This was only my second time in the wonderful, electric Southern Vietnam city of Ho Chi Minh. To say food is important here, as it is across Vietnam, is an understatement. You can’t walk anywhere without the sights & smells of food. I was only there for a short time but I managed to squeeze in a few foodie experiences.
One evening I was taken to a very local & popular ‘pavement’ restaurant for dinner where I was firmly in the hands of my Vietnamese colleagues. It was quite an experience as a conveyor belt of local food came to the table. I enjoyed [& persevered] the good, bad & ugly. The good was the Caramelized Pork [delicious to dip the varied fresh green veg into], the bad was the Duck Tongue [unless of course you’re a fan of spicy sinew & brittle bone] & the ugly were the whopping snails [ugly, but tasty]. The food was interrupted frequently by the compulsory ‘mot, hai, ba, dzo!’ leading to getting rid of whatever beer you might have left in your glass. Up in the North, in Hanoi, it tends to be vodka that gets slammed but down in Ho Chi Minh beer is the drink of choice. Probably not a bad thing given I had a mouthful of Duck Tongue. Not sure I could have slammed too many vodkas with the taste of sinew & tongue.
So, coming out of that particular night, it was a slightly more sophisticated lunch that I will review. My friend & I headed to Nha Hang Ngon, a popular spot packed with both locals & ex-pats. It’s very central in District One and on the Pasteur Road & a good introduction to local Vietnamese food in an beautiful, air-conditioned beast of a restaurant that has courtyards, romantic hideaways & a giant indoor restaurant. The first thing that strikes you are the rows upon rows of local cooks working their magic around the periphery of the restaurant each keen to show off their unique dishes. It’s like an open market meets buffet meets open kitchen. I naively got quite excited about the prospect of wandering around picking bits & pieces directly from the sellers but was told that it was strictly table service. That said it was fun to check the fifty odd stalls with their fresh food heading out to the hungry diners.
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what we ordered but I can tell you that the spicy, fresh papaya salad with juicy prawns was a hit. Even better was the stack of perfectly cooked pork belly alongside little noodle duvets & a bunch of fresh greens to make your own little parcels. I also had a classic Pho with chicken & vermicelli noodle which to be honest was a little disappointing. I would give the Pho a miss & instead opt for the dry noodle dishes which were fabulous. We had a beef & vermicelli one packed with spring onion, garlic, spice & greens. We also had my new favourite veg dish, Bong Thien Ly Xao Toi which is a simple stir fried Thien Ly Flower tossed with garlic, salt and pepper in a wok, & served hot. I had never had it before but I could [& did] eat it by the bucket load. It was a lot of fun with good service & fast, super fresh food coming straight from the stalls.
I would really recommend heading to Nha Hang Ngon. It’s a good balance of authentic, albeit safe, Vietnamese food & gives you the opportunity to try out as many dishes as you could possibly want. Admittedly they weren’t all hits, but if you’re after a good introduction into Vietnamese food then it’s perfect. No duck tongue, but honestly, not a bad thing.
Nha Hang Ngon, 160 Pasteur, Bến Nghé Quận 1 Thành phố