Asia, Vietnam

Asia Day 5: HCMC

Photo of the day: Banh Xeo @ Banh Xeo 46A

I started my day early at 6am, doing some blogging. Then I received a phone call from my cousin asking if I wanted breakfast. We quickly got ready and threw some laundry into the machine. We then headed over to my cousin’s and enjoyed some Bun Mien Mang ordered from a food place just around the corner. After we were done, we just had to leave the dirty dishes outside and they will pick it up. Back to the food. I have had Bun Mang before with the regular vermicelli noodles, and this is the first time I’ve had Bun Mien. Mien, is a glass noodle made with seaweed and cassava flour instead of rice flour. The broth is a bit sour, which is not unusual for Mien. The duck was meaty and the bamboo shoots were not overwhelming. I prefer the fatty, more salty broth my aunt makes so I think my vote would be for Bun and not Bun Mien next time. Aaron was wondering where we can get good fruits nearby and my cousin was nice enough to walk us over to a small “market” in some random alley way and we picked up some papaya and jackfruit. After hearing Aaron wanted durian, my cousin was calling around to see where we can get some but wasn’t able to. I don’t think I’ve ever had jackfruit before. I was expecting it to be like durian but instead, it had a nice sweet bubble gum smell. The texture is a more firm and less gooey version of durian. The taste was sweet but not overwhelmingly so. We apparently only bought 1/4 of the fruit but the amount from it was astonishing, probably enough to feed a few families. 

Shopping for fruits in a local market
Shopping for fruits in a local market. Photo credit: Aaron.

We figured it was time to go home to hang up our laundry sooner rather than later. Our plan was to visit the Reunification Palace today but first, lunch! I felt like our breakfast was rather heavy, so wanted something smaller. Sounds like it is time for Banh Xeo! It was quite out of the way but we wanted to go to Banh Xeo 46A – previously visited by Anthony Bourdain. After a quick uber ride, we arrived at this busy spot. We ordered the extra-sized Banh Xeo between the two of us and Aaron ordered some Cha Gio (spring rolls) on the side. Let me first explain what Banh Xeo is. On first glance it looks like an omelette but there is actually no egg in the batter. It’s actually just rice flour with water and turmeric powder which gives it its yellow appearance. First, some shrimp, pork and onion is added to the pan, then the batter is poured over it. This was cooked over charcoal. The mung bean and bean sprouts were added in later. The Cha Goi arrived and was chewy, cold and basically not good. Then the star arrived. The Banh Xeo was nicely yellow and filled with yummy goodness. I took a bit of the pancake off to try and I was in love right away. It was super crunchy and had a nice hint of sweetness. I cut of a section of it, placed it in my bowl and poured some customized Nuoc Mam on top of everything. We both agreed that one of the things we would miss is the Nuoc Mam. There was always a jar of chill at the table and we just scoop a nice spoonful into the fish sauce provided. It is so much better than the prepaid ones in Canada. I choose not to use too much of the greens provided because of the “boil it, peel it or forget it” rule. From my first chopstick-full of the Banh Xeo, I knew this was going to be my favourite food of this trip so far. The shrimp tasted so fresh and the bean sprouts helped to neutralize some of the stronger tastes of the meat and sauce. If I were to come back, I would definitely order a regular sized Banh Xeo all to myself! Forget about the other items – or at least the Cha Gio. This was one of our more pricy meals (~$10) in HCMC but even so, it is pretty cheap for Canadian standards. 

Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace

Feeling content, we took a nice 20+ minute walk to the Reunification Palace. We spent quite some time in there exploring each room of the palace, while learning about some of the history of HCMC. There were multiple tour groups in there speaking Chinese, English, and Korean. There were enough signs and displays to explore without a guide, plus, I caught a few things here and there from overhearing the tour guides around me. It was a nice way to spent the afternoon, especially with all the green space around the palace. We then walked home and Aaron wanted to go to a nearby coffee shop to work, while I stayed at home to rest, to finish some more laundry and to do some blogging. I wasn’t feeling very well, probably from all the tropical fruit I’ve had today, so we just picked a restaurant close by for dinner, which had good reviews on Foursquare – Pho Hai Thien. Upon reading their menu, we found out that they serve innovative vegetable-infused pho noodles. I ordered the Pho Ga Tai Vein (pho with chicken, rare beef and meatballs. I was disappointed that the beef was not rare and the meatballs were not really balls but just a cluster of some kind of ground meat. The broth was similar to something I could get in Canada. The noodles was interestingly orange in colour and tasted just like the regular noodles we got at Pho Quynh the other day. Overall, I was disappointed with this meal. The place looked like a nicer restaurant but the AC was ineffective in cooling the place down. The only thing that was still constant, however, was the chilli. I threw in a few spoonfuls and inhaled my meal, nonetheless.

  Pho Ga Tai Vein with veggie-infused noodles @ Pho Hai Thien
Pho Ga Tai Vein with veggie-infused noodles @ Pho Hai Thien

Aaron wanted ice cream so we stopped by Swensen’s. A nice ice-cream parlour selling ice cream at basically North American prices. He just had a scoop of the vanilla. The service was very good and the server was very polite despite our small order. The ice cream itself, however, was not impressive. I have had my fair share of vanilla ice cream and there is something off about the taste. It was time to call it a night and I quickly passed out on the couch once we got home.

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