The evening before I departed for San Diego, The Astronomer, Rosalind, Zach and I drove to District 8 to check out xom dao (Catholic neighborhood). I edited an article for the Saigon Times about “rock caves” constructed by the churches and residents in the neighborhood, and was mighty curious about the spectacle.
It turned out that everyone in Saigon was also excited about the annual display because the streets of xom dao were packed to the max with motorbikes, families and vendors of all sorts. The mysterious “rock caves” were huge nativity scenes dressed up in lights, waterfalls (!), snowmen, Santa and of course, baby Jesus. The Three Wise Men were nowhere in sight. It was a funny mix of pagan and religious characters with a dash of Vietnamese cheese and excess. We loved it.
Due to the hoards of revelers in the streets, it took us three hours or so to go from one end of the street to the other. Somewhere in between, we bought three bánh mì lá lốt to nosh on. Lá lốt are little rolls of distinctly spiced meat wrapped up in leaves and grilled. The vendor was generous and loaded each sandwich with ten pieces of meat along with pickled carrots and daikon and a squirt of chili sauce.
All four of us agreed that the sandwiches were hearty and delicious. Bánh mì lá lốt seems to be a District 8 delicacy, along with thit cay (dog meat), because we have not seen it sold elsewhere in the city.