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Cháo Lòng

chao long small

Offal isn’t awful.

One of the aspects that I appreciate most about Vietnamese cuisine is that nothing goes to waste. From bones to meat to blood and guts, each and every part of an animal is put to good culinary use. Cháo lòng turns piggy odds and ends that most butchers would toss out with the garbage into hearty and soothing rice porridge.

Cháo Lòng is one of the rare offerings in Saigon that is served from morning until evening. The dish is hot, satisfying and easy on the pocket at only 6,000 VND a bowl. Street vendors dishing up cháo lòng can be easily spotted with their giant metal vats and glass display cases filled with piles of offal and stacks of golden fried dough (giò cháo quẩy).

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The heart of cháo lòng consists of rice softened in a flavorful broth with cubes of congealed blood (huyết) thrown in for good measure. To serve, the porridge and huyết are ladled into a large bowl along with slices of liver, chunks of tubular innards and various forcemeats. Scallions, fresh ground pepper and small pieces of fried dough are then scattered on top. Fresh bean sprouts, lime wedges, ginger and fish sauce are available tableside for diners to season their cháo to taste.

The highlight of cháo lòng are the slices of fried dough. When incorporated into the steaming porridge, the dough softens and engorges as it soaks up the porridge like a sponge.

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Despite eliciting strong distaste from the majority of Westerners, offal is actually quite mild and surprisingly palatable. The consistency may be a turn off to some, but I completely embrace its subtle chewiness.

Cháo lòng is certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but its flavors and textures more than make up for its lack of presentation.

One Broth, Two Dishes

January 29, 2008
Cuisine: Vietnamese

193 Ly Chinh Thang Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none

Canh Bun (8,000 VND)

Bun Rieu (8,000 VND)

Chao Muc (5,000 VND)

Ca Phe Sua Da (5,000 VND)

Another day, another new noodle soup to try!

The Astronomer, our pal Cathy and I lunched at a not-so-pretty eatery on Ly Chinh Thang Street advertising canh bun, bun rieu and chao muc. We ordered one of each for variety’s sake, but I was particularly interested in the canh bun because I have never tried it before.

Canh is a light Vietnamese soup eaten with rice, while bun are vermicelli rice noodles. Surprisingly, canh bun is not a combination of the two. Tricky, huh?

It turns out that canh bun is exactly the same as bun rieu (vermicelli noodles in a sour crab-based broth) with the addition of blanched spinach served alongside the essential herbs and greens. Not the most innovative dish, but I can find no fault in extra nutrients and fiber. Anything for 5-a-day.

The bun rieu here was very good. Unlike my family’s version or the one at Thanh Hai, this one came with spongy squares of deep-fried tofu that soaked up the sour broth nicely and contained cubes of blood jello that are much tastier than they look.

The chao muc was my personal favorite of the meal. The smoky squid porridge was topped with ground black pepper, chopped scallions and pieces of fried dough. Similar to the tofu in the bun rieu, the fried dough soaked up the porridge with its oily goodness. There were several pieces of actual squid, but they blended in with the hot porridge.

After three steamy dishes, we headed to a drink vendor several blocks down for some ca phe sua da (Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk on ice). Although I usually passed on this stuff back home, I am officially a huge fan. What’s there not to like about drinking melted coffee ice cream? I have seen the light.

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