UPDATE: This restaurant has moved to 5 Ham Nghi street. I’ve had good results from restaurants that limit the number of dishes they serve. So much so, that I’d almost call it a rule here in Saigon. Co Hai at 119 Vo Thi Sau Street in District 3 doles out just four dishes from within its clean, sparse, airy restaurant lined with fluorescent tubes, broken fans and hidden behind the anonymous front pictured above. Banh khot tom cha are miniature fried pancakes with a sole shrimp dolloped atop. One 15,000VD serving comes with eight cakes, accompanied by two baskets of shrubbery, a plate of sliced pickled carrot and raddish. On each table there’s a bumper jug of nuoc mam (fish sauce) – Be careful – you REALLY wouldn’t wanna knock 2 litres of kipperjuice over yourself – and each scoffer gets an empty dipping bowl.
Take a leaf (lettuce or mustard) and sling in a couple of herbs and pickles along with the banh khot itself. Make a small parcel and dip into the plain nuoc mam. Depending on the size of your gob and/or how much of a fat bastard you are, each green parcel should take around three bites to fully consume. It’s green ‘n’ lean and airyfairy enough that one diner could stuff in all eight cakes with ease. The mustard leaf is my wrapper of choice for its extra moorish points. It’s blindin’, topscoff. I’ve only ever had this dish once before, on Ben Thanh night market, where it is called Banh can. I found my previous encounter enjoyable, but Co Hai cranks the whole experience up several gears leaving the night market chefs stalled on the starting line.
This restaurant used to be the home of a half arsed French diner, that disappeared some months ago when Co Hai stepped in. It’s become a popular spot with plenty of Saigonese scoffers filling the joint between 7am and 10pm each day. After sharing a plate of Banh khot I’m ready to order a second round. However, I’ll have to hold off on this visit as the main reason I’m hauled up here is the Bun ca (Fish with tamarind noodle soup) 13,000VD. Bun (vermicelli noodles) are sunk below a tamarind broth,
tomato, peanuts, red chillis and a single fish steak. Bun ca comes
with a plate (not a dipping bowl) of red chilli spiked nuoc mam. You plonk your fish onto the plate and dissect it
I’ve never had a Vietnamese soup like this before where the tamarind sourness is so in your face. It’s a belly bustin’ hit. You might wanna make sure your first stop after lunch has clean conveniences – Tamarind is a very strong diuretic… I’d rank Bun ca right up there with Bun rieu, Bun mam and Canh chua ca. Co Hai also serves Lau cua mang chua (Crab hotpot) (Ask for the daily price) and Cha ca (A kind of fried fishmince burger snack type thing for 15,000VD, not the other kind of Cha ca). The menu is all in Vietnamese and includes a vast number of drinks. The Mia lau is worth a sniff. It’s made of very young cooked sugarcane. Warm ‘n’ sweet and 2,000VD. There’s more on Banh khot in this snippet from Annabel Jackson’s bastardised Vietnamese streetfood cookbook, Cafe Vietnam. View the business card and directions.