More on the home delivery front. This time I got a location to follow up, rather than the usual vague street name or district. This is ‘Dac Biet’ Banh Canh Cua (Thick noodle crab soup). The ‘dac biet’ bit means special and is normally used by stall holders who have ideas above all the other stalls within eyeshot. However, this is slightly different from the last bowl of this we came across at Ben Thanh market. This noodles are still thick, but they’re translucent (that could be the bite in the dac biet bit???). They have a melt in the gob quality to them. They also kinda look like miniature see-thru eels. Like something David Attenborough unearthed way down deep for the ‘Blue Planet’ TV series. You’ll also find your flaky crabmeat, couple of sticks of Vina-spam, mushies, spring onion and all the usual herbal suspects. No chilli in this venture though. Although you will get a side of minced red chilli, sliced yellow chilli and an 8th of a lemon. 10,000VD from 59 Bis Nguyen Thong Street. Worth further inspection I’d say. This was excellent.
Archives for October 2004
Much as I like spending time scoffing on the street, I’m glad I don’t have to live on it too. KOTO restaurant, a registered Australian charity, in Hanoi helps train street kids and disadvantaged youth get off the street, get their shit together and a career path lined up in front of them. But, they have to move premises and they need cash. A whopping great $80,000 to be exact. Fellow blogger Our Man in Hanoi is on the case, but he needs help:
“We’re developing a scheme whereby people can buy bricks in the new building. If you’re an ex-pat then buy a brick as a permanent reminder of your time here. If you’ve never even visited then buy a brick and then resolve to come and see it. If you just want to play a real part in changing a street kid’s life for the better -then buy a brick. They’re $50 each.”
Now here’s where you guys come in. If you have a blog, I’d be grateful if you could copy and paste this post onto your blog page and encourage your blogrollers to do the same. That’s a whole lot more eyes with wallets and credit cards than come to Noodlepie and Our Man in Hanoi combined. You could always buy a brick too. Personally, I can’t think of a more ethically sound Christmas present to stuff in your nearest and dearest’s stocking. Great for foodies and I can vouch for the scoff at KOTO too. These streetkids know their nosh. Well tasty.
The Underground is one of the most popular expat scoffhouses in town. The location, down swanky Dong Khoi Street in District 1 at number 69, is a big time punta-pulla. If you’ve crouched at one street stall too many or exhausted your noodle quota, this is a decent enough place to pull up for a western fat-fest. If you can squeeze your way through the lard-bath of bloated business types and booze-fuelled away-from-homers you might find a comfy corner somewhere inside. A better option is to perch yourself at one of the seven outdoor terrace tables. Here you can gawk at the shoppers, gaze at the neon and scurry through the menu of 107 main courses and paltry four desserts. Above we have a slab of Bruschetta "Grilled baguette topped with chilli & tomato jam & freshly grilled whole pieces of goat’s cheese" for 65,000VD. Scrummy aperitif fodder, the goat’s cheese is a good score in Saigon.
Next up are Tacos "Three Taco shells smothered in your choice of topping, topped with jack cheese, lettuce & tomato. Comes with guacamole, sour cream & salsa picante" for 95,000VD. I plumped for the spicy beef strip topping with green peppers, onion and tomato. The problem I’ve got with this dish is my teeth. And no, I’m not referring to the recent intriguing spat against the Guardian, their Clark County experiment and British dental hygiene. For the record, they’re all my own, I’ve yet to have a filling, or any dental work (… touch enamel) and I visit the dentist twice yearly. I digress… but… the cut of the beef is a noodlepie gnasher clogger. I needed three pitstops to gouge out the nastiness. It’s no fun having to get over familiar with the toothpick jar. Having said that, I’d have the dish again, but I’d go for the chilli con carne filling. Actually, the main reason I ever bother scoffing at The Underground is the Nachos (with chilli con carne). I’m sure there’s batter nachos in Saigon, but I’ve yet to find them (recommendation please…). However, for some reason there’s a cornchip drought in Saigon. It’s been off the menu for around three months.
