Chao Trang. An alleyway rice porridge stall is about as simple as streetfood gets in Vietnam.
Chao Long, or innards rice porridge, is a Saigon street stalwart. One I’ve ingested, and blogged before here and here. Tiet Canh, blood soup, is less common. It’s normally made with duck’s blood (tiet canh vit) or sometimes with pig’s blood (tiet canh heo). In a previous life, I had a version with goat’s blood in Hanoi (tiet canh de??). The mindbend for many is that we’re talking fresh blood, stuck in the fridge to gently conjeal. It’s a Vietnamese dish designed for drinking booze and it’s one that makes very little effort appeal to the taste buds of the non-Vietnamese diner. You will find a few chopped peanuts scattered a top your blood, maybe some rau ram, but that’s as far as it goes for fanciness. Blood soup has the oddest texture and tastes strangely metallic. Spotting this stall on a stroll yesterday reminded me of the dish. I’ll never ever blog it in anger, as I’ll never ever eat it again. I believe the popularity of the duck version has taken a bit of a dive since the onset of bird flu. Here’s a restaurant review that covers the duck blood version. And here’s a cracking photo of a table awash with Tiet Canh.
This is Ngoc Bich at 113 Pasteur street, a chao (rice porridge) speciality restaurant. Pig heart, offal, fish, eel and chicken chao to be precise. Passed it many times, never stopped. Today I did. I’m here for the Chao ca. I’ve blogged another, different (southern) version of the dish before. But Ngoc Bich serves the Hanoi version which is quite a different kettle of boiled rice. Ngoc Bich restaurant is Hanoi without the shouting, the floor covered in shit and the wobbly tables. The joint’s decked out in pine for crying out loud, the two TV’s are turned off and the large aquarium to one side of the restaurant doesn’t form part of the menu. So northern dish, soft, frilly, southern surround.
The Chao ca we had previously on Hai Ba Trung street is a stupendous flood of
yum-yum-gobble-gobble-goodness, plate of herbs, bean sauce, chilli. Quite frankly it is an unforgettable dining experience. Ngoc Bich is more… well… the chao your Mum
makes. You like it, ‘cos your Mum made it, but that doesn’t mean Ma wins the rice porridge category at the local woman’s institute year in, year out. Don’t get me wrong. Ngoc Bich’s chao is fab – fresh thin flakes of fish, a chicken rich thick stock, mushy rice, dill, spring onion. It’s a superb dish and done totally authentically northern. Therein lies the problem. Saigonites take the same dish, snazz it up, keep the rice slightly crunchy and stick an unholy herbzip on your sideplate. What’s destined for your gob ends up rocking several worlds, flattening a few universes and punching your gastronomic lights out every single mouthfull. Not convinced? You decide – southern vs. northern. I rest my case.
20,000VD with an iced tea.
I find this guy peddling his wares outside a school on Tran Cao Van street in District 1. The school is in the direct firing line of a ‘hotdog’ seller, a snack cart and various other food floggers on the lookout for business just before chucking out time at 11am. I’m down this street to score from the excellent bun cha shed. However, pulling up at this chao, rice porridge, cart gives me second thoughts.
He sells Chao huyet long, rice porridge with blood and innards. We’ve
covered this once before in district 10 and I take this chance encounter as a sign that I am called upon to compare notes. Yup, me got me some of that religion stuff. As
I mentioned in the previous post I’m slowly snapping any and every chao
long cart I come across in Saigon. It’s an attempt to document the
brilliant, if unimaginative, streetcart sign writing around town. Check out
the chao long photostream.
This vat houses the rice porridge and blood. The innards are showcased in the glass cabinet atop the stall. There’s something unnerving about crunching into pig pipes, tubes,
vagina and stomach. I’ll admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of
‘balls out’ offal, even if it is sunk inside a gloriously peppery rice
porridge. It’s all a bit too abattoir really. Nothing wrong with that,
but you know… it’s challenging food. Nowt wrong with the huyet, conjealed pig’s
blood, I can handle that no problem. Although, there’s no spice, no pazazz, no nothing
and I think, by rights, there should be. The pig deserved that.
