May 17, 2013
Ho Chi Minh City brought us face to face with fresh food that tingled our taste buds. Our meals were often accompanied by an overflowing plate of mint, basil, cilantro (coriander) and other greens bursting with appetizing smells. The affordability of taxis allowed us to travel from place to place in a quest for fabulous food, sometimes to two different places for a “single” meal. Gluttony you say? No better place for it.
Where: Quán 1, 46A Đinh Công Tráng, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Notable: Charcoal stoves on the floor are the main characteristics of this restaurant. No doubt made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s visit, they even have an English menu. This restaurant remains an unassuming place and a fabulous local favorite. Opens from 10am to 9pm daily.
Price: Very affordable!
Preparing each bite brings as much enjoyment as tasting this dish.
Here was my not so scientific plan of attack.
Step 1: Place a large piece of lettuce in the palm of your hand
Step 2: Spread a generous portion of herbs all around the leaf
Step 3: Nestle a piece of pancake in the greens
Step 4: Drizzle some sauce on your creation
Step 5: Fold it into a burrito like object that may not fit politely into your mouth
Step 6: Devour and hope you are still hungry
Step 7: Repeat steps 1 through 6 if needed (trust me, you need it)
Each element on its own is nothing fantastic, but together, it blended different tastes and textures to create a delight in every bite. Mint, basil, cilantro and the crispiness of the lettuce provided a range of flavors, while the textures provide a cooling balance to the crispy pancake. The pancake was thin and crispy, with a slight coconut taste to it. While the shrimp and the beansprouts in the pancake provided additional flavors, it is really topped off when you eat it with the sweet and sour fish sauce. Don’t hold back, get messy and enjoy!
Where: Phường Đa Kao, District 1 (Quan 1), Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Notable: A small store located under a big shady tree, the lunch lady makes different kinds of soups for different days of the week. Take your pick of plastic furniture, as you enjoy a meal in the shade. There is no need to specifically order besides indicating how many bowls you want. Besides that, plates of appetizers will magically appear at your table unless you tell them no.
Price: Maybe one bowl, maybe two, or even three! You won’t break the bank I guarantee it!
When we ate at the Lunch Lady, we had chicken noodles. Mind you, we already devoured the pancake (see #1) before this and were contemplating sharing one bowl, but decided against this flawed judgment and went instead for a bowl for each of us. The soup was light, but very flavorful. The noodles and chicken were cooked just right and we both cleaned our bowls without trying very hard. I can’t really describe how it tasted, except it reminded me of eating a great meal at home: hearty and fresh.
Where: 48 Mã Lộ, Tân Định, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
What: Dinner 2
Notable: An alternative to the Bến Thành market which you have no doubt heard about. This market is less touristy and also provides many food stores to calm your starving belly.
Price: Like with any local place, shops here are very affordable.
After an unsatisfying meal of Bánh mì at another place that was recommended through Tripadvisor, we promptly fled to a local Bánh mì stall at this market. Two ladies packed a French baguette with all the trimmings of the best Bánh mì you could want. Roasted pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, spreadable pork liver pâté, fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, shredded pickled carrots and daikon and of course, some chili sauce. All of this wrapped in paper and a rubber band, ready to be torpedoed straight into your belly.
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