Undoubtedly, Vietnamese foods is one of the things I will miss most about HCMC. As a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, HCMC offers a wide range of eating options, including upscale cafes and international restaurants. And while we ate in a number of restaurants in the city, the best dishes were found in cheap noodleshops and on street corner stalls. From warm dishes of pho (noodle soup with beef), to steamed pork buns, it was incredible how well we were able to eat for so cheaply.
We had one of our best meals on our last night in the city, at one of the many food stands set up next to the Ben Tanh market. The first thing that drew me to the stand was the abundance of fresh greens in their kitchen. Most of these were served along side the food, certain leaves adding spicy flavors and crisp textures to the meal. Thankfully, the food they made tasted just as fresh as the leafy greens they used to garnish the plates.
We first ordered a plate of nem (fresh springrolls), one of the most iconic of Vietnamese food. Inside the tight rolls were shrimp and a mix of green vegetables. The shrimp inside the rice-paper rolls still had their shells on; this is done to preserve the flavor of the shrimp, but I felt it also added a nice texture that contrasted with the soft rice-paper and fresh vegetables. I don't normally care much for shrimp, but I actually liked the flavor quite a lot. Alongside the springrolls, we ordered banh khoai- tasty little omelette/pancakes. They had a nicely singed exterior, and a tasty filling of shrimp and sprouts.
We were still feeling a little hungry, so we decided to try prawn on sugarcane. This was by far the highlight of our simple street meal. The prawn gently hugged the stalks of sugarcane, absorbing a little of the sweet flavor. In the first one I had, the sugar cane was soft enough to be eaten- which added a nice texture and a sweet flavor.
And of course, I can't end this entry without mentioning the coffee in HCMC. Vietnamese coffee is fairly well known- strong, thick and tasty brews served with an unhealthy layer of condensed milk to flavor it. My favorite thing about the coffee was the way that it was prepared and served in little tin filters- which I now regret not buying. HCMC had an incredible variety of coffeeshops, including a number of rather chic cafes around downtown. Most ubiquitous were the numerous branches of Highlands Coffee- it's a Vietnamese style Starbucks, which reminded me of Black Canyon coffee in Thailand. The best coffeeshop I visited was La Fenetre de Soleil, near the Ben Thanh market. It's a bit difficult to find- through a discreet doorway, up a tiny darkened staircase, and down a grungy hallway, moldy and glowing in florescent light. But the strange journey only makes the cafe all the more rewarding. It's a beautiful space, with tall windows, overstuffed couches, and an elegant salon atmosphere. The iced coffee I had was amazing, and the earl grey muffin I ordered was delicious. It was the perfect place to escape from the pounding motorbike traffic of the city.