I’ve been sitting in a pan of boiling mercury all morning, flagellating myself with birch twigs and stubbing cigarette ends out on my forearms such is my guilt at not blogging this joint previously. I’ve been coming to Banh Tam Bi at 368-370 Hai Ba Trung Street for well over a year for two fabulous dishes. I come here for Chao ca (Rice porridge with fish) and bi cuon (pig fat herb rolls).
I haven’t tried anything else on their extensive menu, not even the signature dish – banh tam bi – a light noodle/coconut juice dish – because the chao ca is such a spectacularly scoffworthy soup/porridge hybrid. The bi cuon are also the best I’ve tried in Saigon. Pictured above we have the chao ca assembly line. The green herb nearest the camera is rau dang. It’s a harsh, bitter bitch so you might want to go easy on her. She also rears her head in the bun mam hedgerow selection.
I’m told rau dang is fabulous for colds. I’ve been suffering
from the worst cold in history recently, so I’ve been putting that theory to the test. Rau dang may well have cured colds of yore, but it did sod all for mine. That bug took three weeks to finally kick the bucket. Chao ca is a combination of fresh steamed fish, mangolled rice, straw mushrooms, spring onion, beansprouts and a bonkers good pork stock. The rau dang comes as a side dish along with some raw beansprouts, slice of lemon and the condiments; minced red chilli and some kinda black beans. See the spread below.
Throw in too much of the evil chilli mob and you’ll boot the crap out of the flavour, but some folk like it that way. I prefer to stir in a couple of spoonfulls of the black beans. It’s marginally sweet, the rice is still crunchy, so are the mushies and the boneless fish flakes in mouth sized chunks. The whole bowl is an electrifying eat. I don’t mean that in the literal sense, this dish won’t actually wire you to the mains, electrify you and leave you an unseemly smouldering heap of charred flesh on the restaurant floor. At least that isn’t my experience. However, it will send a few tasty volts down your gullet.
I often do the takeaway thing from this joint, but it’s also a pleasant enough place to hang and eat in-situ. There’s a wee annexe next door for the inevitable overflow of customers. The rather good Hong Thang
roasted poultry shed is two steps and a horses sneeze up the road. Banh
Tam Bi is clean, exceedingly popular and often runs out of my faves alarmingly quickly. Avoid any tearful
tantrums and arrive early. Chao ca is 17,000VD a bowl and you’d be a fool not to give this one a shot. The bi cuon, (not pictured as they were consumed a bit too greedily… but click the link for a previous score) go for 3,000VD a roll. More snaps from this shack at the chao ca photostream. And here’s the business card. You can also see my own attempts at making chao. Not as good as Banh Tam Bi though, no way.