One Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City - Part 4
When Ben and I first decided we would visit Vietnam, naturally my mind instantly wandered to all the fabulous eats we would no doubt experience. Is there anything more exciting?
I was familiar with pho – at home we would indulge in weekly pilgrimages to Springvale or Richmond for a steaming bowl of comforting deliciousness. I had also eaten my fair share of spring rolls along the way. And while visiting France in 2009, I came across a brilliant dish that I now hold dear to my heart – Bun Bo Xao. Fresh vegetables, charred beef strips, thin, slippery rice noodles, all topped with fresh herbs and crushed peanuts, and doused with nuoc cham - it is seriously one of the best bowls of colourful, cohesive goodness I have ever come across. Plus it is fun to say, "Bun Bo Xao". So I knew a little about the cuisine, however I was very aware that there was an abundance of traditional Vietnamese dishes I was yet discover and try.
Somewhere along the road as I was researching what food I simply had to have whilst in Vietnam, I came across a recommendation for a little side-street restaurant that is purported to make the best Banh Xeo in the city. Interesting....They are also said to serve delicious beef in betel leaves. "Ok, get me there now"…
I did a little research on Banh Xeo, to find out what exactly this exotic dish was. Mr Google informed me that Banh Xeo is a very popular and traditional dish, which is common in Central Vietnam but also popular in the South. A rice-flour pancake filled with pork and prawns and other goodies - yes please!! I love pancakes each and every way.
We decided to have our first Banh Xeo experience at lunch-time during our whirlwind day, and so after visiting the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and the Reuinification Palace, we caught a cab to 'Banh Xeo' at 46A Dinh Cong Trang, District 3.
As soon as we saw the restaurant, pale green shutters and all, we knew it would be a gem. Long communal tables jutted out onto the street with locals lined up along the pews, enjoying a casual lunch. Ladies were cooking the banh xeo in the open air, which allowed the fragrant sizzle to waft towards the hungry patrons. I blame our enthusiastic order on this wafty aroma. We (naturally) selected the banh xeo, along with bo la lot and a serve of fried pork spring rolls. I also got a coconut for it's juicy goodness.
The fried pork spring rolls were thick and super crisp, with a very meaty flavour – not many other ingredients in there besides the pork! Wrapping the rolls in lettuce with mint, then dipping in nuoc cham (a fish saucy dipping sauce) is a must. I can't eat spring rolls any other way! They were quite good, but I didn’t love them. Though I was certainly pleased to have tried some authentic spring rolls - too often in Australia I have suffered through miserable versions.
As we had been told that the bo la lot ( grilled beef in betel leaves) was a must-try at this place, we were super excited when this fragrant little plate came to our table. The ground beef was so succulent, and the betel leaf was just gorgeous - very moist and only slightly peppery. These little cigars melted in your mouth. My goodness, they were one of the best things I have ever eaten.
Some very friendly local University students were sitting adjacent to us. We introduced ourselves, however I sadly cannot recall their names - where was my journal when I needed it!? They were students of public relations and English, and were keen to practise their language skills (which were very good, by the way!). They were fascinated with us, and how we came to find this little place in their corner of the city. The guy informed me that he grew up just down the street, and has been coming here since he was a young child. Here they were, the three of them, casually sharing a Banh Xeo as an afternoon snack - how lovely. One of the girls showed us how to wrap the bo la lot in the rice paper that came with the dish.
First rice paper, then the lettuce, herbs and vegetables, then the noodles, and lastly the beef.
Roll it up tightly and voila!
I always enjoy making random new acquaintances, especially ones that are handy with food tips ;) We had a lovely time, eating and chatting, comparing lives. It was surprising (or not...) to find that they're just like we were as uni students.
And now for the main event, the Banh Xeo. It was lovely. A beautifully crisp and super light pancake, filled with with bright, bursting prawns, corn kernals and bean shoots. The soft yellow tinge to the pancake (thanks to the tumeric) was particularly pleasing, aesthetically. Our Banh Xeo wasn't brimming with pork, but that was absolutely fine - the prawns and bean shoots added enough texture and flavour, and so the pork wasn't missed. A testament to how yummy it was? I like to think so.
Tearing off a piece, adding a lining of mint and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf added a lovely freshness to the mouthful. A cheeky dip in some nuoc cham livened it up even more. Although not bursting with complex flavours, this dish was delicious and utterly moreish.
I would definitely recommend visiting this no-fuss little spot if you ever have the chance. We had a delightful meal here, sitting outside and chatting with some friendly young locals, whilst tasting a number of absolutely delicious Vietnamese specialties. What better way to enjoy lunch on a whirlwind day in Ho Chi Minh City?