Saturday August 5, 2017
After our late night last night, we didn’t wake up until 11am. As it was raining outside, we didn’t feel especially motivated to get ready quickly. Around 12:30, we finally set out to have brunch at Bun Rieu Nguyen Canh Chau, another Mark Wiens recommended restaurant. Because of the rain, we called an uber. The 30 minute ride was only 100,000 VND ($5.56).
Unfortunately our uber driver dropped us off at the wrong restaurant. Similarly named and on the exact same street, we ended up at Bun Rieu Da Lat Que, and didn’t notice until we had already ordered… The bowls of noodles were still delicious, so who knows what we missed out on, oh well. There were only three noodle options on the menu. I ordered Bun Rieu Que, the dish the restaurant is named after, for 35,000 VND ($1.94).
The Bun Rieu broth is made from crab stock, tomatoes and rice vinegar, which gave it a lightly sweet, sour, and seafood taste – it was balanced and none of the flavours were overwhelming. It came four big pieces of fried tofu and three toonie sized meatballs, a giant hunk of pork, and a slab of crab paste. The rice noodles were the shape and size of spaghetti noodles, which I found kind of interesting. We were also given plates of herbs and lettuce, cooked bean sprouts and greens, and lime wedges to garnish our bowls with. It was tasty and a good, comforting meal to have on a rainy day.
Although there are many museums and historical sites to see in Ho Chi Minh, none of the reviews we read made it seem like they would be interesting to visit. As we only have two full days here, we figured we’d enjoy the city more and get a better feel for what is has to offer by eating our way around. We had planned to wander around after lunch, but as it continued to rain, we took an uber to Diamond Mall. Turns out there wasn’t too much to browse through at Diamond Mall, and surprise surprise, we found ourselves on the food level. After having some ice cream and buying some fruit, we left the mall and wandered the nearby walking street. It was lined with book shops and cafes and was very charming. It was also conveniently located beside the Ho Chi Minh Central post office and Notre Dame Basilica. These were two sites listed on many travel blogs and tour package itineraries as ‘architectural must sees’ in Ho Chi Minh. The post office looked like a train station from the outside, as that was its original purpose, but now is a fully functioning post office.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica was built by the French Colonists in the 1860s with imported building materials from France. It was interesting to look at, but looked as if it did not quite belong amidst the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh. Both were interesting to look at, but I don’t think I would have gone out of my way to seek them out.
As the rain had stopped, we took an uber to Nickol and Pauline’s family’s old house in Chinatown (their parents were born and lived in Ho Chi Minh before leaving after the fall). It didn’t take us too long to find the house and we were pleased to find it looked in great condition. There was a nice lady across the street who told us a doctor now lived there.
When dinner time rolled around, we pulled up Mark Wiens’ restaurant recommendations list and decided on Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake Inn) 46A. We took an uber from Chinatown to the restaurant and were dropped off in front of Tai Dinh Catholic Church. It was pink! It was so cute it almost looked fake.
Although we already tried banh xeo in northern Vietnam, it is apparently bigger in the south, almost like a dosa. This restaurant apparently makes the best banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh and was made famous after Anthony Bourdain are there.
The banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) was gigantic! We didn’t even order the ‘extra’ size, and it bigger than the dinner plate and stuffed thick with prawns and fresh bean sprouts. It was tasty, but lighter than the one in Hoi An. I think I liked how guiltily satisfying the Hoi An one was better. The batter seemed thicker and it was fried to crispy perfection.
We also got a small order of both the Bi cuon (shredded pork and vegetable wrapped in rice paper) and Goi cuon (pork and prawn wrapped in rice paper). I have been wanting fresh spring rolls this entire trip (even in Thailand when I saw them at the markets) and have been holding off until I found them at a restaurant here in Vietnam. They did not disappoint. They were fresh and had a nice bouncy texture from the noodles. There was also big pieces of prawn and pork, which gave them a good amount of flavour in addition to the herbs they were stuffed with. I think the main difference from the rolls I’ve had back home is that they had less noodles and were thinner. I actually like them better this way because you could taste the prawn and pork more.
Nickol ordered Chao tom (prawn coated sugar sticks), as she had it before. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be prawns wrapped around pieces of sugar cane and grilled. They were served with rice paper wraps, vermicelli cakes, and fresh vegetables for you to make your own little rolls. It was a fun dish to eat and delicious (forgot to take a picture though)! Bun tom nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled prawns) was a dry vermicelli bowl with grilled prawns, the perfect excuse to use the nuoc cham. I also love how the restaurant gave us a huge soup sized bowl of nuoc cham!
We finished dinner around 7pm. As the sun had gone down, we decided to go check out Turtle Lake, as we had read that it was most enjoyable after dark. Turtle Lake is traffic roundabout with features in the middle of the city. There were many walkways in different directions over the water where locals were sitting, chatting, eating, etc.
While there was no turtle or lake, it seemed like a popular date night spot as well as a popular hangout for young friends. There were many vendors selling food, fruits, and desserts on its perimeter, as well as many cafes and stores on the nearby streets.
We hung out chatting and people watching for an hour or so until it started to drizzle. As it was after 9pm, we caught a taxi back to our AirBnb where we were excited to find we had a Smart TV. For the first time this trip we were able to watch TV in English! Ah dear, sometimes it’s a bit sad what excites you when you’ve been backpacking a while…
35,000 VND ($1.94) – lunch
50,000 VND ($2.78) – fruit
75,000 VND ($4.17) – dinner
125,000 VND ($6.94) – my share of taxi rides for the day
Total = 285,000 VND ($15.83)
Running total = $2197.83