Saigon Dinner Crawl: Squeaky Meatballs, Sesame Sludge, Spicy Duck Tongues, and More

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

The Astronomer and I met up with our friends Chris and Ann for a belly-busting food crawl on our second night in Saigon. We kicked things off in familiar fashion with steaming bowls of noodle soup, but soon moved on to novel delicacies including spicy duck tongues and goopy hard-boiled eggs.

As much as I love revisiting my old haunts in this city, it was a welcome change of pace to be introduced to new grubbin’ spots. It’s an endless feast up in here.

Truong Thanh - Ho Chi Minh City

After meeting at our hotel, the four of us headed to an alleyway nearby for the first of three courses. Chris is a huge fan of the bo vien (beef meatballs) served at Truong Thanh and insisted that we begin the crawl there.

The food served at Truong Thanh is prepared outdoors on a cart, while patrons are seated in a sparse and well-lit dining room two paces away. Chris and Ann took the lead and placed the orders. The Astronomer and I kicked back and relaxed.

Truong Thanh - Ho Chi Minh City

The restaurant’s signature dish is a simple and satisfying combination of mi (Chinese egg noodles) or hu tieu (wide rice noodles) with meatballs, bean sprouts, basil, and saw-tooth herb. The broth is the same for both types of noodles, porky and mild.

The highlights of the bowl were the squeaky meatballs. Eaten on their own I found them to be quite plain, but dipped in the sate oil, chili sauce, and hoisin sauce served alongside, the flavors popped just a little more.

Truong Thanh - Ho Chi Minh City

To supplement our modestly portioned bowls of noodles, Chris ordered an extra portion of bo vien

Truong Thanh - Ho Chi Minh City

…as well as slices of tender flank.

Truong Thanh - Ho Chi Minh City

To wash everything down, we sipped cold glasses of nuoc mia (sugarcane juice). The slightest squeeze of fresh kumquat mellowed the drink’s sugary rush and brightened up the entire glass. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Che Me Den

Stop number two brought us to an unassuming che (Vietnamese dessert) cart located a few feet from Truong Thanh. The specialty here are Chinese-style dessert soups.

The che me den looked like the La Brea Tar Pits, but tasted like a warm, smooth, and comforting dream. The distinct essence of black sesame was front and center, while rich and creamy coconut milk rounded out the flavors.

Che Trung

On a whim, we also ordered a bowl of che trung. I’ve eaten a lot of che in my day, but have never encountered anything quite like this. The dessert consisted of a hard boiled egg bobbing about in a sweet and viscous liquid surrounded by soft egg curds. I wasn’t sure how such a combination of ingredients would translate as a dessert, but the flavors and textures worked surprisingly well.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

Our third and final stop brought us to Mai Xuan Canh in District 1, a rowdy joint grilling fine feathered friends and serving plenty of cold beers.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

According to Anne, the specialty here are grilled chicken wings. The marinade is deceivingly savory to start, with a lingering heat that doesn’t let go.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

The burn continued with the luoi vit Sapo—stewed duck tongues with chilies and lemongrass. The bubbling brew that the tongues came swimming in was so delicious that we ordered baguettes to sop it up.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

We also ordered a plate of grilled duck tongues that echoed the flavors of the grilled chicken wings.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

All of the tongues were served on the bone, which required a bit of maneuvering to extract. The texture of the tiny overhang was awesomely snappy and so very supple. I need more luoi vit in my life.

Mai Xuan Canh - Ho Chi Minh City

Thank you to Chris and Anne for showing two American kids around. Our bellies salute you.

For more Vietnamese food adventures from our summer 2011 trip, check out these posts:

Truong Thanh
145/6 Nguyen Thien Thuat
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Mai Xuan Canh
57 Nguyen Du Khong
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

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