We just spent a week in Saigon. Quite a few people, when they heard we were visiting Saigon for an entire week, said “oh, I’m sorry.” And, in all honesty, I really wouldn’t recommend any tourist spend an entire week in Saigon. It is a big, bustling, loud city without much to do in the way of sightseeing. But we managed to really enjoy ourselves. Guess how? We made it all about the food and the beverages, of course.
Orange trees were for sale for Tet just like we sell Christmas trees.
Robert pretty much drank his weight in coffee and beer. He loves his Cà phê Đen Đá (iced black coffee) and he made sure to get some every single day. And the baristas love him for asking for his coffee in Vietnamese. Seriously, we got some of the biggest smiles when he ordered coffee.
Robert also really likes his craft beer. Saigon is having a craft beer explosion and our next destination — Indonesia — most certainly isn’t. Facing two weeks of Bintang in Bali and a week in primarily Muslim Java where he may just have to forego alcohol altogether, Robert thought our time in Saigon would be best spent hitting brew pub after brew pub after brew pub.
Robert’s favorite brew pub was East West Brewing Co., where Robert sampled five different beers and I had a really good (gasp, I can’t believe I’m saying this) chardonnay. We liked East West so much we returned for a second visit. Robert says it must be noted that he did not care for the Saison, which is very strange for him.
Tet decorations at East West.
Robert’s second favorite brew pub was Pasteur Street Brewing. We had been there in 2015 right after they opened and, back then, Robert thought it was the best beer in Vietnam. So, of course we had to return this time. No self-respecting beer drinker can visit Saigon without visiting Pasteur, as it really is the granddaddy of craft brews in Saigon. Unfortunately for me, the stools aren’t very comfortable and the wine is just so-so.
Robert’s third favorite brew pub was Heart of Darkness, where Robert sampled six beers. This bar was probably the most “us” — it was dark and the music was a bit more to our style (oh hello Rage Against the Machine….). And, they had really good fries. But, according to Robert, one of the beers was downright bad. And, once again, the wine was just so-so.
Tasting flight at Heart of Darkness. One beer was missing because they had to change the keg.
Robert’s fourth favorite was a place called Belgo. Robert was fairly unimpressed with the beer, but the Belgian frites were pretty good. It was really quiet when we were there and, I have to say, the staff was not very friendly (although certainly not rude either). If you go, I dare you to order the Antigone, which is a 2.4 Liter glass of beer….
Art at Belgo.
We also hit Bia Craft. The people watching was excellent there because it was right on a busy corner and we had stools overlooking the street. Robert tried four beers there and says the beer was fine but not memorable (except for one which was really bad). We also hit a place called Winking Seal. Sadly, Robert only got to try one beer there because I was hungry and the kitchen was closed and neither one of us wanted to risk an episode of hangry, or even worse, hitchy. But, I got to try a ginger apple cider that was quite good.
Is this not the most adorable beer pull?
Finally, the last place on the list is Hen House, which served Rooster beer. We were both disappointed with this place. Robert says the beer was “better than a Bud” but that is about all. The music was annoying and loud and the bathrooms were kind of gross (even by Vietnamese standards).
While Robert was busy drinking his weight in beer, I was busy eating my weight in pizza and Vietnamese food.
Our first night we hit Pizza 4 P’s. I still can’t believe that some of the best Italian style pizza in the world can be found in Vietnam but, trust me, it can. I literally cannot go to Saigon ever again without getting a pizza here. But, once the pizza was out of the way, it was time to focus on Vietnamese food. We had pretty much eaten nothing but tourist junk for weeks, and we wanted to cleanse our palate with yummy local food before leaving the country. (Fine, fine, confession time, we went to 4 P’s for our last lunch in Saigon too….).
One of the highlights was Banh Xeo 46A. The banh xeo were out of this world — the pancake was so light and airy. And, three ladies were juggling 14 pans of banh xeo at the same time. And, locals kept pulling up on their scooters ordering banh xeo to go, plus Anthony Bourdain recommended it, so you know this is some good stuff.
Bahn xeo cooking over charcoal.
Another highlight was bun thit nuong cha gio. We wandered out one day looking for a place called Chi Thong which had come highly recommended by Jodi at Legal Nomads as well as a couple of other blogs. However, we somehow ended up instead at a place called Bún Thịt Nướng Chị Tuyền at 175C Co Giang. No matter. It was delicious and loaded with two different styles of pork! The fish sauce was a bit more oily than we were used to, but it really made the dish.
