Friday, 22 September 2017

🌭 THINGS THAT ARE TASTY — SAIGON

In Vietnam's second city there's no shortage of food. And when you add a sizeable expat community into the mix you get as many burger places and Western enclaves of deliciousness as you do bun cha and street vendors. The main streets flaunt sit-in restaurants, some decidedly upmarket, which you'd expect, and the rabbit warrens of alleyways that etch their way between these boulevards house thousands of little stalls and cubby-hole eateries. It's tasty business as usual.

🍴 La Fiesta
Craving good old portions of cheese and wanting to sink our teeth into some stupidly stuffed-full burritos we found ourselves greedily perusing the menu in La Fiesta, a highly tipped Tex-Mexican restaurant in Saigon. Run by a cheerful American guy with bubbly American service to match, La Fiesta turned out to serve up some of the best Mexican food we've eaten in Asia.

We kicked off dinner with some mouthwatering home-cooked nachos that came with heavily loaded with black beans, gloopy cheese and with added depth of flavour, chopped spring onions and fresh tomatoes along with the standard but highly integral salsa and sour cream. With our nacho-lined stomach were prepped and ready for the main deal we were served the burritos.

Oh burritos, how we have loved and missed you. In Taiwan we ate popiah, a type of rice-flour wrap stuffed with meat and crunchy greens, and in Korea we tried out Korean take on Mexican food at Fuzzy Navel, which was well appreciated. But this here at La Fiesta was the closest we had some in months and months to properly, well stuffed, home-style burritos.

The portions were Americanly massive. Double helpings of burrito heartily packed full with refried beans, rice, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and melted cheese. We tried the vegetarian tofu version, we'd never had tofu in a burrito before, but this being Asia, using the everyday staple for a vegetarian substitute just makes natural sense. We ordered the chicken burrito too which was rich and flavourful and very very thick indeed. These were the textures and cheesy deliciousness we so wanted and needed. Needless to say we left like boulders and rolled down the street for a beer.

🍴 Ban Trang Tron street food
We had been on the hunt for Ban Trang Tron since we were introduced to the street food in Hanoi by our friend Sammi. Whilst walking to the Opera House we walked past this lady and her street stall on the other side of the street and stopped by for a look on our way back.

She had the classic collection of ingredients needed to make Ban Trang Tron all prepared and chopped up in different sections on here cart. We attempted in Vietnamese to ask for one once we had waited in a line behind some hungry school kids on their way home from school. The lady seemed to understand us (what else would we've been asking her for?) and nonchalantly mixed up all the necessary tasty molecules to create the tasty classic Vietnamese street food dish, using scissors, as is normal, to cut up the sheets of noodles.

This version was spicy than the two we tried in Hanoi, more sour-tasting with less apparent sweetness. An easy stomach-filler to munch on whilst hot-footing around Saigon's tourist sights.

If you see someone with a little cart like this, just go up, do some smiling and maybe a little nodding and pointing at what you want and try the food. It's not as scary as it seems. The cost is so cheap and you will be trying a part of real everyday life in Vietnam. Don't get put off by the plastic bag: it's Asia—even ice coffee gets served in those land filling bad boys.

🍴 Bread and Butter
We will be honest and say that this place wasn't our first choice for dinner. We had walked on a wet dark night out of the main hub of town to try out a cool vegetarian place - the type with polished concrete floors and young students with half-shaved heads. It turned out to be laughingly overpriced and a fat old rat scurried around our feet as we sipped our beer. The last straw was they said they had no rice. No rice! So we left.

Bread and Butter was a comforting and warm haven in the loneliness of a busy foreign city. It was late when we arrived but we were greeted with smiles.



Hungover, hungry and wet from the rain we sat at a little round table and greedily munched on burgers we nodded to each other in approval of tastiness. This was the simple food we wanted and needed that night. The veggie burger and the classic cheese burger were everything we could have wanted to comfort us in the tropical downpours.

Some Japanese guys came in and sat at the bar enjoying a drink together. This scene made us smile, the cosy space helping to remind us of the same homely atmosphere of izakayas in Japan. A kind of easy feeling washed over us as the warming blues music followed us out the door and then it was back to our hotel to bed with full stomachs.

🍴 Royal Saigon
At first Royal Saigon could appear as one of those standard tourist restaurants filled with westerners. Its situated on the main strip where touts attempt to persuade customers in bars and restaurants, we probably would have given it a miss if it weren't for a recommendation from a couple we had met the night before and we are glad we went!

We tried the bun dau hu, one of the many vegetarian dish on the menu. Bu dau hu turned out to be a heaped bowl of rice noodles topped with crisy tofu and some chopped up vegetable spring rolls hidden in the mix – just the right amount of moisture and crunch - fresh salad and a zing of pickled carrots topped with a sprinkling of peanuts for depth of taste and a vegetarian dip on the side.

We also tried the meat version, bun thit nuong – cold rice noodles topped with vegetable goodness and succulent grilled pork. The quintessential Vietnamese combination of crunchy chewy, fragrant and spicy.

🍴 Goi
We first discovered the delights of banh goi in Hanoi. It translates to something like pillow cake and it appears to be a close cousin of the empananda, being as it is minced meat and cellophane noodles and usually an egg in there somewhere wrapped in a nicely greasy deep-fried pastry with similar fork-made markings round the closed edge. Or like a pasty. Anyway we found a cool place in Saigon that specialised in these delicious morsels and it was simply called Goi.

Located near the famous Post Office, this Hanoi-style eatery is small and feels like a secret, like the sort of place the Viet Cong might have planned their operations from, spartan and functional, complete with vintage posters, old clocks, squat bamboo tables. Even the crockery was themed. Reminiscent of national coffee-and-more franchise Cong Caphe, there seems to be a growing interest in and market for nostalgia.

Of course we tried the banh goi, which were literally delicious and came with cold rice noodles and a salad of lettuce leaves and coriander, and the obligatory sweet and sour dipping soup. We also tried bun dau, fried tofu with compressed rice noodles sliced into chunks, served with sprigs of tΓ­a tΓ΄ – a mint-ish cooling sort of taste – alongside chunky cucumber slices and soy sauce for dipping. We were eating just after the lunchtime rush clearly: we were the only ones in there eating, apart from the staff who, after serving us, crowded round one table in the corner chowing down on their own lunch.

REBECCA ALICE SAUNDERS
@yesnotravel


πŸ– More things that are tasty from… πŸ–
HONG KONG (πŸ‡­πŸ‡°)GUANGZHOU (πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³)GUILIN (πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³)YANGSHUO (πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³)
GUIYANG (πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³)KUNMING (πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³)HANOI (πŸ‡»πŸ‡³)HUE (πŸ‡»πŸ‡³)

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