EXPLORE SAIGON STREET FOOD IN ONE DAY
Last month, before Tet holiday, I decided to “fall out of stresses” by planning my trip to Mekong Delta area for 3 days. I did try to book a flight to Can Tho province and start my journey from here so that I did not have to drive 3 hours from the heart of Saigon. But the universe did not let me do so since the flight schedule would not match my plan, thus I had to land on Ho Chi Minh City and stayed here for one day and one night before moving to the further South. Since that was not the first time I have been in Saigon so I was thinking of another way to enjoy it when I had very limited time. Boom! It became a full and complete street food day!
You may know that Vietnam is really famous for cuisine and every region has its own specialty that is very worth traveling days from North to South. Let me repeat, it literally takes days because each and every place is a heaven of food. But hereinafter is my real experience for one day finding ways and enjoying the delicious dishes in this lovely city.
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I arrived in the morning and my stomach almost immediately asked for being filled. So the very first spot is Hu Tieu Quynh (District 1). About Hu Tieu, it is a kind of noodle-in-soup dish which can be served dry or wet (soup) style. The wet style served with broth hot on the side in the separate smaller bowl, essentially making the dish “dry” until you pour the broth in. If Hanoi is well-known with Pho, then going to Saigon you definitely are introduced to Hu Tieu. However, a fun fact, Hu Tieu does not originate during your Vietnam travel and tours. It was from Cambodia and China but Vietnamese turn it into a very local dish that meets Vietnamese taste. The broth is simply made from the purest pork bones which are simmered for hours, sometime overnight. An ordinary bowl includes a fair enough amount of soft rice noodle, some slices of pork with minced pork as well, pork liver, shrimps and squid and some chopped green onions and cilantro just make it perfect. Like many other noodle dishes in Vietnam, adding some squeezes of fresh lime juice and chili sauce/chopped chili more or less depends on your taste, will make it tastier.
You may wonder how its taste is, from my experience, it was both a bit salty and a bit sweet (one more fun fact: many dishes in Saigon are sweetened), the broth was really greasy due to the nutrition from boiled pork ribs and bones. We also had a small bow of fresh and raw vegetables including cabbage, green onions, etc, all is really crispy.
So I had a very mouthwatering brunch with Hu Tieu then we wandered around to find the “ca phe bet” – coffee on the flat ground – a unique type of coffee and enjoying coffee in Saigon. From 5 pm, a lot of young people hang out to some parks mostly around the Notre Dame Cathedral in District 1, they enjoy this because it is like an enormous open-air coffee shop under the trees and also it is cheap. The benches are not enough to accommodate the crowds, so they lay the old newspaper or nylon bags on the grass or the bare concrete ground and sit in groups. They chitchat, laugh, play guitar and even sing and no one bothers. And the drink here is mostly ice coffee, with condensed milk or just sugar, and peach tea, sounds like nothing special but I agree that it tasted differently from street coffee in Hanoi, maybe because of the atmosphere.
I and my friend did not stay here for long, we started to find something to eat since coffee made us hungry again. Here it comes rice paper salad (bánh tráng trộn in Vietnamese). It is really hard to move around in the center of Saigon in rush hour so we gave up catching a taxi, we walked there – the most famous shop of rice paper salad: No. 39 Nguyen Thuong Hien Street, District 3. Here we met a totally friendly man – Mr. Vien, he smiled all the time and even guided me way out of the traffic jam and to our next destination. It was only 20.000 VND (nearly 1 USD) for a portion that is enough for 2 people, so it no way expensive. Basically, Banh trang tron is the combination of rice papers which was cut into small pieces, dried shrimp, Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), boiled quail eggs, shredded green mango, beef jerky, peanuts, lime juice and chili paste. You will have to put all of it into a large bowl and the mix it up in whichever way you want, then we have a dish as below:
The rice papers get more elastic when it is wet which makes it easier to eat, the highlight taste is sweet, sour and spicy, like an explosion of flavors. It is a favorite snack of Vietnamese which they can eat any time of the day.
We went to the last spot of the day to have dinner – the hub of seafood, Vinh Khanh Street, Dsitrict 4. All of the shops here are outdoor restaurants which mean you will sit right in the pavements. The smell of fresh seafood being cooked would make your nose go wild and head right to the first stall you see. The seafood here varies from shrimp, crab, squid, octopus, scallop, different types of snail, etc. They make various dishes from that seafood such as to steam, grill, fry with coconut or tamarind, etc. All were extremely delicious!
That wrapped up my day with a full stomach and but still had a room for a couple of beer bottles. I was really satisfied with the “achievement” that day when I did see the beautiful attractions and also tasted the best food I have ever had in Saigon. There are a lot more dishes to try, so I guess I have to come back here, but for a longer time to eat the whole up.
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