Archive for the 'Saigon' Category

One Final Hurrah in Saigon: Vietnamese Crêpes

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

For our final meal in Saigon, our friend Hawkins insisted on lunch at Bánh Cuốn Hải Nam. Narrow as can be, this restaurant has been serving the city’s best crêpes for decades. While service and decor is mostly minimal, the food keeps customers coming back time and again.

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

The restaurant’s tidy alfresco kitchen faces the street, greeting customers with the aroma of hot crêpes as they walk in.

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

Every serving is steamed and stuffed to order in the minimalist kitchen. We didn’t wait but a moment for our plates of the house special bánh cuốn to arrive.

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Hủ Tiếu Cá – Vietnamese Fish Noodle Soup

Nam Loi Hu Tieu Ca - Ho Chi Minh City

The Astronomer and I were sent to Nam Lợi restaurant for their famous hủ tiếu cá (fish noodle soup) by Loan Le, “The Lady” of The Pig and the Lady popup restaurant in Honolulu. We ran into her under The Lunch Lady‘s tree and got to talking after realizing we were in the company of Americans.

She told us that a trip to Saigon isn’t complete without a meal here. The noodles were fantastic, as were the bánh pâté chaud (pork pastries) served alongside them. “The Lady’s” enthusiasm was infectious, so The Astronomer and I made our way to the restaurant the following morning for breakfast.

Hu Tieu Ca at Nam Loi - Ho Chi Minh City

As anticipated, fresh-from-the-oven bánh pâté chaud were delivered to the table the moment we sat down. The pastry was flaky and rich, with a heavy-on-the-black-pepper ground pork filling inside. Oh, so good.

Hu Tieu Ca at Nam Loi - Ho Chi Minh City

During the morning hours, Nam Lợi serves four similarly composed noodle soups based on one delightful broth. There’s fish noodle soup with wide rice noodles or thin egg noodles and chicken noodle soup with wide rice noodles or thin egg noodles. The Astronomer and I both stuck to their specialty fish offerings this morning.

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American Doughnuts on Saigon Soil

Fresh Donuts - Ho Chi Minh City

Much has changed in Saigon since The Astronomer and I called it home three years ago. In addition to shiny new skyscrapers, helipads, and highways, an American-style doughnut shop has popped up in District 1.

Fresh Donuts - Ho Chi Minh City

After admiring Fresh Donuts from afar for the first two weeks of our trip, we finally let curiosity get the best of us and came in for a taste. The shop’s slogan is “fresh, delicious, everyday.” How could we resist such pleasant promises?

Fresh Donuts - Ho Chi Minh City

While it’s quite common for restaurants throughout Vietnam to display an altar with fruit and tea, it’s highly unusual to see one offering doughnuts too. Just to the left, behind the glowing red bulb, was a plated glazed cinnamon roll. I bet this gesture made the ancestors smile.

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Family Knows Best: Saigon’s Finest Bánh Mì, Glutinous Bananas, and Chicken Sticky Rice

Ba Sau and Di Loan

While I’ve shared quite a bit about my great aunt Bà Sáu (left) on the site [See: here, here, and here], I’ve yet to mention my awesome aunt Loan (right). She is Bà Sáu’s youngest daughter and has an encyclopedic knowledge of anything and everything worth eating in Saigon. From street food to fancy dining rooms, she’s my go-to source for local haunts worth seeking out.

On my trip to Vietnam this past September, she pointed me to her favorite spots for bánh mì, xôi gà (chicken sticky rice), and chuối nếp nướng (glutinous bananas). All three were smashingly good.

Banh Mi Huynh Hoa - Saigon

For the choicest banh mi in Saigon, my aunt sent me to Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa in District 1. The fluorescent lit storefront does brisk takeout business from four in the afternoon until late into the night.

According to my friend Lien, the establishment is run by a family of transgendered individuals, but truth be told, I hardly noticed when I stopped in. All I could focus on was making my way through the crowds and snagging a sandwich as soon as possible.

Banh Mi Huynh Hoa - Saigon

Every banh mi dac biet is made on a fresh and crisp baguette with a heady smear of pork pate and mayonnaise, slices of head cheese and ham, a tangle of pork floss, pickled vegetables, and deadly hot chilies. When taken all together, the flavors and textures meld, enhance one another, and seduce.

Continue reading ‘Family Knows Best: Saigon’s Finest Bánh Mì, Glutinous Bananas, and Chicken Sticky Rice’

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