It all starts with a good bowl of Pho – Vietnamese rice noodle soup in a clear broth is garnished with ingredients such as green onions, white onions, coriander, Thai basil, fresh Thai chili peppers, lime wedges, bean sprouts and coriander. Fish sauce , hoisin sauce and chili sauce add the final touches to complete it.
An amazing array of flavours with the crunch from the sprouts and freshness from the herbs. The clear broth is flavorful and the fish sauce makes it really special. Its a must-eat-daily bowl of goodness while watching the busy water traffic on the lazy Mekong river, from the rooftop cafe of Hotel Majestic.
Another favorite is the Vietnamese Sandwich – Bahn Mi. We chanced upon this bakery in District 1, also grilling pork, chicken and sausages. They offered fresh, oven-warm and aromatic range of French baguettes and breads, spread with pâté, and custom filled with your choice of grilled pork, vietnamese sausage and crisp strips of cucumber, cilantro and shredded pickled radish and carrots.
Shopping is hungry work and the Vietnamese salad roll- Gỏi cuốn, is a rice paper roll wrapped around pork, shrimp, herbs, rice vermicelli and other ingredients. These are light, served at room temperature, and are not deep fried. We visited a smart eatery Wrap & Roll, that serves different types of filling to make into your own spring rolls in a clean and friendly place. All orders come with a big plate of assorted greens like sprouts, basil, mint, and lettuce, and a small pile of vermicelli noodles. Roll it all up in a rice paper wrapper and dip it in the bowl of fish sauce, and it’s a perfect sampling of a Vietnamese classic.
Inspired by the Travel Channel, a visit to Com Nieu Saigon for its Com Dap – smashed rice, an entertaining bowl-breaking, rice-throwing spectacle. Its was a BIG disappointment. The old restaurant has moved across the road to in an imitation of a fine dining restaurant with high prices, slow service and not so great food. The original glory seems to have faded with passing of its founder Madame Ngoc.
The construction of buildings around the city is frantic and the roads a blur with zipping two-wheelers. The Bitexco Financial Tower dominates the skyline with 68 floors and has been inspired by a lotus bud (Vietnam’s national flower), alongside other skyscrapers, expensive restaurants and slick bars that are everywhere.
But my favorite activity in Ho Chi Minh is exploring the local markets, and the best is Cho Ben Than in District 1. A huge covered market with clearly defined areas based on goods sold. The sheer variety and volume at really affordable prices. Its so much fun. After 6pm every evening the market moves outside on the streets around the market building.
Its definitely a great place to shop for clothes, hand embroidered linen, lacquer ware, trinkets and food. All kinds of dried fruits, sea food and other food stuff is available in a bewildering array – a kaliedoscope of sights, smells, tastes and sound.
With all the amazing finds at the Ben Than Market, we could not wait to explore Cho Binh Tay in District 5, the chinese district. It was another world.