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After ...

... I headed to the airport and flew Nanning, China to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The meal on board the plane is here.

 

We landed two hours later and after the usual immigration nonsense  I was met by an old friend and her husband. They had helped me book me a hotel and took me there. The couple are Chinese but live and work in HCMC. They dropped me off at the hotel, made sure I was settled in and took off to attend to some business (they work in the jewellery business, importing and exporting between China and Vietnam), but returned in the evening to take me to dinner.

 

We went here.

 

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The place,  Làng Nướng Nam Bộ,  is huge and, on a Friday evening was packed. My friends ordered - they both speak fluent Vietnamese whereas mine is limited to the basics. I just looked around.

 

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Each table was supplied with

 

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Tissues and two dips. One was fish sauce and the other seemed to be shrimp paste with sesame.

 

and

 

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A bag of crackers, some pickled gherkins or similar and a dip of salt and chilli

 

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Steamed Chicken with Banana Hearts

 

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Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls - accompanied by a mixed selection of raw greens, which are served with almost everything.

 

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Grilled Venison with Grilled Okra

 

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Hotpot protein - squid, shrimp, clams, beef

 

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Hotpot Vegetables - including both banana hearts and shoots.

 

Everything was good. Especially the venison. I hadn't expected okra, but it seems to be popular. Every market I visited had some, but I'm getting ahead of myself. More to come.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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1 hour ago, Lisa Shock said:

You are lucky to have such good friends! In the second restaurant photo, we can see a bit of the floor. What's with the lavender plastic baskets and the white ten gallon tub?

 

I am lucky indeed.

 

The lavender baskets are at every table for you to deposit your empty water bottles and beer cans etc. I'm not sure about the white tub, though. I didn't notice it until you mentioned it, sorry.

 

If you forced me to guess, I'd say it contains ice. Beer and soft drinks are served on the rocks in most Vietnamese restaurants as are iced tea and coffee. But I could be completely wrong.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thanks so much for posting this!  I'm very excited!

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In the morning, I ventured out for some breakfast. I chose (and my friends helped me) to stay well away from the tourist traps, so I was in the north of the city in a really nice if  simple, friendly hotel. I wanted to see real HCMC. 

 

I had to do it. There was only one breakfast I wanted - Bánh mì. The only problem was where to to buy it. Not the lack of choice. The over abundance. Every corner near the hotel had a least one Bánh mì vendor, either in a shop or just a cart on the roadside. Over the time I was there,  I tried a few of them.

 

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but I quickly found my favourite

 

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Xu Xu bakery, where they baked the bread themselves and I was served most mornings by a stunningly beautiful woman who carefully assembled my breakfast and gave me a heart-breaking smile.

 

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French style baguette with liver pâté, mayonnaise, chili paste, liver sausage, char siu, pork floss, cucumber, coriander leaf. Bliss.

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beautiful bread, I can see how crispy the exterior is!


"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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I loved the bread in Saigon.  I was surprised (and disappointed) that the bread in Hue and Hoi An wasn't nearly as good.

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23 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I loved the bread in Saigon.  I was surprised (and disappointed) that the bread in Hue and Hoi An wasn't nearly as good.

 

I know Hanoi better and always enjoy the bread there, but  I think you may be right. Saigon is best for bread.

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I was going to ask whether the good bread in Vietnam was due to the French influence, but it apparently isn't that simple. Is the bread in Vietnam generally better than in China, or only in some larger cities like Hanoi and Saigon/HCMC?


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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46 minutes ago, Lisa Shock said:

Ironic that small places in Vietnam can get the baguette right when most American supermarkets can't. -Not even close.

 

Not really. The Vietnamese baguettes don't survive the day - you could injure someone with a bonk over the head by next morning. They are baked for same day consumption.

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Also, most of the small places are just reselling the bread that is baked elsewhere, usually somewhere in the neighborhood or district, unless it is an actual bakery.  But most sellers in carts or stalls on the street get daily and sometimes multiple deliveries from the bakery per day and close when they sell out of bread.

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14 hours ago, Smithy said:

I was going to ask whether the good bread in Vietnam was due to the French influence, but it apparently isn't that simple. Is the bread in Vietnam generally better than in China, or only in some larger cities like Hanoi and Saigon/HCMC?

 

Yes, there is undoubtedly a French influence, but it has been somewhat adapted. I have found good bread most places in Vietnam, not only the major cities.

 

Bread in China is almost non-existent. What they call bread is usually cake, so far as I am concerned. Most of it is also steamed rather than baked.

 

8 hours ago, heidih said:

 

Not really. The Vietnamese baguettes don't survive the day - you could injure someone with a bonk over the head by next morning. They are baked for same day consumption.

 

Same in France.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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4 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

Same in France.

 

Agreed. They have always been something best eaten within a few hours of baking. Compared to other breads, they are so skinny, and the holes so large, the design just invites staling. And, I have eaten world-class competition baguettes. (being on-call as a substitute competition judge has its perks) Yes, I believe the Vietnamese put a little rice flour in the mix to aid in crispness, but, considering how humid much of the country is, this makes sense.

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@Lisa Shock According to a person who worked in a bakery in Saigon, no rice flour is used. But the wheat flour that bakeries use comes with a "dough improver" included. 

