Enchanting Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly Saigon) - The Culinary Treats (2 of 2 Parts)
If there's one country to vote as one of the best culinary havens (if not the best) in South East Asia, Vietnam will definitely be it! Compared to its other Asian neighbors that are increasingly invading the global culinary scene, Vietnam offers no restriction to its cuisine. It is here where you can devour the foods with so much freshness and much gusto without aversion to other taste sensation like chili or hot & spicy (unlike Korea and Thailand). Vietnamese food is recognized as one of the healthiest cusines in the world. The dining table is always generously adorned with fresh herbs and vegetables. The most common ones are basil, mint, spring onions, long leaf coriander and lemongrass. Likewise, condiments are also very popular. Foods are typically accompanied with fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp paste and other home made concoctions.
On my first day in Ho Chi Minh, we went to the Vietnamese restaurant - Mon Hue in District 7. The restaurant features dishes from Central Vietnam and these are some of the best sellers..
Steamed Minced Pork - the flavor from the banana leaf blended well with the meat and gave a characteristic taste that's pleasing to the palate
Grilled Minced Pork - sweet, caramelic with a hint of grilled note. It's so yummy, one stick is not enough. It's perfect with a peanut sauce (below).
There are lots and lots of herbs and vegetables available to either top on your soup or roll in rice papers for a fresh spring roll.
Jackfruit Salad served with crispy rice crackers, this is my favorite! By far, one of the best salads I've tasted.
Beef Noodles - a classic example of umami rich broth
Even at the hotel, I simply can't resist a serving of hot, steaming noodle soup for breakfast just like this one - Prawn Noodle Soup
Vietnamese cuisine will not be complete without the popular soup or broth based dish called Pho. History had it that the Pho Noodle Soup first appeared in the 1920s. That makes the dish less than 100 years old! First, there was only Beef Noodle soup and it was being sold around the streets. When there was a shortage of beef, people started making Pho with Chicken and eventually became popular as well. Now, so famous is the dish that almost no street in Ho Chi Minh City is without a Pho Restaurant. But the must go to place is the one located along Pasteur street in District 1 - PHO HOA PASTEUR.
Inside the restaurant, you'll see this bold warning to customers regarding "me-too" Pho Hoa Pasteur. So make sure you visit the right one.
A generous servings of long leaf coriander, the defining taste and character to an authentic Pho together with lime and chili. The addition of garnishes such as these including bean sprouts and culantro are believed to be introduced in the south of Vietnam where HCMC is.
This was my bowl of Beef Pho (I preferred the one with cooked beef brisket) - truly nothing tastes better than an authentic one! The balance of umami-sweetness is just second to none!
Gio Chao Quay (Chinese fried dough sticks) - apparently this bread is served together with the noodle soup. Initially, I had some reservations of dipping it into the soup due to its high oil content but eventually, I yielded and it tasted good together with it.
Another famous Vietnamese dish - Fresh Spring Rolls served with sweet bean sauce
Hot Pot / Steam Boat is surprisingly very cheap in Ho Chi Minh. We visited one restaurant in District 4 serving hot pot dishes and as expected it was an experience to remember.
Boiled young beef (calf) with some wild leaves to go with the spring rolls. This served as appetizer to our Hot Pot dish.
Roasted Sticky Rice with Fried Salted-Dried Fish
To simply put; with all these types of foods, to appreciate Vietnamese Cuisine is to come with a big appetite and an adventurous taste buds.