Saigon, Vietnam provided us with some of the best food memories that we’ve yet to encounter in Asia. We visited in February and were greeted with beautiful 80 degree weather in spite of the frigid temperatures we were so familiar to in Daegu, so not only were were we walking into the homestead of my favorite food, but were freed from our winter wear. We had arrived to the city at around 4pm, and after freshening up in the wake of a 6 hour plane ride we naively set out on foot. Our first night’s food outing was relatively underwhelming being that we were visiting during the famous Tet holiday (Lunar New Year), so nearly all of the go-to food stops were closed.
We ended up getting our first bowl of pho in the Bui Vien Market area. It didn’t matter if we were unable to access the pinnacle of beef-noodle-soup-goodness available to us in this city, I was excited to get a bowl of pho inside of me along with some super cheap local beer ($0.80/500mL).
If you ever visit Saigon, a fun drinking game that we concocted was to take a drink whenever a single-patterned old lady is spotted and take two drinks whenever you see a family with children on a single motorbike (we spotted a family of 5 but weren’t fast enough on the camera); below is an example of who to look for. While walking the streets, you’ll surely see plenty of suited up ladies, as well as full families on one motorbike.
The next day, we went on a tour with David and Amy from OneTrip where they showed us around “non-tourist” and tourist areas alike and exposed us to some amazing food! We HIGHLY recommend going on one of these tours, as you’re only required to give them around $1, but we bought them lunch and gave them $25, which apparently goes a long way in Saigon.
We ate some amazing food, and went to the famous Saigon Central Post Office, Saigon City Hall, the Reunification Palace, the Saigon Opera House, and Saigon Notre-Dame. You’ll notice the French architecture, which is a relic from the French occupation of Vietnam that ended in 1954.
Cơm tấm (pronounced Come Tom) is a local Saigon dish which is composed of chopped up (broken) rice with vegetables, egg and meat (usually a pork chop). Cơm tấm is a local favorite, and from what David told us, it’s not only due to the delicious flavor. The origin of this broken rice dish lies in Saigon’s war-torn history, when people were unable to obtain high quality ingredients, they often had to settle for discarded rice which eventually ended up becoming a staple for the local people. Broken rice to someone in Saigon is kind of like the stews and comfort foods that were handed down to Americans from the depression era grandparents. I have to say that I enjoyed absolutely everything that I ate in Saigon, but Cơm tấm holds up to everything in terms of taste and complexity, so I understand why this dish is still popular today. From what I understand, Cơm tấm isn’t widely consumed outside of Vietnam, so I’m happy that we got to enjoy this little piece of the culture.
Hidden under this pile of veggies (and tomato) is a succulent pork chop and deliciously seasoned rice.
*Potentially graphic video*
Jeff ate a balut. It wasn’t bad at all, and tasted like a normal egg with some funk on it.
The following day, after gaining some confidence with the surrounding area zipping around Saigon our motorbikes, we set out on our own.
As you can see the streets are packed with motorbikes, and there aren’t many rules besides “don’t crash” which makes crossing the street rather exhilarating! If you ever visit Saigon, and you find yourself across the street from your destination, just cross the street with one hand out and don’t be afraid to stop in the middle of the road to let more eager motorists pass and think “they don’t want to hit me, so just try not to get hit.” In the picture above there is a wave of motorbikes heading straight towards those pedestrians, but that didn’t stop them from crossing the street!
The two photos above are examples of Buddhist areas of worship that are scattered throughout the city. As you’ll see below, there are more extravagant areas of worship called Pagodas which are incredibly intricate and colorful.
One of the recurring views on our trip was the Saigon River, which we crossed on a daily basis to visit the heart of the city.
Before I get to the last part of my post (beer and food) I’ve gotta share this encounter with you all. *VOLUME WARNING*
This dragon was dancing on the stilts for some time, until it disappeared into the Skechers store.
We ate amazing pho every day of our trip, and I am very happy to report that Pho888 holds up to the authentic Saigon pho that I was able to find. Not only has this trip cemented my love for Vietnamese food, but I feel completely validated in praising Pho888 for their exceptional pho.
The above dish is bánh tráng nướng or otherwise called “vietnamese pizza.” I can assure you that this is dish is merely similar in shape to a pizza, as I consider bánh tráng nướng as Saigon in a wrap, because it contains all of the flavors and textures that Vietnam introduced me to in a nice little quesadilla-esque presentation. This dish consists of rice paper heated over a grill, topped with quail egg, corn, green onion, peanuts, fried onion, rice, and a variation of other toppings depending on where you are. Every bite of this dish reminded me of every other food I ate in Vietnam until that moment. If I hadn’t spotted a giant line of people at a food stand in a shady park, we may not have even have found this dish at all, so never be afraid to investigate popular food stands while in a foreign country!
East West Brewing is a taproom and brewery in Saigon that produces some fairly average beer but has a really open and Western-style space. The beer wasn’t anything special, but it was tastier than the 80 cent lager from the streets.
The next brewery that we visited was Pasteur Street Brewing. This place was an amazing brewery by any standard, and was of astronomical quality when compared to everything else we’ve had in Asia.
Happy Year of the Dog!
Next up is Tokyo!