Tuesday I went on a guided street food tour arranged by Onetrip, a tour company that is affiliated with Christina’s where I’m staying. I was picked up at 5.30 pm by Binh, my guide for the night. He supplied me with a helmet and promised to take good care of me as I am more or less a scooter virgin. Binh spoke really great English and was all smiles, putting me instantly at ease. As the sun set over the city we slipped into the insane traffic and drove to the outskirts of District 1 for our first of many, many meals that night!
We started at a stall serving build-your-own rice paper rolls. We sat at a small table and Binh taught me how to wet the rice paper using a damp piece of salad, put in a myriad of fresh herbs such as mustard leaf, fish mint etc. followed by cucumber, beef rolled in more herbs and finally how to roll it all in to a fresh spring roll (his) or spring-hot-mess-package (mine). There were two kinds of fish sauce: regular (yummy) and fermented (sweet baby Jesus what did they kill and put in here?).
Moving along, we drove for a good 20 minutes through the tunnel under that Saigon River to the other side in an area Binh called “couples road”. Apparently Vietnam is still a traditional country when it comes to dating and young couples cannot meet up and make out anywhere they might be seen by their elders. So they drive to the other side of the river and park their scooters along the road and sit on them with their love interest, holding hands and chatting.
At the end of the road we arrived at a small park for our second meal and awesome views of Saigon city centre across the river. We sat in small plastic chairs eating my now absolute favorite street food, bap xao, sautéed sweet corn with butter, dried shrimp, scallions and a healthy dollop of chili. YUM!
At this point I took the opportunity to question Binh on everything from his lovelife to his education. I can’t help it! I am so curious as to how life and love differs from place to place and culture to culture. Also I had been hugging this guy intensely on the scooter for 2 hours so it only felt right to get to know him a little! 😉
After a short while however clouds of mosquitos from the river, sent us driving back to the city, for more culinary adventures. We arrived in an alley that I would never have dared venture into if I was alone. It was dimly lit and had only a few street food stalls and brackish water running down the middle of the street with a funky smell. Binh led me to a stall manned by a woman, who stood over the stove making what looked like very yellow pancakes. These pancakes are filled with shrimp, pork, squid and beansprouts and are called bánh xéo. We ate with pleasure and were also served more fresh spring rolls and a wonderful dish consisting of a hot patty of bread, shrimp and coconut milk (banh khot).
Everything was great but I did at this point encounter one issue…in Vietnam they eat the shrimp with everything except the head. As a Dane I’m used to de-shelling the shrimp and had a tough time getting used to the whole shell thing. Binh however explained that the Vietnamese don’t drink much milk, as it is too expensive, so they eat the shell as a source of calcium…which totally makes sense.
Having eaten this meal it was now around 8 pm and I was getting seriously full! So Binh drove me to the flower market so we could take a little walk and digest our food! Also at this point my butt was killing me from the scooter ride so I was very happy to get a little movement in! 😉 The flower market was beautiful with an abundance of blooms that are shipped in from the Mekong Delta. We walked around the market for half an hour and at no point did I see anyone other than locals. I stuck out like a sore thumb, with my blonde hair and 170 cm! Several times little kids ran up to me and shouted “hello”, before running away squealing with laughter. It was hilarious!
Finally we reached the Cambodian market which is in direct connection with the flower market. The Cambodian market offers a wide range of food that is in fact a fusion between Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes. Binh and I found a few stools and enjoyed our last meal of the night: a Vietnamese pizza (consisting of fried rice paper, cheese, chicken, dried shrimp, chicken sausage, mayonnaise and tamarind sauce). Delicious and perfect for the mini-hangover I was nursing. 🙂
Driving back to my place, we approached the alley I mentioned in a previous post and Binh exclaimed, “Ah you live in “dog meat alley””. It turns out that the piglets I had seen roasting on spits were in fact not piglets at all! Binh explained that eating dog meat was mostly a northern tradition which had roots back to the famine in North Vietnam in the 1940s, where the population were forced to eat anything that was available. They began eating dogs and developed a taste for it, that still prevails. I won’t begin to judge, but can just say that I’m really happy I chose not to eat breakfast in dog meat alley!