Cơm Bình Dân – Workers' Lunch

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With the help of Rad and his wife, The Astronomer and I scored a spacious three-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment on the 9th floor of a high-rise building in District 4 soon after we arrived in Saigon. Although its a bit far from the touristy-action of District 1, we’re settling in nicely and discovering lots to like about the place everyday.

We moved into our new space on our third day in Saigon. After spending the morning unpacking, we headed out to explore our ‘hood and to find some grub in the afternoon. Clueless about our new surroundings, we stumbled into a small, residential neighborhood with narrow streets. With the assistance of a woman selling che (a genre of Vietnamese desserts) on the street, we found a home selling Com Binh Dan—cheap eats for laborers/workers. The woman running the joint had a kind face and her food looked pretty darn good, so The Astronomer and I decided go for it.

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Com Binh Dan almost always consists of big plate of rice, some sort of boiled or pickled vegetable, canh (soup), and a selection of meat dishes. From the extensive choices available, I chose the thit kho (braised pork with eggs), dau hu kho (braised tofu), and mam (fermented fish and pork). I opted not to have any canh. The rice was a little dry, but all the dishes tasted just like grandma’s cooking. Mmm!

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The Astronomer chose a piece of curry chicken, fried chicken, and dau hu kho. He didn’t like the pickled mustard greens and bean sprouts that came with his plate, so he passed them on to me. The curry chicken was his favorite, while the fried chicken was only so-so.

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The Astronomer and I ate our lunches at the woman’s house on low plastic chairs and a slightly taller table. We shelled out 17,000 VND ($1.06) for our meal. We returned a few days later for lunch, but this time we took our meal to go, which was a much better choice.

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After such a pleasant experience with Com Binh Dan in our neighborhood, we decided to try a place near our office located off of Ba Tháng Hai street in District 10. I once again had thit kho, while The Astronomer had dau hu xa (tofu with lemongrass). We both had small bowls of canh. The food here was not nearly as flavorful as in our neighborhood and the ratio of rice to meat was fit for a famine. What really icked me out was the skinny cat sitting underneath our table; this was easily the worst meal we’ve had since our arrival. The cost of this meal was 16,000 VND ($1).

The workers are hungry, not desperate.

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