The Fisherman’s Basket is the option for the famished. "Chef’s selection of deep sea delicacies, lightly coated in home-made bread crumbs, deep fried & served with our house fries & salad. With Tartare sauce and Ketchup." goes for 90,000VD. It’s crisp ‘n’ dry and there’s a lot of it – like all the food at The Underground – but it’s not up to snuff. There are umpteen ways to create something out of fish chunks, prawns, squid and a couple of mussels, but this isn’t one of the better ones. Other possible menu ‘hits’ include; Bangers ‘n’ mash, Fish ‘n’ chips, Pizza and Shish kebabs. The service here is good. There’s more information on the Underground here. View the business card and directions.
A few quick additions to our ongoing journey through the Ngu Vien restaurant menu. Above we have a Vietnamese classic, Chao tom (Shrimp paste on sugar cane) served with sliced starfruit, cucumber, lettuce and green banana. There’s a couple of side dishes along for the ride too; rice paper to stuff your hacked up Chao tom inside and Bun (cold vermicelli noodles). You’ll also get a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip. This is one of the better versions of this Chao tom I’ve found. And only 22,000VD for one. You can also gnaw the sugarcane when you’re done with the meat. Neat. The Chao tom at Quan An Ngon in District 1 comes with "angel" bun. Also neat.
This is billed as Ca Thu Chien (Fried Mackerel). It’s not a mackerel, it’s a firm fleshy fish with a light flour batter fried within range of crispiness, but no further. Scrummy and simple. Dip it in the nuoc mam. Whenever I order food at Ngu Vien I always end up with two or three different varieties of fish sauce on the table. Difficult to keep track of which one should go with which dish… Ca Thu Chien goes for 39,000VD.
Last up is Goi va (Fig fruit salad served with sesame rice cakes) This is very similar to the jackfruit salad we covered during our last visit to this restaurant at 40 Ky Dong Street in District 3. On reflection, I’d say this was even better than the jackfruit. No mean feat. It’s a warm salad with shredded pork mingling with the fig fruit. The fig fruit is softer than the jackfruit version, although it does lack that surreal jackfruit texture we discussed before. The shoddy snap doesn’t do this justice. Highly recommended and’ll set you back 42,000VD. For previous Ngu Vien reviews, go to Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3. View the business card.
Tempted by the bright lights and the promise of payment in hot dogs ‘n’ pizza – Noodlepie has pimped itself out to New York for the week. Josh, over at The Food Section, is hosting a week long noodlepie food fest. With the aid of a map and five pins, I’ll be on a mystery mastication tour for the week over there. So, that’s 2 for the price of 1. For the price of none, come to think of it…
It’s that time of year for hollowing out pumpkins, launching fireworks at the neighbour’s cat, stuffing guys and throwing potatoes on fires. Not that I’ll be doing any of that here in Halloween-free Saigon. But, I am partial to pumpkin soup. There’s one stall in the covered section of Ben Thanh market in District 1 that sells only root vegetables. I like the fact that there’s a root vegetable specialist in town and so whenever I wanna get earthy, this is where I come. A young woman owns the stall, but whenever she nips off to the toilet, or to get her nails done (Yes- there is a very popular manicure/pedicure stall on Ben Thanh) whoever’s nearby steps into the breach. Hence the chap above who has just hacked a Bi do (pumpkin) in half and asked me for 12,000VD. Half a pumpkin is enough for a few days of soup back at Pieman Towers.
