After a restless night of thinking there was an intruder in the house, only to find out it was just Aaron using the bathroom, I slowly got up. Aaron found a good smoothies stall on Foursquare, so we decided to have that for breakfast. Unfortunately, they were not yet open for business when we walked by so we proceeded to get some coffee instead. On our way to coffee, we walked a store called Smoothie Factory, so we ended up getting smoothies anyway. It was a very nice and clean store with a fully English menu, so it was no surprise that the prices are also higher than it would’ve been for the smoothie at the stall in the alley. I got the “Factory Original” with strawberries, mango, peach, pineapple, banana, papaya, turbinado and protein. It tasted the same as something I would get at booster juice. In case you were wondering, turbinado is a pure cane sugar extract.
Onwards to Cafe Vy for some iced coffee. We were afraid they were full when we arrived to a cafe full of people. Instead, they reflexively pulled out 2 foldable chairs and plopped them in front of another table to create space for us. It is interesting that in Europe and Asia, seats are strategically placed for people-watching. This is not common practice in North America. So we took this opportunity to people-watch, while inhaling some second-hand smoke as we sipped our overly sweetened, yet so delicious, coffee.
We were very close to the Ben Thanh Markets, so we decided to walk over to have some lunch. I read to be prepared for vendors touching and grabbing customers who walk by to get them to purchase their products. I was not aware this also applied to the food court area. As soon as we walked in, people from left, right and centre were shoving menus into our faces and asking us to sit down. It became so overwhelming we had to walk out of the central area for a bit to take a breather to come up with a plan. Aaron wanted the dry vermicelli and he said he saw one stall that he was interested in during the chaos, so we dove in again. Unfortunately, he was unable to locate the specific stall and because we were trying to avoid certain more aggressive owners, we just sat down at a relatively busy stall called Quan an Kim Luong. Aaron had the Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong (vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork) and I had the Bun Rieu (a tomato-based broth noodle soup). I’ve never had Bun Rieu at the restaurant before so I can only compare it to the ones I’ve had at home. The soup base was pretty much identical to what I’ve had In the past. The toppings however, were different. My noodles were accompanied by meat balls, Cha Lua (Vietnamese ham) and interestingly enough, pork blood! The flavours worked very well together. The pork blood does have a strong taste on the first bite but it becomes more bland as I ate more of it. Aaron was also very happy with his vermicelli, topped with loads of peanuts. He was cautious with eating his veggies, since they were not cooked, so we will see how he feels after.
Next, we wanted to try some Banh Cuon or rice rolls. We found a stall specializing in it – Banh Cuon Nong. We shared fully loaded Banh Cuon with fried eggs, Vietnamese ham, and tempera shrimp. Wrapped in the roll itself was black mushrooms with ground pork. Even the fried egg was wrapped with rice roll. Top that all off with some cucumber, bean sprouts and Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) and it’s a party in my mouth. I finally occurred to me why instead of eating rice rolls with BBQ pork and soy sauce, like my friends from Hong Kong, I’ve always had it with dried shrimp, bean sprouts, fried eggs, cucumber and Nuoc Mam. It was actually a thing. It ended up being really spicy because Aaron added a whole bunch of fresh chilli’s to the Nuoc Mam, but it just adds to the deliciousness.
It was time to cool down with some dessert. I was looking for a stall which sold iced coconut drinks (specifically Che Ba Mau), but instead I was convinced to get some Che Ba Ba instead (a warm sweet coconut based sweet soup with sweet potatoes and cassava). Even though, it did not have the cooling effect we needed, we were given some free, albeit strange tasting iced tea for that effect. Our stomachs were satisfied and we headed home. I have a feeling we will have to come here again as there were still so many other stalls to explore.
Aaron and I both had some work to do, so we grabbed our stuff and headed to a local coffee franchise, Phuc Long. We got seats up in the second floor and watched the crazy traffic as we did our work.
Aaron was craving Banh Mi (Vietnamese sub) and luckily for us, we were right across the street from “the best Banh Mi in District 1” – Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. Right before we left, I quickly read a review by Mark Weins and was prepared for a chaotic long line up, requiring aggressive ordering techniques. We were pleasantly surprised that there were only a few people in line at that time. I had a limited Vietnamese vocabulary consisting of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and certain food items. I took this opportunity to order “2 sandwiches” in Vietnamese to try to blend in with the locals who were in front of me. It quickly became apparent that I do not actually understand Vietnamese when he asked if I wanted chilli in my sandwiches and I had no idea what he was talking about. Oh well. I tried. Since there was no actual seating area at this sandwich shop, we were wondering where we could eat our dinner. Luckily we saw a bar at the corner of the street, which already had customers who were also eating “outside food”, while enjoying some beer. So we did the same. Up to this point of the trip, portion sizes have all been smaller than the ones I’m used to in Canada. This Banh Mi, however, was impressively large with layers upon layers of pate, ham and other meat products. The taste was a lot sweeter than I’m used to and I quite liked it. The chilli added was not too spicy. Another thing I noticed was that they the rest of the sandwich was so delicious that I did not taste the cilantro in the sandwich, which I usually had to remove because I did not enjoy the taste of.
We decided to call it a night and went home to do some trip planning for our upcoming destinations. It was also then that I reflected on what an overwhelming experience it has been in Vietnam so far. I definitely have culture shock. First of all, the chaotic traffic, causing me to question whether I am actually capable to crossing the street by myself without Aaron’s help. It appears that the traffic lights are really just optional and the key is to look for a bit of a gap and just slowly walk across so vehicles can weave by you. Secondly, the currency is so small here, I often feel like something is highly overpriced in comparison to another vendor, only to realize it’s just a matter of cents. Thirdly, cleanliness is a luxury here. Even though the place we are staying at is already nicely renovated, we still have to walk through super narrow alleys with questionable water falling from above at times. As well, I constantly feel a film of dust/pollution on my phone cover. Aaron explained that culture shock is good and is one of the benefits from travelling and being exposed to different things and gaining new prospectives. Hopefully, after 3 weeks of immersion in this culture, things will become less new and scary for me