on her first Actxplorer trip, Xiuli found a new obsession for Phá lấu bò. She now constantly dreams of having a bowl of it while in her cold office
After just 2 hours in the air leaving hot Singapore, my friend Jane and I arrive to a blistering hot Ho Chi Minh City! Also widely known by its old name Saigon, or HCMC for short, we were introduced to the Food on Wheels tour by a friend. And boy, was it a ton of fun!
It was a scorching hot day (36 degrees!!!) and after returning to our room to cool down from the sun, we met the Food on Wheels guys David and Hai at our lobby at 5pm. We dove straight into Saigon’s famous motorbike traffic. “All Saigonese people talk about is the motorbike traffic!”, says David.
We’d experienced it earlier in the day, crossing intersections and navigating the streets on foot (and later in the afternoon as we got burnt, via Grab & Uber). But it was a completely new feeling to whizz around on Motorbikes.
“I call it Vietnamese telepathy”, David tells me while navigating the busy intersection, as the sun dips in the distance. He was explaining how in the years that he’s ridden around HCMC, he has thankfully not seen any serious casualties. The Vietnamese have this ability to sense their surroundings and expertly avoid each other without any verbal or visual communication.
David was wearing a “Fearless” tee. I laugh.
Soon, we rolled up to a tiny shop on the outskirts of Chinatown, for some beef innards soup (Phá lấu bò). The bright orange soup looked mildly dubious at first, and the lady owner brought us some french baguettes. But oh my, it tasted so good! The soup was both sweet and savoury, with hints of pumpkin (like pumpkin soup I had during pumpkin season in France); the innards were crunchy and had absolutely no odour. I skipped on the piece of blood… The bread was crunchy on the outside, yet soft like a pillow on the inside!
What was fun for us was that the owner of the tiny hole in the wall actually lived in Singapore for 15 years. She spoke Vietnamese to the locals, but was able to converse with us in fluent Mandarin. The soup was so ridiculously good, I just HAD TO ask for an extra serving. This dish was typically southern Vietnam, on the sweet side and paired with a baguette.
After a stop at the flower market, we went to our second food destination.
This time we were introduced to a dish typical of Central Vietnam: a bunch of various “kuehs” made in different styles (Bánh bèo). There were the ones with the crystal skin, with dried shrimp inside; some opaque jelly-like ones that included desiccated coconut amongst others, doused in fish sauce, croutons and crushed peanuts!
We sat right on the sidewalk this time, beside an intersection, a space that the boss cleared out specially for us. The tiny tables and little itsy chairs left us almost at squatting position close to the ground. Cars, motorbikes and bicycles cruise past us at a height, I felt like a cat enjoying the city – a uniquely vietnamese experience!
The last place we went to naturally showcased northern vietnamese food. This time it was a platter consisting of rice noodle cuboids, cucumber, fried tofu cubes, pork and some leaves (‘Bún đậu mắm tôm). The dipping sauce of choice in the north was now fermented shrimp paste. The smell could be quite pungent so the boys recommended adding about 2 limes and 3 scoops of sugar into the mix. If you’ve ever had shrimp-paste chicken in Singapore, the smell wouldn’t be new to you. I found it worked best with the pork and rice noodles! The cucumber helped cleanse the palette.
As I had a prior arrangement to be at the tailor at 8pm, we adjourned back to the area around the backpackers district. While I was making the adjustments for my clothes, the rest of them got some shakes at a nearby shop, another personal recommendation!
Chatting with these boys we found out they were university students and part time guides. They were extremely well-behaved and really responsible, disciplined young gentlemen. They were always explaining about how they would eat the food presented before us, how it differs from region to region, and shared a bit about their lives living in HCMC. This was definitely the highlight of our trip – to meet the locals while eating scrumptious food.
🙂 thanks Xiuli for the review — the Actxplorer team!
To thank you for reading the whole article, enter this promo code STREETFOODVIETN for a 10% discount on both bike tours!