a small tale of two cities Pt. 2: Saigon

On the Air Asia flight over to Saigon I received a warm laksa curry that was accompanied by tiny dried dillis,

but of course a snack was still required upon arrival in Saigon... street vendors all over the country sell these flattened dried squid which are then heated over hot coals, passed through a mangle (or beaten) to thin out further, and finally shredded and served with sweet chilli sauce. A good accompaniment to drinks...

It's then necessary to find our way home. This consists of twists and turns down narrow alleys, using markers such as a tomato seller, karaoke bar wails, a snack shop, colourful jelly cubes in jars, a lady appearing to ask us to "take her baby" and finally a home bedecked in extreme floral wallpaper is the only method to help us find our way.

It may look like unappetizing but this was one of the best breakfasts I had in Vietnam. This vegetarian Bun Mam - a Southern specialty - consisted of thick white noodles in a dark sweet broth enveloping tofu (both fresh and fried), soy meat, aubergine, spring onions, fried shallots, chives, lime, mint and bean sprouts, with a side of chopped chillies, shredded banana flower, daikon and herbs. Head to Tiem chay Dinh Y, on Cong Quynh opposite Thai Binh market for a hearty fill of this dish.

Wandering about the city in the sticky afternoon heat has to be taken at a slow pace, which allows for discovery of various old buildings...

...and the VERY rare sighting of a near empty road in Saigon.

The next day it's off on more food discoveries. First up, breakfast: a skinny Banh Mi filled only with pate and served warm and crisp.

Then a light lunch of scallops (for only 1.30 GBP) that are grilled with spring onions and peanuts, served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce containing fish sauce and chillies.

Following further wanderings I come upon this woman hunched over a smokey BBQ...

...turns out she is preparing Bo La Lot parcels, most probably for sale later.

And suddenly it's time for food again! Tonight dinner is eaten at Quan An Ngon, where open kitchens serving up the best Vietnam has to offer in street food surround the edges of a smart colonial building. To start we try Ban Xeo of which I was to discover there are various incarnations throughout the country. Here it was served as a thin egg pancake filled with noodles, bean sprouts, prawns and pork. This version is eaten by breaking off a piece, inserting fresh lettuce and herb leaves inside and then dipping it in a sweet and sour sauce with shredded carrot and raddish.

And then to the main event: Oc Nhoi (which got me very excited as it was top of my list of things to try). It's snail meat mixed with pork, onion, black pepper and ginger leaves, placed back in the shells and cooked. You then pull out the meat, wrap it in aromatic salad leaves and dip it in fish sauce mixed with grated ginger and fresh chillies. Delicious. Like a really amazing sausage. Rounded off my stay in Saigon perfectly!


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  • and all that’s in between

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