It was a rather spontaneous decision to visit Ho Chi Minh City – after fried chicken at 2am the tutorial group decided it was a good idea to go on a trip.. and so, within 48 hours and over some beer and a game of munchkin at HR’s, we booked tickets for a short getaway. For a first time traveller to Vietnam, HCM is an assault on the senses. While I think the city has a lot to offer, I hesitate when I think of returning because I’m terrified of the traffic and motorcycles (snatch thefts anybody??? ugh. MASSIVE UGH. It also takes 36h to process a police report, just so everyone knows.) The food though, is spectacular.
Lunch Lady: propelled to international fame by Anthony Bourdain, Lunch Lady only has one item on her menu everyday. It is also always a hearty and hugeass bowl of noodle soup, yum! It isn’t expensive (45,000 VND – not expensive for a tourist/foreigner) for what you get but what I find uncomfortable is how they plonk down spring rolls & doughsticks because you’re not local. It’s a very small gripe but this is similar to chinese restaurants serving you prawn crackers and then charging you for them – it’s not illegal, I struggle to call it unethical even, but it’s just not good practice. We planned to go to Lunch Lady on a Monday as she was serving banh canh cua: a rich, thick crab soup with crab, fish cake, shrimp, slices of pork, quail egg and tapioca noodles (think udon but made out of tapioca flour). On first glance, it was a little oily but I loved it. Banh canh cua was rich and not fishy at all – it was a bit heavy on the palate but the broth was absolutely delicious; mixing pork stock and crab broth together pull punches that I never knew were possible. Visiting Lunch Lady could probably be THE tourist thing to do right now, which is why you should go and visit when you’re in town. Vietnam Coracle was really helpful in helping me decide which day to go to Lunch Lady; read his diary here.
Pho from Pho Quynh – my fave!
Pho from Pho Hoa (Pasteur), which Rach and I explored on our own
Where the best pho is in HCM is probably gonna spark lots of debate – kinda like how we all have our own favourite chicken rice stall in Singapore (Tian Tian!!!!). That aside, my favourite from the trip was the corner pho stall at the end of Bui Vien – Pho Quynh, and my favourite pho was not even pho bo (pho with beef slices) but the pho ga (chicken slices). I was pleasantly surprised by how light the broth was; the chicken was a lot lighter than the beef though from what I recall, most of the group preferred the beef. It was great as a late night snack/supper dish. All of us except Sel really enjoyed the Viet iced tea, which was reminiscent of a sweeter, more coy jasmine milk tea. Because of its address along Bui Vien, this bowl of pho is a little pricey at 55,000VND per bowl.
Along Bui Vien there’s also a small table/stand selling coconut icecream. (Around #120 I think) I’ve never been to Bangkok but this looks similar to what I see on instagram/facebook most of the time. This was yummy because of all the condiments – sticky, chewy tapioca rice, crushed peanuts, smooth coconut – what’s not to love?
Van Kiep street is a street filled with eateries and I’d highly recommend if you’re in the area/nearby – it is very local, and we were the only tourists along the street (if you’re uncomfortable with that, then maybe give it a skip). The highlight of this street was the grilled octopus with green dip. I still have no idea what the magical green dip comprises but maybe there’s crack in there because IT IS REALLY SUPER ADDICTIVE???! Vietnam Coracle recommended Quan Ut Lang, but I don’t think we managed to get the right stall. If my memory serves me right, this was #161 along Van Kiep. This is also Vietnamese-speaking only, and we ordered food by pointing at what everyone else was eating.
We also went for a cooking class at Cyclo Restro (USD 24) and it was a great introduction into Vietnamese cooking (there is a lot of lemongrass and paprika oil!). It was also there that we made our own banh xeo – Vietnamese rice flour pancake stuffed with shrimp and pork. I did wish we had time to eat at Banh Xeo 46A, after watching it on No Reservations.
As much as I enjoy independent/solo travel occasionally, I wouldn’t recommend travelling solo to HCM if it’s the first time you’re travelling alone/are a city person/used to living in Singapore. It’s quite gritty. I have to concede that I am a city dweller through and through, and I haven’t been to many places in SEA so this was a completely new experience for me. When Rach and I went to find pho on our own without the boys, I was rly quite paranoid throughout because 1) motorcycles were driving EVERYWHERE and it was too close for comfort; 2) I was constantly afraid of being mugged or knocked down, or BOTH.
That said, I’m really glad this trip happened – it was such great fun and I never expected that this would happen from a group of people I met only in July (yay for awsm humans!). Ho Chi Minh is a city for foodies – there really is something for everyone! Not like anyone needs anymore reasons to go visit but… beer is also REALLY REALLY REALLY CHEAP.
P.S. TAKE OUT TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE VISITING HO CHI MINH.
P.P.S. Merry Xmas errbady!!!