|"Back of the Bike" Chef's Tour|
Chef Dan and Foodie Elisse that we are, and Saigon being world-famous for its food, I booked us two food excursions during our three days: an amazing private, evening, 5-hour "Chef's Tour" with Fred, the Director of "Back of the Bike" Tours, and the delicious morning "Pho Trail" tour, with Barbara of the Barbara-and-Vu team who run "Saigon Street Eats". We took a great cooking class at the Vietnam Cookery Center in 2008, with a shopping trip to the market, so this time we wanted to do something different. And now there are Lots of "foodie" tours in Saigon with 5-star reviews- so I was truly spoiled for choice- but BOY, did I pick good!!
We met Fred and his "Back of the Bike" team- our two motorbike guides and their photographer- at the Saigon Opera House at 5pm, and took off through the city for what was truly THE Foodie Tour to beat all! I believe we visited every single one of Saigon's districts, and we ate truly amazing food (see the menu below), laughed a lot, drank tasty things and toasted each other a lot ("Mo, Hai, Ba- YO!"), got back to our hotel so stuffed we were literally waddling, and learned So much about Saigon and its social and culinary scene that I had to ask Fred to send me an email with everything he told us, as I couldn't take notes! I have included all of what he sent me below as it's truly fascinating! Our motorbike guides were incredible and fabulous- I called my driver "Penelope Pitstop", because her ability as both a driver and a guide simply blew me away! We literally motorbiked through totally hidden neighborhoods in Saigon that you'd never even know existed, unless a local knew to take you there, and saw a nighttime city that is seriously Times Square x1000! This was THE BEST NIGHT IN SAIGON EVER, and truly THE tour for a chef, or an adventurous foodie!
|Off we go!|
|Our first stop: a street stall that's Saigon-famous for Papaya Salad (see below)|
|Jullienned Green Papaya Salad, topped with Thai Basil, Dried Beef Liver, Toasted Peanuts, and Prawn Crackers. Sauced with Chili Sauce and Light Fish Sauce|
|Banh Beo: Tender Rice Dumplings Topped with Dried Shrimp, and Crispy Pork Skin: YUM!|
|Me and Penelope Pitstop- driving AND showing me the sights of Saigon!|
|Bo La Lot: Minced Beef Grilled in Aromatic Leaves, with Green Banana, Star Fruit and lettuce for wrapping. Served with Anchovy and Pineapple Sauce.|
|Mo, Hai, Ba- YO!|
|How it's done...|
|Banh Xeo: Crispy Rice Flour ”Crepe,” Stuffed with Shrimp, Pork and Bean sprouts. Served with Fresh Lettuce and Sweet Fish Sauce.|
|Me & Penelope Pitstop!|
|Mi Vit Tiem: A Whole Duck Leg Braised until Tender, in a Chinese Inspired Dark Rich Broth; served with Egg Noodles and Green Cabbage|
|The AMAZING places you'll go...|
|Grilled Octopus! YUM!!!|
|More, more, more!|
|Grilled prawns! More YUM!|
|A last drink stop!|
|Highlands Sim Wine- for THE best Foodie Tour Guides, EVER!|
What we ate, and where:
Goi Du Du Bo, District 1, Le Van Tam Park
Jullienned Green Papaya Salad, topped with Thai Basil, Dried Beef Liver, Toasted Peanuts and Prawn Crackers. Sauced with Chili Sauce and Light Fish Sauce.
Banh Beo: Tender Rice Dumplings, topped with Dried Shrimp, and Crispy Pork Skin.
Banh Bot Loc: Hue Style Tapioca Dumpling, Stuffed with Dried Shrimp, topped with Green Onion and Sweet Fish Sauce.
Goi Vit, District 3
Duck Salad with Banana Flower, Shaved Cabbage, Water Spinach, Fresh Herbs, and Ginger Fish Sauce.
Banh Xeo: Crispy Rice Flour "Crepe", Stuffed with Shrimp, Pork, and Bean Sprouts. Served with Fresh Lettuce and Sweet Fish Sauce.
Bo La Lot: Minced Beef Grilled in Aromatic Leaves, with Green Banana, Star Fruit, and lettuce for wrapping. Served with Anchovy and Pineapple Sauce.
Mi Vit Tiem: A Whole Duck Leg Braised until tender in a Chinese-Inspired Dark Rich Broth, served with Egg Noodles and Green Cabbage.
