The latest additions to Saigon zoo are two young giraffes. They were a major hit a couple of week’s back, but the crowds have regrouped around the old stalwarts; the monkeys and the elephants. The monkeys perform treetop acrobatics in return for fruit, the elephants wave their trunks hoping you’ll buy them a sugarcane stick from the vendor handily stuck in front of their pen. However, for the toad it’s the feathered freak above that excites the most interest at the moment. When that interest fades and the toad is zooed out and snoring, I can go forage the street outside.
Zoo street, Nguyen Binh Kiem Street, always throws up a surprise or two. I stopped the seller above after I spotted the Cha gio (Spring rolls) in one of her baskets as she waltzed passed number 2A Nguyen Binh Khiem. She tells me her usual route finds her flaunting her goodies from the Saigon river south past the zoo and through District 1 over the course of the day. She’s been making a living this way for the past eight years.
In the basket above we have her specialty, vegetarian Cha gio and noodles. I’ve only ever seen these once before at a Com Chay (vegetarian) stall on Ben Thanh Market. And they were much bigger. She fills her Cha gio with ground beans before frying, they’re served warm over yellow and white noodles, shredded thin fried omellette with lightly fried, soft-centred tofu.
In the other of her two baskets is the condiment selection. The blanched beansprouts come mixed with a smidgen of pondweed. Then there’s the kitchen standards; chopped peanuts, minced red chilli, a jar of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and one of soy sauce. She’ll ram the lot inside a polystyrene box, give you some wooden chopsticks and a plastic spoon and seal the lot with an elastic band. Quick tip: The elastic band business in Vietnam is a total goldmine. I gather 100’s of the things every month. Street stalls, restaurants, market sellers, you name it. Everything is bagged and sealed elastically in this country.
Mobile street sellers are always worth checking out, but this isn’t a dish I’d bother hollering for again. It looks great, doesn’t it? But the Cha gio weren’t fresh enough and the bean centre tasted like bland solid yellow dust… kind of. I did like the supple tofu and the bite a dip in the dark, but oh-so-light nuoc mam gave it. The noodles and egg combo were fun and I like my pondweed, but this is a filla, not a feast. Still, at 5000VD I’m not complaining. Hell, I’ll even splash out and wash the lot down with a Mia da.
You’ll always find one when you need one. In fact there’s a veritable glut of these on zoo street. 1500VD is slightly cheaper than other haunts. Quiz-time: There’s no prizes for guessing the name of the bird from the zoo, but you’ll look dead clever in the comments box if you do know.