Food Adventure # 12 – Saigon

I have always liked Vietnamese food but was had never really ventured too far off the Banh Mi sandwiches and the Pho noodle soup. So I was very excited to get some authentic Vietnamese food and expand my horizons beyond the Pho and the Banh Mi.
However, the menu below at the street cafe where we had beer (and only beer) did scare me a little. See below for evidence. Also, note that it did not scare me enough to prevent Carrie and I from trying some interesting dishes.
Not a translation issue, they really serve Ox penis here
Our first lunch we had beef noodles or Pho Bo Tai at Pho24 which is a chain in Vietnam and a place I would recommend to eat a quick and good bowl of noodles. No photo for that Pho as it was good, but rather ordinary.
We did though take photos at Quan An Ngon for dinner that night. The restaurant Quan An Ngon is a place that took street food vendors from all over Saigon and put them in one place for people to try. It is a very safe, clean, and welcoming environment for tourists and locals alike, but it still gives you the tastes of Vietnam street eateries. Also, there are various stations setup to cook these dishes (no central kitchen) so you can see the food being made. See the photos below with comments to follow.
Prawns in Tamarind Sauce
Prawn Paste wrapped around Sugarcane

 The shrimp in Tamarind were wonderful with a sour tart taste offset slightly by the sweetness of the shrimp themselves. The shrimp paste on the sugarcane was wonderful. It was meant to be wrapped, by the diner, into a fresh spring roll and was simply delicious. The dessert was similar to Chendol and called Che Suong Xo Hot Luu and is the signature dessert here. We also had sesame balls in coconut milk where were quite good. This is a must try place in Saigon because of the food quality and the ability to try a lot of different dishes. It could have served as a street food primer if we didn’t know anything about Vietnam.

 The second day for lunch we had Pho Bo Tai and Pho Bo Kho at Pho Quynh. This was an open air cafe that consisted of metal tables, resin stools, and a food station that seemed rooted to the spot but I swear it looked like it could roll out of there at anytime. 

The Pho Bo Kho was a more hearty stew that is very savory and could be overwhelming if not for the addition of fresh herbs and a squeeze of lime juice. The Pho Bo Tai here was better than Pho24 but the environment was less sterile. The dishes were both very good and despite the lack of decor this place was generally crowded when we would walk by, which we did often as it was near to our guesthouse.

That night for dinner we headed to Hoa Tuc, which was recommended by my coworker, and was a wonderful dining spot just off a busy road in Saigon. This was a splurge (around $25) and was well worth it. Set in a restored colonial house the decor was Vietnamese inspired but reminded me of a french of italian bistro with al fresco dining and small oil lamps to light our table. It was an enchanting spot which only added to the quality and presentation of the food itself.

Starter: Springs Rolls 4 different ways
Tofu with Fried Lemongrass and Scallions

Beef Grilled on Lemongrass Stalks

Passion fruit Custard

The springs rolls 4 ways was an excellent starter and allowed us to try them in unique ways. I really like the lettuce wrapped and seaweed wrapped versions and the fried was not bad either. The weakest of the four was the traditional fresh spring rolls wrapped in rice paper.

The tofu was subpar and not something I would order again. The texture was too soft and the flavors were relatively bland. It was decent if you really loaded up on the fried lemongrass but as I said not something to order.

The beef wrapped lemongrass stalks were wrapped by the diner into rolls and were stunning in presentation and exquisite to taste. The combination of flavors was refreshing with just the slightest hint of lemongrass complementing the other herbs that we wrapped in the rice paper.(note: since being back in S’pore, we have successfully recreated the deliciousness in our own kitchen…yum!)

The dessert was very good and we would have ordered another dessert, but we were too full from all the other dishes. Carrie loves passion fruit and this was a good balance between tangy and sweet that left the palate clean and satisfied.

This was a dining experience I would love to do all over again. Needless to say the two dinners we had in Saigon were spectacular and I would highly recommend them both.

The last day we ate at a restaurant jam packed with locals, but really lacking any English speaking skills. A single waiter  said, “Noodle soup” and we nodded. He said “drink” we said “coke” and he nodded…and that was the extent of the English conversation. We are still not sure exactly what was in the soup, but it tasted like tofu and pork, so we are sticking with that.  It was excellent Pho noodle soup though and I am glad we took the chance and ate there. I did not catch the name but it was close to the Ben Thanh market.

Pho Pork Soup (notice the herb plate behind it)

 That was the end of our eating adventures in Vietnam and it was wonderful. As I said in other posts, I really enjoyed the fresh ingredients, the refreshing flavors and wonderful range of tastes. It was a nice change up from our Singaporean dishes.

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