I cringe when I see backpacker fare. No, I do not want mediocre banana pancakes and a crappy burger (of which every other place in Vietnam likes to claim they have the BEST IN THE COUNTRY!). It can’t be a hard competition, every one I’ve had has been awful and about three times the prices of delicious local fare. So given the choices, although I do miss a good melty cheese and lots of international variety, I mostly stick to local fare.
Ho Chi Minh City reminds me of Los Angeles in that it does not have many specialties of its own as much as it is amazing at absorbing every other food around it and making it at least as good if not better.
I prefer savory breakfasts over sweet so Vietnam is a great country for me. I did’t realize it extended beyond just rice noodle soups and porridges til midway through the country when I discovered bo ne: steak and eggs.
One of my delightful local hosts took it upon her to show me some Saigon favorites. She took me to eat pha lau, a coconut milk based soup full of offal that you eat with bread or noodles. At this eating street outside a local high school I also got bot chien, a rice cake and egg mix that you slather in hot sauce. I was still finishing up my drink when the police showed up and the entire street skedaddled. My host seemed amused or pleased that a foreigner was so into something so odd so we continued our adventures. Another day, we tore into various plates of snails, Canadian snails, clams, oysters and blood cockles in a huge two story restaurant full of drunk locals enjoying delicious seafood. I’m definitely glad I had a local and more people to order this one, so much more satisfying than my point and hope seafood adventures alone by the coast. Our last food adventure is the food known as hot vit lon (balut in Filipino food). This is fertilized duck embryos where feathers and skeleton have just started forming, eaten later than the Filipino version. You dip the whole yolky mess in chile lime salt and pepper sauce. I found the quail version to be a better bite size alternative to the more disturbing duck eggs.
What would Vietnam be without more noodles though? Rice noodles, wheat noodles, even glass or cellophane ones. I went after some harder to get variations here because the vendors sell out so fast. I started with bun thit nuong, a grilled pork and rice noodle salad that was absolutely delectable. I went to a vendor that sells banh canh, extra thick rice noodles in their version of a thick peasant style broth. They open daily at 3, and by the time I got there at 3:45 were out of all the delicious porky and meaty bits. No worries, I took that as an excuse to get tamarind soft shell crabs at another place down the road.
I have come from cities where there is a glut of food information and Saigon as a large metropolis is no slacker in this category. So here’s my Eating Asia and Gastronomy Blog fed food map and one supplied by the excellent Eating Saigon!