Eating the city: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

There’s really no such thing as bad food in Saigon, but there were definitely favourites that were done exceptionally well. Here’s what to look out for when you eat your way around the city…

 

Pandan waffles.
Soft and hot and chewy and ridiculously delicious, this is the street corner dessert dreams are made of. Don’t let the weird green colour put you off; look for it like a beacon if happiness when you pass the ladies on the streets manning their little carts.

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Banh mi.
Preferably pork. Don’t screw your nose up at the slathering of patê, because it’s magic mixed in with the pork and fresh herbs. The fresh baguettes have a shell like glass covering the cloud-soft inner. This was breakfast for us every morning in Saigon, and at under AUD$2.00 each, you’d be crazy not to!

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Fresh spring rolls.
If you see spring rolls on a menu, and you have the option for fresh and fried, try the fresh ones occasionally. When you’re hot and sweaty from walking around the city, sometimes a fresh prawn rice paper roll with a cold iced tea is exactly what you need without even realising it.

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Bun cha.
Again, preferably pork. Because a big bowl of vermicelli topped with juicy pork and fresh herbs and pickled veggies is the ultimate night market meal at the end of a big day. And out of Hoi An, Hanoi and Saigon, I liked the Saigon version best!

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Eat here: Mai Lan Bakery, Melbourne

Mai Lan Bakery
335 High St, Preston, Melbourne

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Husband and I are those idiots who get up on a Sunday morning and go for a 15 – 20km walk, finishing up when most other people are waking up to a nasty hangover. Maybe because of our past jobs in the health and fitness industry that necessitated early starts, our body clocks automatically wake us early even when there’s no alarm set, even if we have been partying a little bit the night before – me around 7am, he around 8am. The bonus of these walks around our northern suburbs is that we’ve found some absolutely amazing places! This is why your own two feet will always trump any other form of transport – you just can’t find as many cool things when you’re not exploring on foot!

We came across this place on High St, Preson on one of our walks; because it was early Sunday morning and we’d already had some breaky, we didn’t stop to eat, but returned the weekend after for lunch on Saturday, and have been back more than a few times since. Preston is lucky to have a pretty big Vietnamese community, which means there is a lot of really good food around – the banh mi is absolutely phenomenal here, easily as good as I ate in Vietnam!

The standard Vietnamese pork roll is delicious, but my favourite one here is the BBQ’d pork, which is this scary looking sausage thing below. It tastes incredible, I don’t even want to know what’s in it; I don’t care. It tastes SO GOOD! Also, heaps of carrot, cucumber, sauce/pate and coriander on a super soft roll baked in house. It’s just magic, really, not much else I can tell you. And the best part? Unlike all the fancy sandwich establishments popping up which are feeling the need to charge upwards of $9 for a banh mi sandwich, it costs only $4.30 here! Which leaves you change to buy a tasty sugary treat on the way out (it IS a bakery, after all)!

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It’s not fancy, it’s not gourmet, it’s not going to be in any foodie magazines. But it is good, honest sandwiching from lovely people, with a pretty good local Vietnamese client base, so you know they’re doing something right – get stuck into it!

Eat here: N. Lee Bakery, Melbourne

N. Lee Bakery, Collingwood, Melbourne
220 Smith St, Fitzroy

I fell in love with the humble banh mi after eating a few in Vietnam; when they’re done freshly and properly, they’re just about the best sandwich you could possibly ask for. Traditionally, you’re looking at a super fresh, slightly crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside roll, filled with pate, butter, grilled pork, cucumber, carrot, chilli and coriander. They’re the ultimate Vietnamese street food – super cheap (I can’t remember paying more than the equivalent of AUD $1.20 for one in Vietnam), hand held, and fresh (read: not deep fried).

Despite Melbourne’s huge Vietnamese population, I’ve been a little hesitant to start my banh mi hunt back at home, because I know what they’re meant to taste like now. What if my very high expectations are dashed? I can’t be wasting valuable calories and stomach space on crap food! But, alas, I had a craving for one, and cravings must be met. A quick fact finding mission led me to N. Lee Bakery. I was already familiar with the name, given the one on Collins St near the post office that I pass every now and then while I’m out running work errands. The one husband and I visited was the Smith St store. We rolled up just before 12pm on a sunny Saturday, and found ourselves around 8 deep in the already growing line. By the time we’d ordered and sat down to unwrap our sandwiches, we looked up and saw this line out the door. It was crazy!

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I was pretty excited to see in the window the sign advertising the day’ special – crackling pork! My favourite! Husband got the grilled pork. First up – insanely, unbelievably cheap! Mine cost $6.80, and husband’s $4.50 – I actually asked the lady to repeat herself when she asked for the total, because it sounded too cheap, especially considering how big the sandwiches actually were! No wonder the line was out the door! And check out the nice, crispy bits of pork in mine..

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The banh mi themselves – all reservations I had were instantly dashed on the first bite. It was easily as good as the stuff I ate in Vietnam, and made the same way, even down the the pate and butter smears to start the process. I had a few bites of husband’s sandwich too, and the pork in both was fantastic, really tasty and perfectly cooked. And stacked full, as you can see!

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Honestly, there’s nothing more I can say about the banh mi from N. Lee other than they’re making the best stuff I’ve had out of Vietnam, and I plan to make myself a regular visitor at the CBD one on lunch breaks!