Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tell-A-Tale (Part 38): Uncle Ho’s Fine Foods

Seriously, we weren’t that keen in making a makan list for the weekend in Ho Chi Minh City. There were just too many things to see and do! Cramping everything into 60 hours would surely lead to premature fatigue and worse still, a loss of appetite. Except for a pre-planned fine-dine Vietnamese restaurant, we pretty much went with the flow.

Cool or what, eh?

The fact was, we were confident of bumping into at least one good eatery on any street that we walk on come day or night, just like any other Asian cities. And we were right! The years of statistics lessons had finally paid off. We had a good time sampling some of the more common (and stereotypical..haha!) eateries in the city; within the Dong Khoi and Ben Tanh Market vicinities, to be exact.

The coffee at Trung Nguyen was excellent. Not much of a coffee fan but the rich taste of Legend was good enough to keep me happy (and awake) the whole day. We were informed that they do have a branch at Liang Court! Thank goodness for an Asian coffee chain with substance!

A random find in the Ben Tanh Market at 5 pm. The market was closing in for the day, but yes, shopping can wait. Not much to shout about but the rice noodle, chicken and pork were sufficiently tender. We found an even better stall a few hours before we depart for Changi!

Yes, this was the better stall that got our tastebuds rejuvenated. Besides the soup noodles ( I had the Hue version, which was slightly spicier), we sampled some side dishes like the barbecued pork slices that crossed between satay and bak kua, chao tom or prawn paste on sugarcane, grilled chicken thighs and the ever popular goi cuon or summer rolls. Good, inexpensive stuff. I was eyeing on a particular rice dish which was topped with stewed pork belly and some preserved vegetables. A local man chomping it with much gusto convinced me of its authenticity but my stomach begged to be spared for it was about to yield. Oh well, next trip then, pretty belly baby.

The Ben Tanh Market was our reference point. From here, we could reach our hotel on foot within 15 minutes and it was just 5 minutes away from a street of tour agencies. Pho 2000 was conveniently located next to the market and had somehow magnetised with our (perpetually) hungry spirits. And since Bill Clinton had his first taste of pho here, I thought we should just succumb to the hype and give it a try. Well, the pho certainly didn’t disappoint with the gigantic portions and smooth strands of flat rice noodle.

Surprisingly, it was the cha gio or fried spring roll that got us excited. Delectably crispy and filled with well spiced meat, onions and wood ear fungus, we almost called for a second plate. Oh, one should not forget the sweet and sour lime dip for that tasty juxtaposition.

This was the fine dine place that I wanted to try; Lemongrass Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant. I read about it from Lyrical Lemongrass (the restaurant was closed on the day of her visit), Cumi & Ciki and the guidebook. You know it’s going to be a night of haute-ness when a lady dressed in traditional Vietnamese costume greets you with the soothing sounds of the dan tranh (think gu zheng). And how ironic of me to order the common banh hoi, a simple ensemble of rice vermicelli, peanuts, chilli paste and grilled pork. Nevertheless, it was good, when coated with a fragrant, slightly sweet soy sauce.

I was glad to have ordered the fried rice with coconut as well. Definitely uncommon (for the Vietnamese cuisine illiterate me, at least). Imagine fried rice with grated coconut AND freshly scraped coconut flesh. Exotically good. At this point, I realised the restaurant’s clientele made up of mostly foreign tourists.

Don’t get me wrong. We were mostly stuffed after Lemongrass. But after a few circles around the blocks of nightstalls outside Ben Tanh Market, it was time for some thirst quenchers (beers) and seafood to go with it.

We had some really fresh clams and mussels for only S$3 per dish! If only time permitted, we would have dined here again, the following night. Slightly touristy but absolutely atmospheric, street-style. Watch locals and tourists bargain their way to absolute frenzy while savouring that juicy bite of shellfish.

You can never get enough of pho. It’s the conveniently digestible scrumptiousness that makes every bowl a pleasurable experience. At around 10 pm the next night, supper was at the most famous pho chain in Vietnam, Pho 24. I had the one with everything moo; tendon, lungs, tripe, brisket and stomach. The broth was rather mild but still good.

I’ve never had this much of pho in my life. Nor the tonnes of (Thai) basil leaves that came with the rice noodles. It’s certainly a healthy, delicious diet, if you ask me.

From affordable street food to extravagant fine dines, it's good fun all around.

Until next time, Ho Chi Minh City!


qwazymonkey said...

Great food makes a good trip. What makes it better is having access to a guaranteed satisfying meal at any random street corner!

Love Uncle Ho's country and its streetside food stalls.

J2Kfm said...

Lemongrass viet cuisine? hehehe .. how ironic it was closed on the day she went.

