Nov 2007

Pass the Chè on the Left Hand Side

Che is evidence that with enough sugar and coconut milk, just about any characteristically savory food can be transformed into dessert. I’ve consumed a lot of che during my stay in Saigon and thought it was high time I recounted the good, the bad and the ugly.

Che Thap Cam

A little bit of column A and a little bit of column B—that’s the gist of che thap cam. Whatever the dealer is selling, she’ll spoon in a smidgen of each. You’ll most likely receive layers of beans, jellies, tapioca, coconut milk, shaved ice and more beans. This tall glass came from Che My in District 1.

Che Dau Hu

My current favorite! The Astronomer and I each had a bowl of che dau hu for dessert today—his with coconut milk and mine without. I love che dau hu because its spicy, sweet and maybe even a little healthy. This pretty bowl was from our visit to Hoi An.

Che Troi Nuoc

I was obsessed with che troi nuoc when I first arrived in Saigon. The tapioca orb is filled with mung bean paste and served soaked in coconut milk with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Too chewy for The Astronomer, the texture is lovely in my eyes. Each individual ball goes for 1,000-2,000 VND. The dealer up top sold this bowl to me at her shed in District 1.

By the way, while I was enjoying my che, The Astronomer spied a huge rat scurrying under me! I didn’t see the rodent, but The Astronomer reported that it was a big one and inches away from touching my feet.

Che Bap

I ordered The Astronomer a bowl of che bap (corn) while I had the che troi nuoc. Although corn is one of his favorite vegetables, he was not much of a che bap fan. My grandma makes this che often for my grandpa, but never employs coconut milk. I may have to give Saigon che dealers a citation for coconut milk abuse.

Che Chuoi

After I finished the che troi nuoc, I still wasn’t ready to give up my stool at the che shed. I ordered a bowl of che chuoi, which consisted of caramelized bananas, sesame seeds, tiny tapioca peals, salt and coconut milk. Sweet plus salty equals magic.

Che Thach Dau Xanh

Also from Che My, this tall glass is filled with mung bean paste (dau xanh) and Vietnamese Jello (thach). Not much to say about it except that it was simple, straightforward and good. Without the thach and shaved ice, the che’s texture would have been reminiscent of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Che Buoi

Easily the most disappointing che I’ve consumed in Vietnam. With a name like che buoi, I was expecting some sort of pomelo and citrus creation. Instead I received a cup of boring featuring layers upon layers of more boring topped with peanuts.

Che Troi Nuoc Mang

This was my first bowl of che in Vietnam. The che troi nuoc mang was part of a set lunch from a very pretty restaurant in District 1 called Sen. Unlike the the che troi nuoc above, this one was filled with a savory mung bean paste and a bit of meat. The tapioca spheres sat in a clear, sweet, ginger broth. An interesting departure from the original, but I prefer the sweet version.

Che Dau Tran

Although it’s difficult to make out from the picture, this che features black eyed peas and glutinous rice. The usual suspects (coconut milk and tapioca pearls) are also present. I bought this bowl of che dau trang from an alleyway dealer in District 4. Perhaps the most pudding-like che, its mushy texture is a treat. Trust me.

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11 thoughts on “Pass the Chè on the Left Hand Side

  1. Oh how I wish I tried this stuff…I couldn’t have found the place anyway considering I was in Saigon for only 3 days. I was so busy with family and shopping I completely forgot I wanted to meet up with you for some local foods. A friend of mine wasn’t adventurous enough to try anything on the street, so we ate at all higher-end restaurants like Mandarin, Tib, Quan Ngon, Bun Ta, Pho 24, Ngoc Suong Seafood, etc.

    Oh, I had the best Vietnamese sandwich ever at a place called “Hoang Hoa” or “O Moi” (I heard the owners are a lesbian couple, hence the term “O Moi” to refer to lesbian in Vietnamese). It is near Nga Sau Phu Dong and about the 4th house on Le Thi Rieng Street. If you get a chance, try it and let me know what you think. They open from 3:30PM until sold out.

    I stayed in Vinpearl Land. It is THE place to relax and slurge if you can afford it (mainly on food and spa treatments). It’s actually not that expensive compared to the same amenities and services you get in the US.

    Hanoi was alright. The food wasn’t as bland as others had thought. We were afraid of the diarrhea outbreak, so we only ate at Pho 24, Quan Ngon, and Bun Ta 🙂 It was weird to eat dishes typically accompanied by greens now with rice paper instead. And no “mam tom” (shrimp paste) so we didn’t even try “Cha Ca La Vong”…oh well…perhaps next time.

  2. Oh James, I can’t believe you ate at all the sterile joints. Boo… To be fair, it does take a good couple of days to transition from western standards to street food.

    I will try the Lesbo sandwich joint sometime and let you know how it goes. And if the budget allows, maybe Vinpearl Land too. Is that in Nha Trang?

  3. Perhaps the che bap that your grandmother made was the northern Vietnamese version, the che bap that you blog there always come with coconut milk as far as I can recall.

  4. Hi gastronomer, this is a famous poem about ‘banh troi nuoc’, written by Ho Xuan Huong, one of the most talented poet in Vietnam.

    Banh Troi Nuoc

    Than em vua trang lai vua tron
    Bay noi ba chim voi nuoc non
    Mac dau nhieu tay ke nan
    Ma em van giu tam long son.

    Ho Xuan Huong

    Unfortunately, I just can show you the Vietnamese version (my english is limited, hohoho). I really like your taste of Vietnamese food, hope you can explore more delicious dishes (not sure you’re still in Vietnam or not, maybe I’m late to read your blog and write the commends, anyway if you’re interested in culture of food, so check out this poem!)


  5. Hi <3 I just want to defend a little for Che Buoi 😀 That Che Buoi u had in HCMC up there does not look very right for me. I think it’s better to try Che Buoi in Hanoi, not HCMC, cause this kind of che is more popular in Hanoi than in the south. This is one of the most complicated types of che to cook. The cook must prepare in advance for a very long time with quite a lot of effort in order to have the best Che Buoi. For most other types of che, we just have to, basically, cook what we want with sugar 😀 haha

    If you go to Hanoi again, try Che Buoi in Ta Hien str. (in case I’m in Hanoi by chance I’ll take you there :D)

    Oh and you’ve got to know this, too. Buoi is not like grapefruit, even though it’s the “official” translation of the fruit. I think a more accurate way to take it is pomelo fruit. Compared to grapefruit, pomelo has thicker skin, which is used to make che buoi; it also tastes a LOT better, (most of the grapefruit somehow taste a little bit bitter)

    About the coconut milk “abuse” :)) haha In the South people use products from coconut in soooo many things, whether eatable or not 😀 Just to let you know. I though U must have noticed this special feature of southern Vietnam before 😀

  6. Che Troi Nuoc is the bomb. My western husband thinks its way too sweet and chewy,but I love the taste and texture. We always clamored for the little bitty ones instead of the big blobs.

  7. thank you for very interesting blog, like many others, I love all sweet treats such as chè, cakes, and so on. I do not have chance to travel every where in Vietnam, but in Hanoi,luckily I can find all sweet tastes of all Vietnamese locals from northern to southern. In the end, I love central region featured with Chè Huế, chè cung đình Huế (Hue royal sweet soup)

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