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!