Eating Our Way Through Ho Chi Minh City
Food. The food in Ho Chi Minh was without a doubt the best food I have had on the trip thus far. The vast majority of our time in Vietnam was spent wandering the streets in search of the best street food we could find. Our hunt began searching for Bánh mì. Bánh mì literally means bread in Vietnamese and is usually followed by other words describing what is in the Bánh mì. The first Bánh mì we ate was bánh mì op la. This is a sandwich with an omelet inside of it. We ate at this place for breakfast however, the Vietnamese will eat if for any meal of the day. The omelet contained some type of sausage coupled with chives and chilies. We were also given a pickled and sweetened cucumbers (didn’t taste like a sweet pickle as they weren’t nearly as salty) and onion mix along with a tomato to add to the sandwich. To tie everything together we spread pâté and mayonnaise on the bread. I was a little hesitant about the spreads but coupled with the omelet it was an impressive addition.
Second we tried a bánh mì hồng hoa. This was described to us as the meat lovers bánh mì. This sandwich was comprised of grilled pork, pork sausage, and some type of luncheon meat (I don’t want to know what luncheon is and neither do you). Accompanied by the standard pickled cucumber onion mix and chilies, this bánh mì was one of the few that filled me up. It was truly delicious despite the mystery meat inside. As one of the more expensive bánh mìs in Ho Chi Minh at 30,000₫ (Vietnamese Dong), the $1.35 sandwich was well worth the price.
The third and final Bánh mì we tried was from a well-known food stand. It is known as the pork slider bánh mì or bánh mì thịt nướng. This bánh mì was comprised of 5 – 6 pork patties that are about one inch in diameter. These were also paired with a sweet pickled cucumber and onion mix, topped off with some cilantro and spicy chilies. A sweet BBQ teriyaki sauce was drizzled over the ingredients, making it the best Bánh mì I have had to date. At an incredible 17,000₫ or $0.75, this sandwich was in the budget.
Another well know Vietnamese staple is phở. This noodle soup is about abundant in Ho Chi Minh as bánh mìs. Our hunt for phở led us to a place a place that didn’t technically serve phở but it was a noodle dish all he same. The dish we ordered was called hu tiếu kho. The most interesting part of this dish was the process we used to eat it. The broth was served apart from fried noodles, grilled beef, and veggies. We would gather the beef, noodles, and veggies with our chopsticks, dip them in the broth and then eat it. This is apparently a Cambodian style dish but it blew many of the different phở dishes we had out of the water.
Bánh xèo is another dish I fell in love with on our food bender through Ho Chi Minh. Bánh xèo is a Vietnamese style crepe with a variety of meats and veggies cooked in it. This crepe was folded in half and rolled in rice paper with mint, basil, and lettuce. Then we dipped in a sweet and spicy sauce that help soften up the ride paper. The restaurant we ordered this dish from was about a 45 minute to an hour walk from our hostel. After this walk, one meal was not enough to fill us up. Therefore, we attempted to order another snack from the same food stand. I noticed the cook at the stand grilling 50+ mini sausages wrapped in a leaf. The meat looked exactly like Jimmy Deans sausage. Attempting to communicate that I just wanted to try a few of the sausages, to someone who spoke no English, ordered me a whole meal. Round 2 was very similar to round 1 except we added sticky rice noodles and the wrapped sausages to our rice wraps rather than the crepes. These were also dipped in a very similar sauce. It was similar to the sauce served with small fried spring rolls in the States. I later learned that the dish is called tThịt bò nướng lá lốt and is beef sausage wrapped in a betel leaf. The sausages were pretty similar to Jimmy Deans sausage but less salty, a little chewier, made of beef, and didn’t taste as fake. Worried that ordering 2 meals was going to set me back a chunk a cash, the total came out to be 55,000₫ ($2.47).
After this 2 meal extravaganza, we realized that we were not served dessert. Coming to this conclusion, led us on yet another food search of some tasty sweets. We stumbled upon a food stand that was serving flan (Báhn Flan Pho Mai) and Rau Câu Pho Mai. Rau Câu was a slightly denser jello but less sweet than the American Jell-O. There was also a gelatinous condensed milk and cheese substance at the base of the jello structure. The flan and Rau Câu were served in a coffee, milk, and ice soup. Pho Mai translated means cheese, but the cheese was difficult to taste. All the other flavors and textures dulled the cheese out to the point where I didn’t notice it. The night wouldn’t be complete without making one more stop at some fried food cart, and buying a sugar coated crispy fried piece of dough. Some may say that this was a food overload, but we did walk 45 minutes to an hour in each direction to eat the food. Therefore, it was well deserved.