I normally order my chao long huyet minus the long bit, i.e. those
crunchy innards. I do order it with the beansprouts and a few hacked up, crouton-esque quai for
good measure. However, on this ocassion I got so distracted taking photos that I completely forget to tell chef to hold the innards and double the blood. Oh well… you live and learn. It’s honest streetfare, 4,000VD a bowl, 1,000VD extra for
the quai. Highly recommended. A whole bunch of other stalls appear on Tran Cao Van Street just before 11am. Check out a few of them.
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.
Some weeks ago I promised that I would try and prove a theory I have about how sign writing on Chao long (Gut porridge) streetcarts is pretty much identical from cart to cart. Well, I don’t think I have absolute proof for you today, but I will have. Just give me time. I’ll update this post as and when I corner more chao carts.
Here’s a shot for my sight-impaired readers. This cart was located from just by the whopping great Saigon Post Office slap bang centre of town.
Take a look at the artwork. You can’t read, you can’t write, so what? There’s something tasty and steamy inside. No mistake.
From whichever angle you approach you will know there is chao long in this here cart.
Looks like a down at heel hotdog stand, but it isn’t. This mobile marvel is just one of a squillion trundling the ‘burbs at breakfast time. The nifty stall side writing is there to guide the clueless (me). I’m convinced there’s a Ministry of mobile stall sign writers somewhere in Saigon. Every one of these guys uses the exact same font to advertise their wares, but I’m buggered if I can find it on my Mac or at fontsrus.com.
When you start getting morning pangs for Chao long huyet you either are Vietnamese or you’ve been in Vietnam too long. Chao is a scrummy savoury rice porridge. You cook the crap out of the rice so it ends up as baby mush. We’ve ingested a couple of versions before, chao trang (rice porridge solo) and chao luon (rice porridge with eel). Hell I even had a crack at making an eel chao once. This version is different. Long means ‘innards, parts and carcass garbage’ – intestine, stomach, uterus, you know… the good stuff. Huyet is blood, pig’s blood I believe, congealed into an industrial brick. We’ve also seen it before in Bun rieu.
I find this stall holder pounding his way up a District 10 back passage. He displays his parts in the lower section of the glass cabinet on the left. I like the look of his intestines and pull up for a closer inspection. Above the innards tray we have quai, a fried breadstick, which we covered way, way back.
The chao pot comes with the regulation grubby tea towel come burn proof lid holder. Surrounding the main action we have bowls, cutlery and some spring onion garnish. I’m here for a takeaway score and the vendor opens up the main attraction to see if he can tempt me with what he has hidden under the hood.
The picture above is a bit crap, but it’s not out of focus and has not been tampered with. In a possible first for the Internet, what you are seeing is chao fog. It’s about the only fog you’re ever likely to see in the south of Vietnam and it smells scofftastic. I quickly score a two bag deal and a couple of quai and hustle back to Pieman towers to take my hit. It’s very good chao, made with a corkin’ pork stock and a generous helping of blood chunks. Sling in a few quai and you’ve got a premium quality brekkie on your hands.
The idea of parts porridge at 8am probably doesn’t appeal to the majority of noodlepie’s readership, which according to my statcounter consists of three foodies in Frankfurt, a moggy in Manchester and one very scared dog in a cage in Vinh. However, I strongly recommend you give it a go. It tastes better than it sounds and at 3,000VD a pop even my poorest and most endangered Vinh based reader could afford it. At today’s exchange rate, 3,000VD is precisely £NAFF. ALL or in US dollars $SOD.ALL. Don’t be put off by the stall’s retro look. The food’s fresh, healthy and pipin’ hot.
