Being back in Ho Chi Minh City brings backs a lot of memories. Our first time was with my sister, brother-in-law, mom and dad. Now it’s just Allison and I and I can’t help but have tearful memories. This is where my mom had her last trip in a plane; this is where my mom “made it rain” as she hired a private driver for almost two weeks to take us anywhere and everywhere and this is where I first experience true Vietnamese food.
I’m not gonna talk about sights, well because we didn’t see any. This trip to HCMC was purely to devour the food I love the most.
To start off, HCMC is the most chaotic city in Vietnam. Merits badges are giving by how many streets you can cross and live to tell about it; eating street food without getting sick or the runs….and I have never gotten sick and all I eat is street food, so don’t believe the horror stories about food in Vietnam; and most importantly, surviving the sweltering heat. There is more to HCMC than the well known Benh Thanh market. While yes it is chalk full of vendors, it’s also triple the price for everything. This go around we stayed in the backpacker quarter, district 1, where the streets are lively and the tourists are plentiful, mainly Aussies though. Now on with the food.
Bun Thit Nuong
On the hunt for ‘bun thit nuong’ aka rice noodle salad, we are taken, from what locals say is the best around, Chi Thong. This is a proper brick and mortar restaurant….aw nuts, I was hoping for a street cart. Per our agreement, we share a bowl and to our surprise it’s NOT the best. She adds sautéed meat along with grilled meat and then we see bit into it and eff…….the dread fish leaf. Damn this effin leaf! Even still, with out the fish leaf it’s not what we hoped it would be and its twice as expensive 50,000 VND. I asked her why it’s so much more expensive and she said, because it’s the best!” I responded with, “no, it’s not” and I don’t think she liked it. I also know for a fact that locals are charged a different price and even speaking Vietnamese doesn’t count as being a local. I blame Allison for us being charged tourist prices. 🙂 The one good thing that came out of this is finding a new market that’s just geared towards locals.
As we make attempt to make our way back, we notice smoke coming from corner, could it be??? Freshly grilled thit nuong? Why, yes it was! We sit down and within seconds a bowl of noodles, salad and herb mix and piping hot grilled meat. This more than made up for the first bowl as it’s what we were expecting in terms of flavors and was only 20,000 VND!
As we walk down the street back, we see a lady making ‘bot chien’ which literally translates to ‘fried dough’. This is something that’s only served in the morning and afternoon, so we ordered a plate and it was delicious. Dough squares are pan fried until crispy and then eggs and scallions are mixed in. At 25,000 VND, you can’t beat the price for a little street food goodness.
Another dish that we were looking forward to is ‘com tâm’ aka ‘broken rice’. This dish is more prevalent in the south. Broken rice are the fragments of rice that don’t make the cut for the whole grain. The flavor is, in my opinion, is sweeter and almost nutty. There is one vendor and one vendor only that we will go to and not be disappointed. At night, Benh Thanh market closes (at 6pm) and the night market begins to setup. You’ll see masses of locals frantically pushing pallets of equipment, motorbikes pushing towers of of equipment with their feet and within an hour it’s a whole new ball game. Our guy, is not apart of the night market but on the sidewalk across from it (on the opposite side of where the street with the shoe stores are).
Sitting patiently and half in the dark, if you blink, you’ll miss him and regret it for the rest of your hungry life. Find him and you’ll be rewarded with the best broken rice dish I have ever had. It’s a simple dish of broken rice, topped with a marinated pork chopped and a side of sliced tomato and cucumber…..the egg is optional but it’s essential, so don’t skip out on it. At a mere 35,000 VND, with added fried egg, I’m surprised that we shared a plate.
Bun Muc & Banh Cuon
Everyone knows the iconic dish, Pho, but did you know there are dozens of different types of noodle soup dishes? Bun muc, was on our radar to find and it was luckily around the corner from us at yet another local market, we found it. This was half food and half everything else kind of market just like any other market in Vietnam, but the difference was that the food was on the outside, not the inside. Right from the street you can smell all the meats grilling and the soups boiling, we make a B line over and sit down. Here’s a tip about Vietnam that most don’t know, sit down at one stall but order anything you want from any other stall. We sat down and Allison ordered bun moc (pork noodle soup) and I wanted Banh cuon (steamed rice paper rolls filled with pork and wood ear mushrooms). Of course, you have to pay them separately but what a fantastic concept. Oh, as as soon as you are done the drink lady will scream over and see if you want anything…duh, ICE COFFEE.
Ca phe sau da – Vietnamese Ice Coffee
Hi, our name is Mike and Allison and we are addicts…..and proud to admit it. Coffee in the north is not like coffee in the south and I’m not referring to the egg cream coffee. The coffee in the north tends to be weaker than in the south. As we moved further south we began to notice how much stronger the coffee was. We also noticed that they pour a little extra on top after mixing it together with condensed milk. Yes, it’s rocket fuel and yes, stay away if you have a weak heart. Ice coffee in HCMC can keep a normal person up all day long. The lady on the street that we visited three years ago was not there in the morning when we went looking for her but in the same spot was a young man, I assume her son, running the show. Always pre-made and always thick like syrup, so don’t be scared. One sip and I’m once again in foodie heaven. Don’t be fooled by all the blogs and websites that say you can use any chicory flavored coffee such as Café du Monde, it’s simply not true. You need good Vietnamese coffee as it has a slight cocoa/caramel/silky taste, a drip press and patience.
The coffee culture is much more announced here in HCMC. Cafes are on every corner and if it’s not, there are carts, stands and even coffee vendors on scooters. If you don’t try it, you are missing out on a major part of Vietnam culture.
Don’t be caught up in the masses and stick to the touristy spots. Get out and explorer and pull up a stool on the street or sidewalk and try something different, you won’t regret it!
Check out all our Vietnam food pics this go around.