While I’ve shared quite a bit about my great aunt Bà Sáu (left) on the site [See: here, here, and here], I’ve yet to mention my awesome aunt Loan (right). She is Bà Sáu’s youngest daughter and has an encyclopedic knowledge of anything and everything worth eating in Saigon. From street food to fancy dining rooms, she’s my go-to source for local haunts worth seeking out.
On my trip to Vietnam this past September, she pointed me to her favorite spots for bánh mì, xôi gà (chicken sticky rice), and chuối nếp nướng (glutinous bananas). All three were smashingly good.
For the choicest banh mi in Saigon, my aunt sent me to Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa in District 1. The fluorescent lit storefront does brisk takeout business from four in the afternoon until late into the night.
According to my friend Lien, the establishment is run by a family of transgendered individuals, but truth be told, I hardly noticed when I stopped in. All I could focus on was making my way through the crowds and snagging a sandwich as soon as possible.
Every banh mi dac biet is made on a fresh and crisp baguette with a heady smear of pork pate and mayonnaise, slices of head cheese and ham, a tangle of pork floss, pickled vegetables, and deadly hot chilies. When taken all together, the flavors and textures meld, enhance one another, and seduce.
Another hoppin’ hangout that my aunt led me to was Xoi Che Bui Thi Xuan, a shop specializing in xoi (sticky rice) and che (Vietnamese sweets) on Bui Thi Xuan Street. The Vietnamese have a knack for naming restaurants, I tell you! The restaurant is modern as heck, but I get the feeling that things weren’t this shiny when it first opened back in 1977.
Be prepared to sit thigh to thigh with Vietnamese teens because this place is crazy popular. The dish to order here is the xoi dui ga, which is comprised of a meaty drumstick atop a bed of sticky rice with plenty of fried shallots. Whole hunks of meat still aren’t very common in Vietnam, so this was a tremendous treat to dig into.
The final gem that my aunt introduced me to was a corner spot in District 3 specializing in banana based desserts. Similar to Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa, this nameless establishment only opens for business in the early evening and sells late into the night. Is it just me or are late night street food shacks the best?
Here, ripe baby bananas are packed in glutinous rice and grilled slow and low over a flame. The result is a crisp and golden exterior with a slightly chewy interior and a pleasantly warm and sweet filling. To serve, the bananas are snipped into bite sized pieces and doused in sweetened coconut milk. I visited this stall every chance I got because it’s just that good. And it was located around the corner from our hotel.
With family by my side, fabulous food finds taste even better.
For more Vietnamese food adventures from our summer 2011 trip, check out these posts:
- Saigon Classic: Bún Bò Huế Yên Đỗ
- Saigon Classic: Flaming Roadside Bánh Xèo
- Saigon Dinner Crawl: Squeaky Meatballs, Sesame Sludge, Spicy Duck Tongues, and More
- District 4, Saigon: Our Home Away From Home
- Saigon Classics: Goat Three Ways, Coconut Ice Cream, and Vietnamese Fried Chicken
- Vietnamese Steak and Eggs at Quán Lệ Hồng
- Life After Bourdain: Reuniting with the Lunch Lady
- Phở Hòa Pasteur: Phenomenally Phamous Phở
Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa
26Lê Thị Riêng
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Xoi Che Bui Thi Xuan
111 Bui Thi Xuan
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Chuoi Nep Nuong
376 Vo Van Tan
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City