Pho 2000 has other outlets right? like a chain.

wait, that title isn't a mockery of another Mr Ho's, here in KL right? :)

Big Boys Oven said...

hi Nic, Do please update Big Boys Oven link to

Selba said...

During my 9 days in Vietnam, I didn't get the chance to eat the food street at all. Always in the local authentic restaurants. It's really amazing how they presented every food with very beautiful decor on the plate. Too bad, no pictures of food at all coz' during that time I didn't have a proper camera, just a disposable camera that I bought at Changi airport :(

I like Ben Tanh market :) The vendors are very friendly. Oh, and several times the vendors thought that I'm a Vietnamese, hehehe...

ck lam said...

A good mixture of side dishes and pho...and very photos too!

Little Inbox said...

The fried spring roll caught my attention too!

550ml jar of faith said...

Oof I made the mistake of stumbling in here with my morning INSTANT coffee, empty stomach... you have me literally checking flight schedules to the fine city that is Mr Ho's and the mighty fine cuisine!

Bangsar-bAbE said...

Why oh why did I have to read this at 10.30am?? The clams look real yummy! =)

ladyironchef said...

hahahaha 3 days not enough! everything looks so good eh, and cheap. Is there any sequence post to the Vietnam trip?

sc said...

oh i miss HCM! all the good food! pho bo, cafe sua da and bun thit noung..*drools*

Life for Beginners said...

Dude, this is simply pho-rocious, if you'd pardon my pun. I'm beginning to think I missed out on all the best makan Vietnam's had to offer, but then I did go to a different city, hehe.

It's Part 38 of your Tell-A-Tale series... may there be 38, nay may there be 138, 238, 338 more parts, and then some... ;)

Keep writing, we'll keep reading!

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

J2Kfm: I want to go to Lemongrass Restaurant with youuuuuu. :-P

Hairy, gorgeous writeup and gorgeous pictures. I miss the pho, but I don't miss all that basil.

evan 이벤젤린 said...

your food pictures look so darn good now nic! looks like your new lens is treating u well :D now i regret getting my macro, shd hv just bought a prime has the same effect as a macro!

oh yea, lets go check out trung nguyen coffee sometime soon :D oh and if u wanna go 7atenine, i don't mind going again, seriously :p

fbb said...

food looks luverly. eh, i got one of those coffee to use ah? u must show me next time...

Jason said...

Such delicious piccies, it makes me suddenly crave for sugarcane prawn paste, lemongrass chicken and Vietnamese spring rolls. >.<"

Faye fly said...

1st time noticed tat fried rice put inside coconut !! it must very ho ciak lah !

Sugar Bean said...

I didn't know why but when I read the title, I thought it was the Malaysian restaurant, Uncle Ho which was previously located in MidValley. Haha! Nice photos, love dishes with peanuts. Vietnamese cuisine serves quite a lot of beef right? Might be a little inconvenient for me because I don't take beef.

Jun said...

eh u went to vietnam!! were u jt in hcm? how long were u thr? i'll be gng in 2 wks! whr to eat whr to eat hahaha..

Alexander said...

I'm drooling already. The photos are amazing real, and looks really good.

Alex's World! -

backStreetGluttons said...

HCM City blessed is the high achieving guzzling connoisseur who tastes the native rave at the unhyped source of them all, the real fountain of eternal viet gourmet. From now you are most qualified to speaking authentic viet , not the mis-colorful one near that Mall

mimid3vils said...

Vietnam cuisines are healthy with so much of veggie in every dishes~~

Nic (KHKL) said...

qwazymonkey, totally agree wif ya, bro! we sure are blessed to be living in a region where good food is available anywhere, everywhere! talking about Uncle Ho's country, i'd love to visit Hanoi next!

j2kfm, ya lor. so the kesian hor, she..hehe..u r right. pho 2000 is a chain. i think i saw at least 2 outlets around the dong khoi area. and no lar, not a mockery of Mr Ho's Fine Foods. I lurve their bbq ribs! i guess inspired would be a better word for it la..hehehehe

big boys oven, hi. okay, sure do.

selba, awww, i hope you get to visit Vietnam again soon and check out the streetfood. i guess there's beauty in the local authentic restaurants as well. yeah, presentation's good in them dishes, street or restaurant. hey, i think disposable cameras are pretty cool! i wanna get a lomo myself cos i think the effect's great. ok, that not disposable. but still fim, i guess. :D

yay on ben tanh market! :D hey, looking like a local means u get a better bargain! i'm jealous. hahaha!

ck lam, i think i survived on just pho on one of the days. breakfast til supper. a very good diet, me thinks! :D

little inbox, me too! me too! the rice paper was really, really crispy. reminded me of loh bak..hehe.. :D

