In Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, the capital of Vietnam, I got acquainted with food I’ve never tasted before. Colorful, diverse and so different from European food that you just want to stare at it, smell it, roll in it and eat it, at the end.
You can skip step two. And because you’re in Vietnam, hygienic standards aren’t very high, to begin with. But never mind that when you’re hopping from one food stand to another, trying as much food as you can fit in your mouth.
Seems like everybody knows how to cook and they are cooking everywhere: market, street or sidewalk. Things get even better when night falls when improvised restaurants are sprawling all around.
Metal tables and tiny plastic chairs are full to the last place, food is often served in plastic bags and nobody cares about dishes being washed in plastic bins right beside the table where you’re eating.
That’s why I like Ben Than market in its evening gown more than in its daily outfit when tourists roam around and the smell of cheap Chinese souvenirs is floating in the air.
During the evening, traffic closes and everybody that has some cooking skills set up their improvised kitchens. Ingredients are so fresh, they’re trying to escape their predestinate fiery death. Turtles, frogs, lobsters and tiger shrimps are on the menu. All very cheap and finger licking good.
It is hard to describe all edible wonderfulness and impossible to transfer smells so here are few of my favorite eats in HCMC. Some of them are not local restaurants but are delicious, never the less.
- Five Oysters
Vietnamese restaurant we found shelter at during one of the famous Asian showers. It’s located in usually crowded tourist street Bui Vien. The street is full on small bars that serve cheap beer on the sidewalk. It is fun to take a seat and watch jugglers, fire eaters and street food sellers pass by.
Sea and peanuts flavored oysters and jellyfish salad were the best dishes. Jellyfish has no distinct flavor but it nice and crunchy.
- Marukame udon & tempura
Although it’s a franchise, they serve tasty tempura and my favorite is hairy vegetable one. Noodle soups are tummy warmingly delicious and you can add condiments if you like. I restrained myself from putting everything on it. Bukkake udon is one of their bestsellers which sounds nice but maybe another time. Another plus is a huge window that overlooks Marriaman Hindu temple so you can enjoy the view while slurping away.
- 5 KU
The gem we stumbled upon while wandering around was nested between two ruins with recycled and graffitied panels pretending to be walls. Local people were eating there and cooking for themselves on mini grills and pots. Barbecued shrimp was awesome and the ostrich meat was little chewy but interesting in taste.
- Ichiba sushi
This is a top-notch Japanese restaurant. The restaurant is bit kitschy, with a hint od brothel (I presume) and the waitresses are very attentive.
And the food? Beautiful. Freshest fish I had in Asia, so good it melts in your mouth. Before sushi, we had crispy salmon skin in wakame algae that cracks when you chew. Last but not least, tuna tataki with caramelized onion. Delicious!
Night bar Chill, on the 26th floor of AB tower is an interesting place to have a drink. You get to the top in a shiny elevator and get escorted to the bar. The view of the city is magnificent and that’s about it. Everything else is just too much for me. DJ is playing pop music for wealthier champagne loving youth and tourists. Prices are steep, even for western standards – mojito costs 15 dollars. We chugged the drinks and went down on streets of Saigon, in narrow alleys where rats are playing in the park and motorcycles are swooshing by like crazy.