24 Hours Eating My Way Around Saigon
Ok, so I was meant to have 48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, though, I had my wallet stolen on the plane over there, and ended up stuck in my hotel room, with no money for the first 24 hours, frantically trying to get some money sent via the Western Union!
I know a lot of people in the world don’t eat for a lot longer than 24 hours, so I’m not complaining, but for someone who’s used to eating every three hours at the most, it was torture!
I finally got some money sent, but by this time it was 15.00 o’clock the next day, and I had lost a lot of valuable time I could have spent eating. I couldn’t waste another minute!
I was told by a friend to stay in this particular hotel, as it was on a street called Co Bac, which is full of street food. Once I’d stepped outside after sorting myself out, I wasn’t disappointed!
My fist stop was a Bun Cha shop at 146 Co Bac, District 1
Bún chả is a Vietnamese dish that originated in Hanoi. It’s is served with grilled fatty pork patties, or crispy spring rolls (Bun Cha Gio), soft white rice noodles and herbs, with a side dish of dipping sauce made of fish sauce, sugar, green papaya slices and carrots.
The broth/sauce was perfectly balanced. It had a nice sweetness, without being over the top, with plenty of fish sauce and crunchy vegetables. The spring rolls were amazing – crispy and light, and stuffed with perfectly seasoned pork. The Bun Cha here is definitely one of the best I’ve had outside of Hanoi. I just wish I’d tried the pork as well!
Next up on my list was Banh Mi at 37 Nguyen Trai. I’d read about this place on Mark Weins’ blog among other places, and had to give it a try. I found it tucked down a little alley without any problems.
It’s a tiny little food cart peddling out baguette after baguette to hungry locals. The guy in front of me ordered 10! There is one woman making the sandwiches, and one girl just grilling the pork over charcoal.
Unlike a standard banh mi sandwich, these are filled with little, barbecued pork burgers, then topped with a hoisin/5 spicey sauce, and all the usual pickles and chilli etc. I would go as far as to say it’s the best I’ve had in Vietnam, and that is saying something! A fresh, perfectly crusty, fluffy baguette, loads of veg and coriander, Packed full of pork, and an amazing sauce. I was beginning to forget the troubles I’d had in the last 24 hours, I was in Banh Mi heaven!
It was so good, I ordered another one for the walk home!
At around 6 pm, the heavens opened, and I got stranded in a bar/restaurant on Bui Vien Street. Thankfully, though, I got chatting to a great guy called Glen, who is a local photographer from Canada, that’s been living in Saigon for a few years and knows the local food scene. He told me about a local noodle soup shop serving Bun Mam – a local dish of fish and seafood, in a fermented fish sauce flavoured stock that’s native to the Mekong, and only available down south. We agreed to meet up in the morning for my last meal before heading back to Bangkok.
The shop we went to is a famous Bun Mam joint, right across the street from Ben Thanh Market. I was intrigued.
The soup came, and you could immediately smell the fish sauce. It comes served with shredded banana flowers, shallots, chillis and a big bowl of fresh herbs. What makes this particular Bun Mam special is the fact it’s got big chunks of stewed pork in the mix, which I’m told is unusual. It also came with two giant prawns, some squid and fish. The noodles are soft, round rice noodles.
The first thing I could taste was the fermented fish sauce, which was powerful and sweet. It was a little sour at the same time from the fresh lime, and really flavoursome. I’ve definitely not tried a soup similar anywhere else!
So, if you’re looking to try something different from your standard pho, this might be your place. If you don’t like fish then trust me, this isn’t for you, but if you do and you’re adventurous, you might love it. It’s definitely a Marmite dish – you’ll either love it or hate it! I’m personally a fan, but I’ll let you make up your own minds!
So there’s my three picks out of all the food I ate in my day in Ho Chi Minh City. I hope it helps you to eat well if you’re ever in town!
Here’s some maps to the food…….
Bun Cha, Co Bac
Banh Mi 37
Quan Bun Mam, Ben Thanh