Bun thit nuong cha gio.
And, we absolutely had to have some cơm tấm, which is a dish made with broken rice and protein. We hit up a tiny little roadside stand called Cơm tấm Trần Quý Cáp at 260 Võ Văn Tần. It was excellent. In fact, Robert said it was the best broken rice he had ever had and that is saying something given it is one of his all time favorite Vietnamese meals. His came with a pork chop, a steamed egg meatloaf, and a fried egg — I was boring and just had the pork.
Broken rice with pork.
But just hitting up a few street food stalls wasn’t going to cut it. We also joined in “The Foodie” Tour with XO Tours. In other words, we allowed young (e.g., about 20 years old) Vietnamese women to hold our lives in their hands. We jumped on the backs of their scooters and rode all around the city. Watching the traffic in Saigon is one thing — being immersed in the traffic is something else altogether. I can’t believe how close the scooters actually are to one another. Robert even got run into by the tire and fender of another scooter while stopped at a red light. (Don’t worry, he is fine). The good news is we lived to tell the tale and the food was delicious.
On the scooters with the girls.
The tour made five stops. First was at a small little restaurant that specialized in Bun Bo Hue, a soup with round rice vermicelli noodles and beef and lots of lemongrass flavor. Thankfully, this version did not have cubes of blood in it! We both devoured that soup. Next stop was Chinatown where we wandered around a wet market. That was a little bit boring for us, as we have seen so many markets. But, I will say the deskinned frogs that were still alive and kicking were a bit distressing….
Scallops with peanuts and green onions.
The third stop was a very busy BBQ restaurant — the grills are on the table and our scooter drivers grilled everything up for us. And we ate and ate and ate some more. We started with okra dipped in a fermented soy paste. Let’s just say I didn’t enjoy that dish one bit. In fact, the face I made eating the okra was apparently so funny that a guy from Sweden nearly fell out of his chair laughing at me. Robert, on the other hand, liked it. Why, I can’t imagine, as it was slimy and gross and disgusting. While we ate the okra, the girls driving the scooters were busy cooking goat breast which was then dipped in the same fermented soy paste. I’ve had goat before and didn’t care for it, but I figured it was worth another try. I like chicken breast, right? Um, really bad idea. The flavor wasn’t awful, but the texture was something else. I’ve never had a meat kind of “snap” in my mouth before as I tried to eat it, but that is what the goat breast did. I can’t even describe it, but it was kind of crunchy in a very bad way. (In retrospect and after doing some research, I’m pretty sure goat breast is just a fancy name for goat udder. Disgusting!) Robert, of course, thought the goat was fantastic. Thankfully, the scooter drivers followed up the goat with grilled beef. Finally! Something I could really enjoy. The beef was dipped in a paste made of salt, chili and kumquat juice and it was delicious. You would think after that we would be stuffed, but no. The next dish was grilled prawn. The women did a very nice job of grilling it. Then, we had banh khot. It was like a banh xeo, but smaller and thicker. It was filled with mung bean and carrots, the scooter drivers wrapped it up in greens for us, and it was surprising good. Finally, it was time to wash everything down with a shot of rice wine. Then, it was back on the scooters to visit the new, rich neighborhood in Saigon. Some expats live in the neighborhood, but apparently a ton of foreigners buy condos (~200K USD for a fully furnished one bedroom) and let them sit empty, hoping they are a good investment. It seemed like an odd stop to me, but it was weird to see such a quiet part of Saigon.
Chili crab claws.
Our last stop was a seafood restaurant in a very poor neighborhood in Saigon. Once again, there was far too much food. When we arrived, there was roasted quail waiting for us at the table. Then, they brought out “balut,” which is a boiled duck egg with a developing embryo inside. No, I didn’t try that one. Robert had a tiny taste and wasn’t a fan. Next up was a scallop dish. Once again, Robert was a fan. I didn’t try it. We also had chili crab legs. Yum! After that was clams in a lemongrass sauce. The sauce was amazing, but I’m not a fan of claims. Finally, it was time for dessert — soya pudding (actually pretty darn good) and cream puffs. The girls got us safely home and we passed out in a food coma!
We also got to enjoy the Tet decorations (but are glad we are leaving town before Tet begins….).
Chúc mừng năm mới! (Happy Tet!)