Eats: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[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.
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Centella juice: refreshing, healthful, pleasantly sweet, with a bit of added milk and grassy undertones.
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Fruit sellers:
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This was the one restaurant every guidebook and website said we had to hit up: quan an ngon (under ‘eats’).
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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.

Chicken on the grill, and my poorly-lit purchase:
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One bite into my street banh mi — like that hot pepper slice gazing longingly into your eyes? You bet I ate it.
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Zeroing in on bun cha gio:
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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.:
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And last but not least, a steaming bowl of pho with a broth that made me want to have its babies. That would be weird. Homo sapiens broth babies.
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2 thoughts on “Eats: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

  1. yuck. very disturbing images came to mind when reading: homo sapiens broth babies. but omgosh it would be amazing to eat authentic PHO from vietnam!!!! consider yourself lucky. hehee. also, that second to last dish with the vermicelli + spring roll + fish sauce , etc. looks to die for. what is that green “juice” though?? looks kind of sketch..

  2. i love food in HCM City for this is the place that my parents are from and I have visited many times. I am sorry to say that Quan An Ngon really sucks. It has a genious name, translated in english as Eat Good Restaurant, from a marketing standpoint, it gets people talking. I tell you what if you are interested in a great beef noodle soup(Bun Bo Hue) in HCM city, you ought to try Bun Bo Hue 3A3 restaurant in District 1 on street Ngo Duc Ke.
    Cheers.

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