After spying a recommendation from a fellow Saigon based bone chewer over at the ever useful egullet forum I made a flying visit down to the 2004 Vietnam Arts and Culture Fair, next to the Notre Dame Cathedral on Le Duan street in District 1. The fair runs into the night, every day until the 30th April. The food section is on the cathedral corner and consists of 8 stalls run by different Saigon hotels such as; Kim Do, Ai Hue, Que Huong, Continental, Thuc Don and the one I pulled a bamboo stool up at, the Arc en Ciel Thien Hong. The whole bamboo theme takes it’s lead from the scoff-tacular Binh Quoi Tourist village which I reported on for Saveur Magazine in their very cool ‘Saveur 100, Our favorite foods, restaurants, recipes, people, places & things’ at the end of 2003. Binh Quoi serves up an all you can eat, and then some you can’t, riverside ‘Southern primitive foods’ buffet for 75,000VD a head. More from this destination soon.
Meanwhile back on Le Duan street there’s no all-in-one buffet ticket, but there’s a good selection of individual dishes including grilled meats, xoi (sticky rice) and lotus root salads. I chose the Bun thit nuong (Cold noodles and grilled meat) for 10,000VD and a couple of Cha gio (Spring rolls) for 5,000VD. That’s US$1 for the lot. The kitchen staff had a bit of the ‘I’m nervous around foreigners and have lost the ability to speak’ syndrome about them, but soon lightened up when they realised I was there to eat the food and not them.
I am a bit of a Bun thit nuong fan. A simple dish in the extreme. A bed of shrubbery; cilantro, mint, cucumber shards, chopped spring onion, shredded lettuce, beansprouts and peanuts. Cold noodles on top and slap on your meat, either beef or pork. Add a couple of chopped up spring rolls, a sprinkling of deep fried shallots, side dish of chili infused fish sauce and you’re done. What made this Bun thit nuong stand out from all the others I have tried was the meat, Thit heo (pork). The squealer this meat came from had been roasted on a spit for the best part of the morning and it showed (the chap in the snap above has yet to feel the heat). Thin, tender strips of pork, succulent, juicy and big enough to wrap a bunch of noodles and salad inside and make a tasty ‘pigwich’. Well, that’s the way Pieman likes it. At the Vietnam Arts & Culture Fair they’re shoveling the grub out in plastic bowls which is not terribly refined, but is no doubt practical and hardly obscures the taste.
I was highly tempted to carry on eating my way around this miniature foodfest, but I’ve got until Friday night to return for another fill. If you’re around the centre of town this week and in need of sustenance there are worse (and more expensive) places to seek out. Worth a whirl.