May 2008

Hot from the Fryer

Cuisine: Vietnamese

91 Cach Mang Thang 8 Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: none
Website: none

Fried Finger Foods – cha gio (6,000 VND), banh xep (7,000 VND), xui mai (1,000 VND), banh tom thit (7,000 VND), banh bao chien (8,000 VND)

I hate to typecast myself, but the fact of the matter is that I have become a bit of a Deep-Fried Guru for gas•tron•o•my. The Gastronomer doesn’t allow just any old lipid to roam those squeaky-clean arteries of hers, so if a grease-laden meal doesn’t look ultra delicious (see Jollybee), she just might choose not to partake. Nevertheless, someone has to report on the less healthy offerings in Saigon, so I sacrifice myself for the sake of our readers. Don’t worry, I’m not suffering too much. Although I could pass on Western-style fast food, I find cha gio, street donuts, and other local deep-fried delicacies totally irresistible.

It’s not surprising, then, that I am a frequent visitor of a take out eatery called Banh Xep Chien Don on CMT8. The goods are always displayed on a table out front to attract passing motorists, and they’re usually fresh out of the frying oil. Prices are a bit higher than you might expect, but it’s totally worth it—these are some tasty treats.

My personal favorite is the cha gio—definitely a contender for the title of “best in Saigon.” As always, these pork-filled wonders are best piping hot, but even when they’ve been sitting out awhile they’re still excellent. Never soggy or burnt tasting, the cha gio have a perfect meaty, greasy flavor [note: The Gastronomer wanted me to edit this sentence on the grounds that it “doesn’t sound appealing.” Well, trust me, they’re greasy in a good way]. What really sets them apart is the dipping sauce. It looks like chili sauce, but it’s actually sweet and sour, which is much, much better in my opinion. I haven’t tasted a sauce like this anywhere else in Vietnam. While I enjoy dipping my cha gio in nuoc mam, I find this flavor combination to be even more delicious.

The same sauce is served with each of the shack’s other offerings. I frequently order banh xep, a solid, crunchy snack that is a better deal than the cha gio from a size perspective but tastes a bit more ordinary. These are quite similar to the banh goi I ate in Hanoi, but I find them superior due to the lack of mushrooms.

The banh tom thit are another hearty treat for meat-lovers. They’re basically breaded deep-fried ground pork logs, but the “chefs” insert a single shrimp with its tail sticking out the end to spice things up. Even more intriguing are the banh bao chien, which are essentially the standard soft white buns (albeit the version with no egg) submerged in hot oil until they’re golden brown. Wolfing down a couple of these will fill you up in a hurry.

The only real letdown are the xui mai—I had high hopes for these little fried dumplings but found them bland and totally uninspiring. The one time I tried them they were cold, so I know I should give them another shot, but with four other tempting choices, why risk disappointment?

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8 thoughts on “Hot from the Fryer

  1. I’ve passed this joint when we were staying at a hotel on NTMK but never stopped by. I’ll have to make an effort to go by for cha gio!

  2. You are so cruel, G. Here I am in the hospital recovering from my surgery when I paid a visit to your site and was hit smack in the noggin with these delicious snacks. I would pay ten times the price just to have 1 bite of those.
    I had tried all of them when I grew up in Saigon, but Banh bao chien is something new and seems worthy of an experiment.
    Now I have to get back to my exciting hospital cuisine..

  3. i think the cha gio’s sauce is Vietnamese version of Chinese Plum Sauce (we call it “tuo*ng xi’ muo^.i” in Vietnam) .

  4. Neneh – Every time you comment I forget I know you and think that you’re a reader from India or something.

    htran – Sorry you’re stuck eating mediocre meals during your recovery. How do they expect you to get better?!

    Duy – That’s interesting–I will get the Gastronomer to try it and see what she thinks. She LOVES Chinese plum sauce.

  5. These are great guilty pleasures 🙂 I so want to go back Saigon and eat all these.

  6. When we first arrived here, it was one of the first places we ate from once we found the courage to delve into eating street food. The cha gio was all that we tried. it was fantastic. 8 months later, while looking for banh bao chien, I found this blog and was excited to go back and try the rest of their menu. Unfortunately, it is no longer there. It has been replaced by a bakery. Oh well…my search for banh bao chien continues.

  7. July 2013 – I’m sitting in an ABC Bakery where the stand should be and cwn confirm it’s no longer here 🙁

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