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It had to be done. Having satisfied my breakfast requirements with the bánh mì,  I decided to go explore the neighbourhood around the hotel. It was mainly residential and full of small shops. I found two local markets and two large supermarkets, one Vietnamese and the other Japanese. I was beginning to feel peckish again, so I chose the place that looked busiest for a nice bowl of phở - Vietnam's noodle classic.

 

From the extensive menu of two items,  I chose phở bò, the most popular beef version. The other was phở gà - chicken.

 

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This was GOOD! The broth was deeply flavoured and the accompaniments of bean sprouts, mint, pickled garlic, chilli and lime complemented the dish perfectly.  I returned here more than once.


Edited by liuzhou typo (log)
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That evening, I had dinner with some business contacts and it wasn't really appropriate to photograph the dishes.  I did however go back the next morning and photograph the menu and the outside of the restaurant. We sat at the table front right.  I never saw inside the restaurant.

 

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Click on image to enlarge

 

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Unfortunately,  I can't remember the name of the place - Something Club - but This is the “Lý Club” and it is to the west of the Independence Palace and before the War Museum. 143 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 3, HCMC.  Tel: +84 8 3930 5588

 

To my amusement, my dinner hosts all went for the western menu, whereas I went for the Vietnamese. I had Mango Catfish, Beef Knuckle and the Rambutan Sweet Soup.

 

It was very good, but the ambience was a bit too much above itself. And anyway,  I prefer the street food. I'm cheap.

 

Edited to add the name of the place as supplied by @KennethT


Edited by liuzhou see text (log)
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8 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Unfortunately,  I can't remember the name of the place - Something Club - but it is to the west of the Independence Palace and before the War Museum.

 

To my amusement, my dinner hosts all went for the western menu, whereas I went for the Vietnamese. I had Mango Catfish, Beef Knuckle and the Rambutan Sweet Soup.

 

It was very good, but the ambience was a bit too much above itself. And anyway,  I prefer the street food. I'm cheap.

Based on the menu and location, I think it was Ly Club.  We didn't go there (we preferred the street and local food also), but I had read about it in the guidebooks before our trip.

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Next morning, I had another bánh mì for breakfast, this time from a street cart. It was  OK, but not so good as yesterday's. Then I headed down town to play at  being a tourist for a day. It was now the weekend and so no work to be done.

 

I last visited HCMC/Saigon in 1988, so it had changed a lot, yet still retains its unique feel despite the modern office blocks and star-wielding hotels. It is the sort of city I like. Unlike almost all Chinese cities, they haven't destroyed the old to build the new. It is a happily confusing mix of new and old, rich and poor. Someone described it to me as "a mess". He was being disparaging. Yes, it's chaotic, but the energy levels are high.

 

I revisited places I remembered. The Old Post Office (built 1886-1891)  has now sprouted a McDonald's next door. The post office is a popular tourist destination, but is also still a functioning post office.

 

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Outside,  I met these lovely ladies.

 

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Next to the post office is a wonderful short street full of books, both new and second-hand (including some in English).

 

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At the far end of the street, I found a Book Café where I settled down for a nice cup of ice tea. They have shelves of books along one wall which customers are encouraged to browse. As far as I could see they were all in Vietnamese.

 

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Opposite the post office is the French built (1863-1880) Cathedral - Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception. All the materials used in its construction were imported from France. Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration work, so much of it is covered with scaffolding.

 

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All this looking at things had me hungry again. There are all sorts of options in the area, but I decided on a pizza! I had passed this place with a proper wood burning pizza oven earlier in the day, and as I haven't had a decent pizza in decades, thought I'd give it a go. I was at their No. 2 location.

 

 

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From a relatively short menu, I chose this baby.

 

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It's a prosciutto and rocket/arugula and very pleasant it was, too. Also the cold beer was welcome in the heat. It was around 35ºC. Also, despite being in the heart of the tourist area, the prices were reasonable.

 

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That's the equivalent of $13 for the pizza and $1.75 for the beer. Plus 10% tax.

 


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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After lunch,  I took a short stroll down to the Independence Palace which was the official home of the South Vietnamese presidents during the war years.

 

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This is somewhere  I remember from my youth, particularly 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank burst through the gates to the palace, effectively ending the Vietnam war, as depicted in this famous photograph.

 

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Today, the only things bursting through those gates are tourist coaches.

 

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To my surprise the palace offered some culinary insights.

 

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This is the state dining room. I'll let them elucidate.

 

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Also of interest was

 

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One thing confused me here. Were all the Vietnamese presidents incontinent or do they think the tourists are? I have never seen so many toilets in one building.

 

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Not requiring their facilities, I headed downstairs where I found this.

 

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Well, well. What have we here?

 

In no particular order

 

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Fridge

 

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Cocktail Table

 

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Dish Drainer

 

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Gas Oven

 

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Ice Cream Maker

 

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Coffee Machine

 

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Dumb Waiter

 

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Mixer

 

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I'll let you guess what this is.

 

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Here's a closer look.

 

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Big Woks

 

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Not so big

 

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I then headed back to the hotel for a rest and dinner. Coming soon.

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