[This post’s content comes from December 2008.]
Ho Chi Minh City is a gem of a place. The insane but efficient — insanely efficient — traffic, the playful atmosphere, and its no-frills brand of urbanism won me over. Sure, all the tourist trappings are in place and petty crime exists in abundance (although my traveling companions and I experienced no incidents to speak of), and I couldn’t help but cringe at the unspeakably gaudy holiday light decorations, but as long as you keep your head on straight, you are in for a real treat.
Speaking of treats, the food there was fun, tasty, and cheap — all surefire ingredients for culinary satisfaction. While I must admit that my best meal was a falafel sandwich (a damn good one at that), that had more to do with my stronger preference for Middle Eastern cuisine than with the quality of the Vietnamese food I had during my stay. I had hoped to get around to trying more restaurants, but I never had regrets about what I did eat and was thankful I left with my health intact.
Some of the highlights:
The first meal: Takeout pho and spring rolls. Though both noodles and beef were overcooked, a nice broth and lots of fresh mint and bean sprouts helped deflect the disappointment. Plus, empty stomachs cannot be too picky.
This was the one restaurant every guidebook and website said we had to hit up: quan an ngon (under ‘eats’).
I was disappointed with the quality of this meal: produce was fresh but seafood was mediocre, and everything that I tried was tentatively seasoned and lacking in the vibrant, complex flavors I associate with the cuisine. The concept of the place is great, and surely if so many people rave about it they must be doing something right, but it didn’t happen for me on that night.
The final product, which of course came with a tiny goodie bag of fish sauce, the contents of which were promptly let loose over this delicious compilation of vermicelli, lettuce, spring rolls, scallion sauce, peanuts, presumably a fly or two, etc.: