I’ve now moved on from Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, I’m currently on a rather strange bus from Da Lat to Nha Trang. I just tried to discretely take a picture for you but the other passengers didn’t seem too happy about the idea of being photographed by a stranger, so you will just have to take my word for it.
We spent a total of five days in Ho Chi Minh City which provided plenty of opportunity to try out the various eateries on offer. I went to cheap ones, expensive ones, popular ones and random ones. Some were recommended by the hotel, some by Vietnamese nationals on twitter, I found some on good old Tripadvisor and just stumbled across a few others.
Having had time to reflect on the many many meals that I ate there, I can confidently say that the best (by a very long way) was at Hoa Tuc, a fantastic little restaurant recommended by my lovely friend Jo. When I mentioned that I was going to Vietnam, she immediately riffled about in her purse and produced two business cards for restaurants that she had been taken to by locals earlier this year. They were both fab, in fact the owner of our hotel told me that the other one was number one in Saigon, but for me Hoa Tuc was the absolute winner.
Price wise, it was at the more expensive end, especially by Vietnamese standards. However, it was well worth the money and if you could get a meal like this, with plenty to drink, for less than £30 in London I would be a very happy fat lady.
We had an absolute feast! Everything was delicious. Surprisingly my favourite was the banh xeo, a speciality in the south . I always assumed that this would be a little boring as a dish but it was somehow both soft and crisp at the same time, delicate but still packing a punch. Absolutely amazing and something I will remember for a long time.
The Saigon Special beers were of course present throughout. I don’t know about you but when I go to a new country I immediately become loyal to their local tipple and feel that I couldn’t possibly drink anything else.
The first thing that is brought to your table in any Vietnamese restaurant, simple or fancy, is dipping sauces. Even when you haven’t ordered anything which could obviously be dipped! They are delicious, often fish sauce based as this is one of the Vietnamese staples.
Here we have passion fruit for the crab, peanut sauce for the spring rolls and nuoc cham for the pancakes. Nuoc cham is a mixture of fish sauce, garlic, chilli, sugar, vinegar and lime and is very popular as a dipping sauce and salad dressing. It’s delicious but not very sociable when it comes to your breath afterwards!
Then onto the main event …
I’ve eaten a lot of fresh spring rolls in Vietnam (and London) and these were the best I’ve ever had, without a shadow of doubt. I think the picture says it all really, so fresh, so juicy and packed with flavour.
Goi Cudon (fresh spring rolls with prawns, pork & white rice noodles)
These dinky little pancakes were delicious, the coconut, shrimp and spring onion we’re a perfect combination.
Banh Khot (mini rice and coconut milk pancakes with shrimps and spring onions)
My favourite, a very dark horse indeed! I am told that this is an Indian influenced dish, akin to a dhosa. However, the English girl in me can’t help but think of savoury pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
Banh Xeo (crisp flour pancake with bean sprouts, prawns and pork)
Both pancakes were served with huge lettuce leaves and lots of herbs. The idea is to wrap the pancake and lots of herbs into a roll in the lettuce and then dip it into the sauce. It creates an amazing series of textures.
What can I say about the crab? Just look at these little beauties. Surprisingly good with the passion fruit dip, who would have thought?!
Cua Lot Chien Com Xanh (soft shell crabs in green rice batter with passion fruit sauce)
This salad was the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and lovely lovely heat. A perfect accompaniment to the crab.
Goi Xoai Tom & Muc Kho (green mango salad with dried shrimp and fish sauce dressing)
We really didn’t need a desert after all that but I was having such a lovely evening that I didn’t want it to be over. I was rather jealous when I saw that the table next to us had thought to order ice cream with theirs. Too late by then though, we had already gobbled ours down.
Chuoi Chien Gion (banana fritter with chocolate sauce)
The restaurant itself was also really lovely. We sat outside in the garden filled with fairy lights and I would definitely recommend this as the inside seemed a bit stark. There were plenty of fans to keep things nice and cool and we were totally relaxed, with the staff doing a fantastic job of looking after us.
I can vividly recall the flavours and textures of this meal and my mouth is watering at the thought of it. I’m pretty confident that it will stick with me for many years to come, so that most certainly makes it a 10/10. If you are in Ho Chi Minh City you must check it out.
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