Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lost in the Flow

We're still buzzing from the night before, where the gates to Saigon food was finally opened to us, and decide to start things off with a quick bowl of pho at a place a couple of doors down from the hotel that always has a pretty steady clientele. The broth is weaker (perhaps because we hit it just after the morning rush) so it's not as good as Pho Hoa from the day before, but it's solid enough and we're relieved that we have a pho option nearby when we feel like kicking off the day.

One of the extremely frustrating things here is that, while food is quite plentiful and there is no shortage of places to eat nearby, we have to play it fairly smart and avoid a lot of them because of their questionable hygiene. And with restaurants here usually only specialising in one dish and people generally eating certain dishes at certain times, you need to time your meals. Everywhere else I've been on holiday it's been easy to find tasty food at all hours. But here it's actually really hard to find a place that satisfies all the criterion of a) clean(ish), b) open, c) selling food that's identifiable and d) serves something you want. In the mood for something good and fried at night? Going to be walking a LONG way. Want to get something quick to takeaway and eat at the hotel room while chilling out? Good luck finding that.

As a result of that and all the walking, I think I'm actually losing weight.

And that's a strange holiday experience. The foreign takeaway places are starting to look tempting to fill in the gaps. It goes against everything I've stood for in trips so far, but maybe I can convince myself it's okay if I head for an Asian outlet like Lotteria.

For lunch we head to a touristy restaurant in the middle of District 1 that has a bunch of stalls, all specialising in a couple of dishes that you would find around Vietnam. You order off a combined menu and they go to the various stalls and get the food.

Banh xeo is a dish I was pretty keen to try over here so that was a must order. It's a crepe stuffed with prawn, chicken and a few other things, named for the sizzling sound of the batter. Super tasty.

Banh beo is another one. Steamed rice flour cakes topped with dried prawns.

You're paying a lot more at this place than on the street, but it's convenient and comfortable so a nice change of pace from sitting on small stools and plastic chairs.

Dinner time sends us towards a pork and vermicelli place at the western end of District 1 that came well recommended. Though we get there and it's closed, so we have to again look for places that seem a) clean(ish), b) have good looking food, and c) look popular with locals. Thankfully we're close to the Tan Dinh market which has some stalls open at night, many selling the typical Saigon dish of broken rice (com tam). We end up and one and order it with a variety of porky goodness. Fermented sausage is a highlight and has me regretting my pork chop. Sugar cane juice (nuoc mia) on the side gives the dish a super tasty sweet/savoury balance and all up it's only $2. We walk around a bit more, thinking we might get more food, but nothing satisfies the requirements.

We eventually end up at Hoa Vien Brauhaus, apparently Vietnam's first craft beer brewery, for a drink and small bite. Their beers are pretty solid imitation of Czech beers and, while not too great, make a nice change to the shitty cheap Viet lagers we've been drinking so far. The food looks overpriced so we don't bother.

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