Nha Trang has a wide and varied international culinary tradition, with both quality and choice being remarkable. At Discover Nha Trang, we have been able to highlight some of the better and more noteworthy restaurants around town, so it comes as no surprise that our attention has been drawn to a relatively new arrival on the scene – BBQ Un In. The name is a play on Vietnamese tonal sounds, loosely translated as “The Waddling Pig BBQ”. Un in is more than just a restaurant, and there are 3 main areas that make it stand out in the local dining scene: Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Cuisine.
Located about 3km from the tourist district, on the south bank of the Cai River, the restaurant has been constructed to leave as small a ‘footprint’ as possible. Wherever feasible, management has used recycled materials, and the overall effect is distinctively unique. The main building and bar have been created using old, specially modified shipping containers providing seating for around 100 diners across two floors. The open-air, shaded patio can accommodate even more, seated at tables and benches of reused timber and other materials.
The extensive kitchen is to the back of the block, and has a series of smokers used to prepare their signature pork ribs, all constructed from disused 205 liter (44-gallon) drums. The smokers are the epitome of simplicity, yet are the most important part of the cooking process. Using a mix of fragrant wood as fuel, the smoke maintains a consistent temperature which allows it to break down the tough connective tissues in the ribs. As the fat melts, the ribs retain moisture and become soft and tender. They also benefit from a delicious smoky flavor that just cannot be mimicked with any other style of cooking – so simple and effective!
There are a number of people behind the establishment of this restaurant, and 2 of them, Robert Costabile and Jason Thatcher, have extensive involvement in charitable works in the province. Mr. Costible established sister eatery, Lanterns Restaurant nearly a decade ago, as a means of raising funds for local orphanages and schools, while BBQ Un In was created on an employment focused model. It sourced its staff from remote mountain villages where the owners have been active over the years, and offered them employment in Nha Trang.
Undertaking a new business with mostly inexperienced staff is a risky venture indeed. However, this commitment to providing careers to those who would otherwise never have had the opportunity was a primary consideration. Much of the team that started had never set foot in a kitchen before, and needed extensive on the job training during the opening months. While this resulted in plenty of teething problems in the early stages, the core group of staff who overcame these obstacles has now settled happily into life in the big city.
“Our staff had never seen a smoker or BBQ ribs before, but in a very short space of time, they have developed their own style, and have learned an incredible amount”, explained Mr. Costible. “Several senior members have been given shares in the company as we wanted to provide them an opportunity to own and operate a restaurant, and have full responsibility and accountability for it”.
First and foremost, BBQ Un In is a restaurant. No matter how good and well intentioned the community work is, its viability rests with the quality of the food. As the name suggests, it is based on the time honoured Vietnamese BBQ tradition, but with a very western twist. In just a few short months, it has earned an enviable reputation for succulent smoked ribs and value for money. Being out of the tourist district, the customer base is essentially local, and the return clientele speaks volumes to the quality. Now, expats and visitors are ‘discovering’ the restaurant, and the menu is always being modified to cater to these changes.
The biggest seller is, of course, the Smoked Ribs. The “Big Man” and “Small Man” platters feature ribs, chicken wings, pork chops, smoked sausages, seafood, fries, veg and a choice of sides. Mr Costible said: “The secret lies in our special rub, getting the correct temperature and smoking for at least 2 hours. This enhances the flavour and creates the tenderness in the meat, and we add our sauce and spices along the way before finishing them on a flame grill”. There is a selection of more traditional Vietnamese dishes and salads, with the option to cook-your-own-BBQ at the table. Try the shredded Mango Salad with Anchovies or Papaya Salad with Beef for an authentic local taste.
Portion sizes are generous, and the ‘Big Man’ feast will feed 6 people with ease. Beer is either bottled, ‘off the ice’ or draft, and a lunch or dinner at BBQ Un In will sate even the biggest appetite. The added bonus is that every diner gets to make a small but worthwhile contribution to the lives of local people. As the old saying goes: It doesn’t get better than that”.