Archive for the 'Bo Vien / Ca Vien' Category

Sampling Saigon’s Snack Shacks

The Saigon Times newspaper is giving me the opportunity to write for their Leisure section and I’ve decided that snack shacks are a worthy first topic. I am trying to find a tone different from my gas•tron•o•my voice, but am having some difficulty. Here’s my first shot at newspaper glory…

A cross between street food and sit-down eateries, snack shacks serve up light fare perfect for a small bite when the mood hits. Extremely popular among the local teen set, these restaurants appeal to families and couples as well.

Similar to the western “small plates” experience, diners can mix and match sweet and savory dishes to create a one-of-a-kind meal.

Menus vary from shack to shack, but mainstays include sticky rice, spring rolls, fresh salads, and Vietnamese desserts. These establishments offer enough variety to suit even the pickiest of eaters.

Prices range from 3,000-8,000 VND per dish, so don’t hesitate to order precariously and try something new because your wallet will not suffer.

Here is a quick run through of snack shack must-tries:

Ha Cao


A close relative of Chinese dim sum and Vietnamese banh bot lot, these gelatinous dumplings are filled with minced pork and topped with fresh basil and a soy-based sauce. The meat filling is nothing special and tends to be skimpy, but the dumpling’s texture is appealingly chewy.

Bot Chien


The literal translation of this dish is “fried dough,” but it resembles more of an omelet than a doughnut. Little bits of dough are fried to a crisp and eggs and scallions are added over them. The “omelet” is served beautifully golden and garnished with pickled carrots and radishes and a side of soy dipping sauce. The crunchy edges are a highlight.

Bo Bia


While goi cuon is the most well-known Vietnamese spring roll, bo bia deserves some of the spotlight. These delicate rolls wrapped in rice paper contain sweet Chinese sausage, dried shrimps, lettuce, eggs, and a sautéed jicama and carrot slaw. Dipped in a bit of hoisin sauce, the roll’s sweet and salty double punch is sure to move your taste buds.

Ca Vien Chien


Think of these as fish meatballs. Generally served with hoisin sauce on the side, ca vien chien is best shared with friends because the flavor can veer toward monotonous.



The majority of the offerings at snack shacks fall under this category. A somewhat cloyingly sweet dessert, che usually contains beans (black, red, and mung), coconut milk, tapioca, plenty of sugar and shaved ice. Westerners unaccustomed to bean-based sweets may shun the fibrous texture of che, but it’s definitely worth sampling at least once. The best way to experience che is with a tall cup of che thap cam, which means “a little bit of everything.” A local favorite is che xung xa hot lua, containing coconut milk, mung beans, and pink water chestnuts.

Goi Du Du Bo


This shredded green papaya salad topped with basil, beef jerky, peanuts, and a light dressing puts Caesar salad to shame. The jerky is unexpectedly sweet and flavorful, while the papaya is fresh and light. Take into account that portions on this dish run small when ordering.

Xoi Man


It’s hard to find a bad plate of xoi man— sticky rice topped with various meats (cha lua, cha bong, and pate), fried shallots, soy sauce, pickled vegetables, and an oil and scallion mixture. This simple dish never fails to satisfy.

In a town chock-full of food available at all hours of the day, it is not difficult to locate some grub when the munchies hit. The next time you’re hungry and hours away from mealtime, check out these snack shacks to suit your craving, whether it be sweet or savory:

Che My
91 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Bo Bia
2B Su Thien Chieu Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Che Ky Dong
153/7 Ky Dong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Che 278
278 Khanh Hoi Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City

Friday Night Bites


October 5, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese

Corner of Ho Xuan Huong Street and Nguyen Thong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none


Bo Vien, Ca Vien, Cha Gio Chien – fried meatballs, fish-balls, and eggrolls (12,000 VND)


Xoi Man – sticky rice topped with various meats (5,000 VND)


Xoi Dau Xanh – sticky rice with mung beans (3,000 VND)


Bap Xao Tom Bo – corn sauteed with shrimp, scallions, and butter (5,000 VND)

Before meeting up with friends at the Diamond Plaza for bowling last Friday night, The Astronomer and I headed to the corner of Ho Xuan Huong and Nguyen Thong Street in District 3 for some grub. We’ve driven by this street on several occasions, but never got a chance to sample the goods because we were always on the back of a xe om (hired motorbike).

On this evening, there were several corn dealers (steamed and sauteed), a lone sticky rice hawker, and a man frying up meaty treats on a stick. Feeling especially hungry, The Astronomer went for a three-course feast and purchased from each of the vendors on the street. He has eaten xoi man and bap xao tom bo previously, but this was his first foray into fried-up meat and eggrolls on a stick.

The Astronomer commented that the sauteed corn tasted exactly like the version he ate in District 4. It’s really amazing how standardized street food recipes are in Vietnam! The xoi man was generously topped with cha lua, cha bong, pate, soy sauce, and an oil and scallion mixture. We’ve been on a xoi binge as of late, and this version did not disappoint. The fried meat fest was a let down. The eggrolls, meatballs, and fish-balls turned soggy from the oil rather than crisp and the hoisin sauce was too strong at times. Two out of three isn’t terrible.

For my dinner, I went for a small box of sweet xoi dau xanh sprinkled with salt and toasted sesame seeds (mui me). The xoi was moist and sticky in all the right places and the combination of sweet and salty flavors were delicious. The xoi was so tasty that I went back and bought 2,000 VND more.

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