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.
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.
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.
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.