Oh my. Vietnamese food is all goodness. Heaven’s delight.
Honestly I had zero idea what specialty Vietnam has, until my co-editor at IRRI, Lanie, advised me to try pho, noodles made of rice! (they’re abundant with rice, Vietnam being the world’s second largest rice exporter (after Thailand).
That advice came to me weeks before my Saigon trip and I’ve forgotten about the pho? po? ho? (I even forgot what it’s called). The first time I tasted this pho was when I ordered room service after a long day of work that ended past dinnertime. I was scanning the hotel menu, stopped at ‘Vietnamese specials,” saw pho, and dialed the room service.
I fell in love with it at first sight when it was delivered.
The broth was holy. Noodles, hunger-satisfying. Chicken slices crowded the bowl. And the magic ingredients: herbs. Those herbs taught me what good food is. All those flavors playing with my taste buds really know how to please the senses, as if I’m eating and relaxing and having a back massage and body spa all at the same time.
I used to struggle with my chopsticks. But back in Singapore I used to eat Ban Mian (hand-kneaded egg noodles with anchovies and garlic) using chopsticks so I’m glad I didn’t have to ruin my pho experience with a fight with my sticks.
I so fell in love with chicken pho, that the next morning, this is what I had again during the breakfast buffet.
I did some online research about restaurants in Ho Chi Minh and saw Pho 24 and Pho 2000 as popular restaurants that serve various types of pho in very affordable prices. Tourists won’t miss these eateries because many corners in HCM have Pho 24 and/or 2000.
First, they will serve you the happy plate of herbs and onions and lemon and monggo sprouts and chili and other condiments. A wet tissue or towel is a staple in many restaurants here. Then they serve the hypnotizing broth with choice of chicken, beef, seafoods, or veggies.
I’ve had chicken lots of times. Beef, too. So, I tried vegetables at Pho 2000 near Saigon Center. When the bowl was served, I smiled at the party going on in my soup.
Another noodle soup I tried is Hue Beef Muscle Noodle. The broth was spicy and flour noodles aren’t as good as the rice noodles. All in all, slurping it was not exactly as satisfying as the pho experience, but it’s interesting because it’s like playing a game with my tongue: “What’s that leaf you’re eating,” or “When will the burning spice leave your mouth.”
Before my pho craze, I was already nuts about spring rolls and vermicelli noodles at the Vietnam House.
They were hesitant to come in first because Vietnam Dong can be quite confusing: a complete meal can cost up to VND120,000.
I told them, that’s only 6 dollars.
The place was cozy and food presentation was awesome.
Mark, a lover of Vietnamese food, taught us how to eat our spring rolls. You envelope the roll in a sheet of chinese cabbage with rice noodles and herbs, dunk it in the dip and bite. Yum.
Eating outside was a nice break for the team because hotel buffet may be excellent, but we can’t eat lamb chops and sushi and other “un-Viet” food all the time. It’s cool to eat Vietnamese food in Vietnam. This is not to say, though, that I ate noodles all the time.
eating with a Pinoy local
My friend Juni who’s in the garments/pottery/fashion industry in Saigon treated me to dinner and lunch. Our first stop was his favorite Mediterranean resto just in front of where I stayed (Sheraton).
Next day, Juni took me to a lovely Vietnamese restaurant where food is prepared on the sides of this big place.
Shrimp around sugarcane. Rice pads on the side.
back to sheraton
What more can I ask from a five-star luxury hotel. Service is impeccable and food is French. Vietnam used to be a French colony and we all agree that it’s the French who put the “yum” factor on their plates.
Even their room service burgers are to die for.
No Vietnam trip should end without coffee. Vietnam is also a giant coffee exporter for simple reasons that their vast hectares of land are well-used and, most importantly, their coffee kicks ass.
First time I was served iced coffee, I looked around in stealth, wondering why I was given a glass full of ice and a quarter cup of coffee being strained from a tin can. I was waiting for anyone to give me some water, then I figured out, that’s it. You pour the thick coffee to the ice and voila: iced coffee.
At least when I ordered Iced Milk Coffee, everything’s been mixed for me.
Flavors of Vietnam
Like in any other Southeast Asian country, street food in Vietnam is also a must-try. Since they were colonized by France, you can see so many stalls selling baguettes. For stuffing, there’s pork, cucumber, basil, and onions among others.
I wish I had more time to taste the other delicacies but I have to return to Singapore.
My gastronomic adventure in Saigon was one of a kind, from the expensive gourmet
to budget-friendly street foods.
Eating itself can be an adventure in many ways because sometimes you don’t know what’s in your soup or how you’re supposed to prepare your own coffee in a restaurant. If I would list down the reasons for returning to Saigon, food is definitely in it.
(As for my other adventures in Vietnam, that’ll have to be the next posts.)