550ml jar of faith, wow, coffee on empty stomach. u r one tough one! yeah, i am also on the lookout for zero fares to other parts of Vietnam! i think it's a good weekend getaway, no doubt. :D

bangsar-babe, hahaha, i hope you had a good lunch! :D the clams were really fresh and delicious. the best part being the affordability of it! good stuff!

ladyironchef, yeah, i agree. an extra day and i would have been able to visit the mekong river. well, there's always the next time. :D sequel? hmmm, no la. but wouldnt mind one if there's zero airfare though..hehe

sc, yay! u know, i visited your blog a coupla times for reference but din have enough hours to check them out. will definitely make time to sample some local restaurants that u've been too, if i visit this city again. hehe, i remember u got an award for your frequent Vietnam posts..hehehehe...

kenny, i likezzzzzz za word pho-rocious! :D no lar, u din miss all the best makan places. i'm sure u had some good stuff as well. and hey, it's only 2 hours away. can go anytime! :D

and thanks so much for your support on the "tale-a-tale"s! lurve the "38"s. so auspicious hor? :D ok, me shiok-sendiri-ing yet again..hehe

Nic (KHKL) said...

@lyrical lemongrass @j2kfm nak ikut, nak ikut! :D
@lyrical lemongrass, thanks so much for the compliment, yo! :D i guess good food is a wonderful inspiration la. omg, no more basil leaves for the next few months! i can take pho though..hehe. then again, Vietnamese pho here dun really serve basil, if i'm not wrong.

evan 이벤젤린, thanks so much!! :D yupe, am really happy with the new lens! aiyoh, your pics are darn good la. in fact, i think u take much much much better studio shots than me. seriously! ;D

and yesssssssss! i am game for trung nguyen and 7atenine too! will let ya know! :D *me excited!*

fbb, yupe, the food's good at Ho Chi Minh City. very affordable as well! ohhh, u have one of those restrainers ar? so cool la! actually, i oso dunno how to use it. i think they just throw in some coffee powder and boiling water and let the fine sieve filter the diluted mixture kua. but to wait for the dripping to end is too much for the impatient me la..hehehehe..

jason, glad you like 'em piccies! :D i'm still thinking of the spring rolls. i can remember the crisp and the flavourful filling! throw in some nice coffee with it. wahhh, nice.

faye fly, ho ciak ho ciak! it was quite strange, that's why we went ahead and ordered it. not exactly nasi lemak nor nasi goreng. wonderful flavour!

sugar bean, heheheh, yupe, was inspired by Mr. Ho's Fine Foods, definitely. I love Mr. Ho's bbq pork ribs! glad u like 'em photos. ;D yeah, lotsa beef in Vietnamese cuisine. but fear not, cos they have equally delicious chicken and pork dishes as well. oh, seafood too! ;D

jun, yupe, was in HCMC. was only there for a weekend leh. woah, u going there for a holiday ar? cool stuff. FB/SMS/MSG me lah. i'll give u a few names of restaurants in HCMC! ok lah, i got them from the guidebooks..hehe

alexander, thanks so much for the compliment, dude! it was an interesting weekend getaway filled with history and food. do pay the city a visit when you can. :D

backstreetgluttons, yeah, i must go search for authentic, local food next time. i guess am quite the stereotypical this time when it comes to food. then again, 60 hours cant do much thinks me still Vietnamese cuisine illiterate la, but will try to improve la..hehe..mis-colourful one near the Mall...*sniggering*

mimi, yessss, totally agree with you. i think i musta lost some weight over the weekend although i eat like a pig..hehehe...pho is definitely healthy. plus all the walking, no wonder i ate more than 5 meals a day there..hehe

qwazymonkey said...

@uncleholovingbunch I nak ikut too!

Nic (KHKL) said...

@qwazymonkey @uncleholovingbunch jom, lets go together gether! but we must check for zero airfare first la..hehehe...

thenomadGourmand said...

"side dishes like the barbecued pork slices that crossed between satay and bak kua, chao tom or prawn paste on sugarcane, grilled chicken thighs and the ever popular goi cuon or summer roll"..i rmbr eating those in Asian Heritage Row - IndoChine (of course the prices were not streetsides') but it was really good!

Viet is on my list this yr..hopefully i'll be able to make it!
See u this Sat?

Keropok Man said...

oh my oh my!

the clams looks so so so delicious!
the rice inside a coconut looks good too!

Nic (KHKL) said...

thenomadgourmand, you definitely hafta visit HCMC! it'll be a good trip, especially for food! haha, saturday i was at lianne's wedding dinner. see ya soon! :D

keropok man, yeah, and affordable summore. 1 plate liddat cost only S$3! :D and ya lor, the coconut rice very interesting. almost like a cross between nasi lemak and nasi goreng...i like! :D