A noodlepie cooking lesson – this is a first and quite possibly a last… This recipe for Chao Luon (Vietnamese eel porridge) comes to you as part of the 5th ‘Is my blog burning?’ international cooking event. The idea for IMBB came from this proposal by Alberto, the author of Il Forno. Anybody with a blog can join in. The only rules are; you cook sommit, you write about it, you blog up on a certain day and you include whatever key ingredient was chosen for the event, that being fish today. I chose eel. Oh, and you tell whoever is hosting blog burning day. Today that be Wena at mum-mum.
Here’s what you’ll need to cook Chao Luon yourself. This recipe comes to you via a Vietnamese cook from the Mekong Delta. I think it’s great, but have no idea whether this is the definitive way to cook Chao Luon. Here goes…
600g Fresh Eel
A couple of chopped up Pork bones or a knuckle
1 or 2 cups of medium – long grain rice.
Salt, pepper and sugar
First sling the pork bones into a large stock pot filled with a third boiling water, add a couple of healthy pinches of salt. Let that fester away gently on a medium to low heat. Meanwhile, your eel should still be wriggling around the kitchen somewhere. Catch it and chop its head off and using a knife slit the still slivering body along its belly. Take any scrummy orange eggs out and keep them safe. Then chop up your eel into five or six pieces and clean them out under the tap. (The tail section of the eel I bought was still wriggling post head chop, belly slit, egg scoop and sectioning. The tail gave a final death-flick as it hit the hot stock pot.)
Sling all the eel pieces, including the head section into the stock pot. Also add the string of eel egg spawn at this stage. If you’re squeamish about eel murder, which is understandable, contract out the killing and dismembering to someone who isn’t. You could scrimp by using frozen or (better) fresh, pre-killed and prepared eel, but alive and slivering is the way to go, believe me.
Simmer that aromatic lot and skim any muck from the top of the stock as you wait. Also, you can finely chop the coriander and spring onions and put them in a small bowl at this point. After 5-10 minutes, take the eel and the eggs out of the stock pot and put on a side plate. Add the 1 – 2 cups of rice to the stock pot and continue simmering. While it bubbles away, strip the cooked eel from the bone and chuck the eel bones back into the stock pot. (Eel bones are supposed to be very healthy, particularly for people with back trouble.) The eel head can go in too. This needs to continue simmering uncovered for a further 40 minutes.
Now, back to your plate of cooked eel. Grind some pepper over the freshly cooked meat and eel eggs. It should smell great. There’s nothing liked the smell of a fresh eel, freshly cooked. Marvellous. Douse with a bit of fish sauce, sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sugar and scatter a wee smidgen of the chopped spring onions over the top (don’t add the coriander). Leave that lot on the plate to rest. Continue skimming the broth of scum as and when needed. Grab yourself a beer from the fridge, you’ve earned it. Noodlepie’s beer serving suggestion while waiting for a Chao Luon to cook is Exmoor Gold – if you can get it.
After your 40 minutes are up, add a little more sugar to the stock and take out the eel bones and marrow bled pork bones. The stock will have reduced and the rice will have gone slightly mushy. Now you can throw in the plate of seasoned eel meat and eel eggs. At this point you’ll need to check you’ve got your seasoning right. Taste and add fish sauce, salt, and sugar as you see fit. It’s also time to add 6 or 7 grinds on your peppermill. Once you’ve got it to your liking, turn off the gas, you’re done.
Serve in a soup bowl. You can sprinkle the chopped spring onion and coriander on top of your Chao Luon. Add more pepper if you like. If you can buy Quai (breadsticks) near where you live, they make a dip-tastic addition. The eel costs 90,000VD/kilo. If that’s all a bit Asiatic for your tastes, try this Italian recipe for Eels and Mash. Can’t be arsed to cook? you can get a decent Chao Luon at Quan An Ngon.
Start pounding the pavement of Saigon from 6pm onwards and you’ll see clandetsine culinary classics of every shade hogging the street side. It’s unlikely you’ll need to travel far for a taste of the nightime nosh scene. Darkness brings out a few distinct dishes that are missing during the day. This stall in District 12 doles out one of them, Chao trang (Rice porridge). There’s no sign telling you what’s on offer, and don’t even think ‘menu’. Locals know what it flogs, most Vietnamese would know too, foreign folk – even with a smattering of pidgin Vietnamese – are left clueless.