Bach Tuoc Nuong, Ech Nuong, Suon Heo Nuong, Chan Ga Nuong, Tom Nuong, District 4
Grilled Octopus, Frog, Pork Ribs, Chicken Feet, Shrimp, with Sate, and Okra
From Fredrick Wilson, Back of the Bike Tours:
"Sleep in District 3" (old and beautiful villas, quiet neighborhood)
"Eat in District 5" (Known for good Chinese food, as this is Cho Lon "Big Market" named after the multiple, large Chinese markets that have been here since the 1700's)
"Dance in District 1" (Known for night clubs and night life, still to this day)
"Get Robbed in District 4" (This is due to being notorious for petty theft and being the home of gangsters during the 1970's)
District 1 is known for having the old French monuments in place such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Rainbow Bridge, Opera House, and the list can go on for a while. Today District 1 has lot of high-end shopping, along with the sightseeing. The plan for the future is to have most of District 1 as a walking area, with no motorbikes, cars, etc., much like the city of Hoi An does for its old town. This could really create an improvement in the tourist sector of Vietnam, as many people don't feel that Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a walking city with all of our restaurants, shops, and motorbike parking consuming many of our sidewalks.
District 4, being on the of mostly populated areas of HCMC, was also known for being the poorest area, giving way to its reputation for petty theft and gangsters taking advantage of the poor to join their gangs for the hope of an easier and better life. Today, District 4 is going through a bit of a "gentrification" process, with younger people moving to the area for its location and price. The food scene in District 4 is also one of the best in HCMC, since it’s one of the most populated areas. There are many streets in District 4 that are known for serving snails and seafood, along with BBQ places popping up in between these restaurants.
District 10 is one of the largest districts in HCMC. This area is extremely local and has almost everything that you would want without the expensive prices of District 1 or 3. This area of the city is scattered with street food, restaurants, malls, coffee shops, and Karaoke. You can find many young students hanging out in District 10 as it is affordable, but still close enough to District 1 to feel like you are going out.
District 3 is a bit expensive like District 1, but not “foreigner expensive”, meaning that the price points for the small boutique shops and restaurants are aimed at Vietnamese clientele and not at foreigners. The rent in this area can also be quiet high because of its location proximity to District 1, but it is also valued as a great place to have children, since a lot of the back streets and alleys are clean, quiet, and safe. If you dig around in District 3, you can really find some gems of street food.
District 5, has one of the most interesting histories of the districts, as this, at one point in time, was a completely separate city from "Saigon"; in the 1950s it was joined together with Saigon. The name for the whole city then was "Saigon-Cho Lon"; the last part was later dropped. The name Saigon can actually be dated back to the name of the first market in District 5, which was called Cho Saigon, while the part we know as District 1 was called "Ben Nghe". It appears that the French enjoyed the name of that market so much they decided to name the center of the city after it.
To dive into the history of the immigrating Chinese into Vietnam is long and deep. You can still see old communal temples that were built for various Chinese sects coming from different provinces of China. There were 7 of these temples; today only 6 remain, but they are in excellent condition. In regards to food in Chinatown, you can still find many great restaurants serving up a Vietnamese/Chinese approach to traditional Chinese dishes. Locals are notorious for saying that the food in District 5 is quite expensive, though.
The next morning (yes, really!), we did the breakfast-lunch Saigon Street Eats "Pho Trail" Tour, and we started the morning with Barbara at Pho Phu Huong, an "off the beaten path" pho restaurant that's been serving this classic Vietnamese noodle soup for more than 30 years, and is famous for it- and had great Vietnamese coffee, too! Then we meandered though the neighborhood, past bakeries, com tam (broken rice) restaurants, and other intriguing local shops, as well as the wet market- and as we walked, we tasted, learned about, bought, and gathered various delicious foods from local stalls and vendors, all carried for us by Barbara's diligent assistant!
|Barbara explains pho & the herbs...|
|Pho Phu Huong|
|Vietnamese herbs for Pho|
|More Pho Herbs...|
|Cutest cakes in the world!|
|Bahn Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich) food cart|
|Gathering yummy things for lunch!|
|Lotto ticket for luck!|
|Betel Nut "flowers"|
My only real disappointment was that I didn't get to the chew betel nut that we saw in the market! I have been wanting to chew betel nut since hearing my mom's stories about it from her year in India during WWII, when she was a US Army WAC soldier stationed there! Next time!
|Enough shrimp for ya?|
|The women meat-cutters in the market|
|Eggs- ALL different Kinds of eggs!|
|Coconut milk desert|
|THE most delicious Tamarind candy!!!|
|Chili-Salt and Lemongrass-Salt...|
Dan and I bought chili and lemongrass salt in the market, as well as Amazing-Delicious sour-salty-sweet Tamarind Candy- which I actually found the recipe for online, thanks to BFF Cindy: see my previous blog post "Vietnamese Herbs & Tamarind Candy"
I planted the seeds- and they sprouted!- in the hope of one day having a little tamarind tree here in West Virginia!
Then we went to a nearby temple, where we sat in their garden and had a picnic of all the yummy foods we'd gathered! After eating, we then explored the temple, dedicated to an Imperial military leader, and had our fortunes told by kneeling in front of the alter, concentrating, and repeatedly tossing a jar of numbered sticks- and Barbara emailed us the results!
|Where we cast the sticks and had our fortunes told...|
|A beautiful 3D mosaic...|