The only blogger I know of who might just blog decked out in a grass skirt, Reid at ‘Ono Kine Grindz in Hawaii, blogged up about Okinawan Sweet Potato and Haupia Pie. I’d never seen sweet potatoes quite like them. So, here’s a comparison with the Vietnamese version, Khoai lang, covered in earth above. The one below is Khoai my which I think has a slightly firmer texture, but I’m guessing there. I know my Khoai lang, but I’ve only ever knowingly eaten khoai my here. But, hey we have a new oven at Pieman Towers, maybe time to bake some of these up? Recipes gratefully received
Apologies to regulars, but there’s another Bun cha posting coming your way. Noodlepie has a loose eye on finding the best pho in town, but if I was based up in Hanoi I would transfer that focus to the lunchtime dish – Bun cha. “We’ve heard all this before Pieman, give us something new for chrissakes,” I hear my lone reader cry. Tough. It’s my favourite Vietnamese dish and it’s rare enough in Saigon for me to realistically try the majority of places serving pukka pork balls during my stint here. We’ve covered the Ly Tu Trong and Tran Cao Van burnt offerings before. Today finds us up the end of one of Saigon’s many attractive back passages at 26 Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1. You’ll find griller-girl, pictured above, shop front and in charge of charring carcass. The rest of the nosh is rustled up at the back of this narrow diner and the hungry are squashed inbetween on lo-rise tables in tatty discomfort.
Judging by the accents of the staff and the name of the restaurant – Bun Cha Hanoi – this place is like previous Bun cha joints, a dishevelled shack run by Hanoians. Much the same as the Tran Cao Van scoffshed it’s popular, very popular. I sat down at 10:45am. By 11:05am every table was full and hungry customers were standing giving the evil eye to those already ensconced. Clearly an early arrival here is advised. The spread above came within 2 or 3 minutes
Here’s the main deal closeup. I won’t go into the details of it all again, check out this previous posting for that. Maybe I haven’t sampled the Hanoi original for too long, but I think this is an authentic southern rendering of the northern classic. The nuoc mam (fish sauce) is slightly sweeter than other Saigonese Bun cha, but you can easily tart it down with the garlic vinegar which you’ll find on all fourteen tables at Bun Cha Hanoi. The Su Su, called Chayote in English – as I recently discovered via reader phaocao – cheers;), is thickly cut and constitutes the only chopped vegetable inside the main event. You’ll also get a plastic basket brimfull with lettuce, basil, rau muong (stripped morning glory) and beansprouts. Meanwhile, the chefs over on Tran Cao Van Street dish up a better selection with seven different herbs on their tables.
These cha giao (spring rolls) harbour a decent crunch filled with minced pork, mushrooms, but no crabmeat. At least not to my taste buds. Dipped into your nuoc mam they’re a gnasher-pleasingly crisp entree. This restaurant, like the other Saigon Bun cha, gives you an extra bowl to eat out of, if you really need it. In Hanoi, there’s no extra bowl, you just mash everything into the main event and get stuck in.
If you poke your nose up this back passage you’ll also find what looks like a respectable Com binh dan, a couple of drink stalls and a Com trua. Bun Cha Hanoi is located at the very end of this alleyway. The lot above, with an iced tea, will set you back 13,000VD or less than a buck. Bonkers-good bargain I’d say.
I’m not a big fan of Xoi (sticky rice, sticky bean sweets and savouries) but I’m a big fan of street stalls and this was the third stall of its kind I saw on today’s downtown jaunt. I thought perhaps somebody was trying to tell me something, so I pulled up for a sniff. This mobile seller was hawking her wares at 43 Nguyen Trung Ngan Street in District 1. It’s a small side street at right angles to a popular street market which sells all manner of veggies, live river fish, squid and there’s also what looks like a halfway decent Banh cuon stall.
My problem with xoi is that it always looks way better than it tastes. The colours, coconut and gloppy beans are eye candy. However, you need a whopping great bag of sugar to kickstart a sweet xoi. I’d rather have a Che any day. This stall seller gives you the sugar bag along with a plastic spoon and the xoi in polystyrene boxes or newspaper. It goes for 2,000VD a pop. I’ll admit I only had 2 or 3 mouthfuls of each just to get a taste before I gave them to noodlegirl, who is a fan. Although she couldn’t help me dissect the ingredients. I do want to try the black rice xoi – and I’ve got a stall in mind, hope to blog it up soon – but I doubt I’ll cough up for this dish again. Have a look at the closeups below. If you know what goes into these xoi, let us all know via the comment box. Cheers.
The first one is Bap nhao.
And here’s the Xoi bap.