Most chao dishes come with various carnivorous nibbles inside, some veggies and seasoning, but Chao trang is nowt, but mushed up rice. According to this story, some diners add salted Chinese eggs or white radish. This stall had the eggs, but I opted for a side dish of shredded dried pork. It looks like knackered string and tastes pretty salty, but you do need something to catapault a chao trang out of bland-land. It’s healthy, it’s hot, it’s a snip at 3,000VD and it’ll fill you up, but that’s about all it’ll do. If you’re not into food that fills-with-no-frills, forget it. Move on to the next stall. Check out the Chao trang photostream and Download chao_trang_movie.mov
Quan An Ngon at 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 1 brings streetstalls in off the streets, dresses them up fancy, doubles the street price and hauls in punters by the hundredweight. The result is an illustration of the overwhelming appeal of street nosh. This place has around 400 seats and you’ll be lucky to find one free at lunchtime or dinner. The owner, purportedly a savvy Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese), had a superb idea – Scour the streets, find the best dishes out there, the best street chefs cooking those dishes, offer them a gig at a new restaurant and a regular, reliable wage. Bingo, Quan An Ngon was born in 2001. The owner recruited 20 or more cooks this way and each serves their own speciality inside Quan An Ngon.
I have a feeling the real draw is the fact that diners can peruse the stalls that line the perimeter of this indoor/outdoor restaurant – which is a bit of a courtyard-come-temple if you know what I mean – and get a sanitized sense of street eats without having to actually step foot in the gutter themselves – God forbid. I am a big fan, it must be said. I’ve never had anything I would call total crap here, but there are some dishes that are noticeably better than others. And I had two pipin’ hot hits on this visit.
First up is Chao luon (Rice porridge with eel) costs 17,000VD. Chao comes in several varieties, (Ga) chicken, (Muc) squid, (Vit) duck, (Tom) shrimp, (Ca) fish and (Long) offal. Chao luon is probably not the first choice of many in 31 degrees of sticky Saigon pre-rainy season heat, in an outdoor restaurant, with a limited number of fans, sitting under parasols and banana trees… but… I have a heavy Chao Luon habit to feed and, to my mind, this joint serves up porridge perfection.
There are two types of Chao Luon. One is the freshly exterminated eel cooked in with the porridge variety – this one can be a touch fiddly in the bone department. The other is the luon chien (fried) variety – the eel is deep-fried in a very light batter and thrown into the hot porridge just before serving. That’s the way I prefer it and that’s the way Quan An Ngon dish it up. It’s the porridge that takes the time, 3 to 8 hours simmering or until the rice is mushy and it… err… looks like porridge. Season, throw in the eels, splash of deep fried shallots, herbage, a side of quai (fried bread stick), half a lemon, chili sauce and you’re ready. It’s the slightly crispy texture of the fried eels combined with the smooth warmth of the porridge and a biting combo of pepper and chili that keeps me craving more. It’s simply yum.
Next up is a northern dish Banh Tom Ho Tay (Fried shrimp cakes) costs 14,000VD. Ho Tay is West Lake in Hanoi (that’s the big lake to the north end of Hanoi) and there’s one restaurant on Ho Tay called, imaginatively enough, Banh Tom Ho Tay and it’s supposedly THE restaurant for this dish. I’ve been there several times, it’s a tatty spot serving naff food. Quan An Ngon does the dish better. Plus, there are no rats, no crappy chairs, no knackered tables, no hordes of roaring drunks or floors littered with dinner debris. Quan An Ngon is civilised.
The shrimps are deep-fried in a light batter with slices of sweet potato served on a bed of lettuce and herbs with a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip with sliced carrots, chilis and su su. It’s crunchtatsic fun, I am a repeat offender – doesn’t matter what I order at Quan An Ngon, I always seem to have room to squeeze in some Banh Tom at the end. Naughty.