rice and fried spinach with garlic. Then the local catch, Bun Mai Fish – char-grilled chicken and prawn on rice vermicelli with crispy rolls, fresh herbs, and fish sauce. Mai Fish Restaurant has something for every member of the family.
Mama’s Always Right
“The food at Mai Fish is traditional – my mother’s Southern Vietnamese cooking, and I don’t get to mess with that,” Duc said with certainty. “I can refine it a bit, make it cleaner, better for production, but that is not my food. To mess with it would be a crime.”
Duc agreed that, as the saying goes, don’t mess with a good thing.
“Mama’s always right,” he laughed.
Other home-cooked favourites at Mai Fish Restaurant include the spring rolls – a shareable starter. They consist of rice paper, pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, and peanut sauce. Curry prawn in Vietnamese curry, slow-cooked with taro root, sweet potato, and served with steamed rice or a baguette and the seafood hotpot in tamarind, with pineapple, tomato broth, fresh vegetables, prawns, squid rings, red snapper, fresh tofu, and egg noodles.
Hidden Hint: As a family-friendly, all-encompassing starter, Hidden recommends you order the Samples Plate. A combination platter with crispy rolls, beef in La Lot leaves, and papaya salad with prawns.
The Drinks at Mai Fish Restaurant
From artisanal, craft beer to fruit-infused cocktails, and a diverse wine offering, Mai Fish Restaurant boasts the perfect atmosphere to sit back, relax, and focus on family. The unique structure of the house with its hidden balconies and cosy corners, make it the ideal location for a quieter gathering or even date-night.
Hidden Hint: For the kids, try a mango smoothie. It is a fun, non-alcoholic alternative that incorporates local flavours and fresh fruit.
Whether you have children or are in the mood for a soothing nightcap, Mai Fish is the perfect choice of restaurant. The bar, located at the back, street side of the restaurant, is beautifully crafted with brushed copper metal and mood lighting. Overhead, an impressive wire whale, inspired by the underwater-themed bar at Mai Fish’s big brother restaurant, Mango Mango, unites the eateries, showing a sense of community. From local offerings such as a selection from East West Brewing Co., Ho Chi Minh City’s first in-house craft brewery, to an extensive list of imported wine, and signature cocktails, such as the Tropical Chili – a thoughtfully crafted blend of rum, lime, mango, mint, passionfruit, and honey, there is something to satisfy everyone’s preference.
Hidden Hint: Happy Hour includes half-price drinks every day until 6 p.m.
While Hoi An boasts an abundance of delicious local restaurants, Mai Fish offers a timeless take on many of Vietnam’s classically inspired dishes. From traditional White Rose dumplings to Bun Mai Fish, Chef Duc has curated a menu that showcases the best of Hoi An’s fresh, local flavours. The food not only leaves you feeling satisfied, but the cosy atmosphere and focus on family make you feel right at home at the Mai Fish Restaurant.