I’m still ploughing my way, with great pleasure, through the menu at Ngu Vien. We’ve sat down for a stuffing at this table before here and here. The muzak-music selection at Ngu Vien sunk to a new low on this visit. In my mind’s eye the musicians are part of a kidnapped band forced to grind through the most turgid of cellophane symphonies on the whim of a Kim-Jong-Il-alike, brains dulled day-in-day-out by the din. I can cope with Hell’s backing band (just…) as we’ve yet to find a total bummer on the menu. And tonight is no different. We’ll begin with the weakest link, pictured above, Ca Dieu Hung Hap Hanh (Steamed Sea bass with spring onions) 69,000VD. It was the dreariest dish, but it was still decent. Don’t think it was actually sea bass, but what the hell, it was fresh enough, bags of greens sitting atop a metal plate on a paraffin flame. There’s enough fish for two at a push. And with rice and greens, you’d be set for the evening. But, we needed more. Much more.
Ngu Vien does two great salads, one with grapefruit and the one above, Goi Mit (Jackfruit Salad served with sesame rice cakes) 39,000VD. Be careful not to dollop all the nuoc mam (fish sauce) that comes with this dish on top of the jackfruit – you’ll swallow more salt than the North Sea if you do. What makes this a winner is the subtle flavour and texture of the jackfruit. Half melting, half chewy. Couple that combo with the crisp crunch of the sesame cracker and it’s a blindin’ must try.
Next up is Muc Nuong Sate (Grilled Squid with Sate) 57,000VD. Squid is a risk in some Saigon restaurants, not here. It’s as succulent as it looks in the snap above. Just as important is the sate. This is often a disaster in Vietnam, but again Ngu Vien come up with the right balance of sweetness and spicy zip. Good stuff.
Last up Canh Bo Nau Khe (Beef soup with carambola) 31,000VD. This is a sour soup, but not too sour. The carambola (or star fruit) is the main flavour enhancer adding that sourness. The beef’s no great shakes, but the soup juice over rice with a smidgen of star fruit was a super end to yet another stuffing at Ngu Vien. View the business card and in Vietnamese.
Ploughing through the pages of the super-ravenous SliceNY pizza stalkin’ blog I got a pang to tag along to their next pizza night in New York City. Lacking the airfare and the time, I have to settle for pizza in Saigon. It might not be up to the New York standard or within sniffing distance of the Italian benchmark, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you’re in St. Petersburg, Seattle or Saigon, if pizza calls, you gotta have pizza an’ nowt else will do. As we’ve discussed before, there’s not a whole lotta blindin’ pizza action going on in downtown Saigon. However, there’s far worse to be had in this town than the Pizza al Gorgonzola pictured above that had me choking on cheesy fumes at the popular Pomodoro Italian Restaurant at 79 Hai Ba Trung Street in District 1. The Pomodoro opened four years ago and serves 12 different pizzas along with pasta dishes, Parma ham with a spicy tomato chutney, a fab French onion soup and a decent wine selection. It also has the best service of any restaurant I have visited in Vietnam.
Carrying on the superlatives theme, the crust is the thinnest I have found in Saigon. It can be somewhat dry and over toasted around the edges resulting in an over crisp teeth cracking perimeter, but the all important char taste is ever present. Gorgonzola cheese, or any blue cheese to my mind, is a winner on a pizza and the Pomodoro slaps a healthy splodge of Milan’s finest in the middle and lets the goodness spread over the mozzarella and crispy dough. Like the bread base, the topping is also on the thin side and the bizarre addition of tomato slices can be annoying. But, maybe that’s authentic Italian style? I’ve no idea. This large size pizza is enough for one greedy guzzler to start thinking about unbuckling belts. It would do equally well for two on a diet. The salads at Pomodoro are patchy, so are the ‘daily specials’, but the pasta is good, the Lasagne al forno especially so, and their Italian espresso is the best in Saigon. Pizzas go from 40,000VD – 90,000VD. Here’s the delivery menu and further restaurant details. And here’s the business card and directions.