Saturday, July 08, 2017

Tummy Tour: Saigon's Lunch Lady

So we followed Anthony Bourdain's recommendation from his No Reservations show and he did not fail us!
The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh) Vietnam, Hồ Chí Minh, Quận 1
I didn't realize that Vietnam is also a foodie heaven and one of the highlights of our Vietnam trip is eating at the Lunch Lady's. After checking just now, I found out that it's 2.7km away from our hotel and I think we walked more than that because we went to the Book Street and War Remnants Museum before having our late lunch
We relied on Chino's sense of direction and Google Maps then happily found The Lunch Lady!
Saigon's Lunch lady
It was an adventure to look for it and it proved to be one of our best decisions!

Side orders
It was already past 1PM when we arrived but the place is still packed. We didn't wait long to have our table. They automatically served side orders like fried rolls and prawn crackers.
Spring roll
They also served springs rolls and we're overwhelmed because food kept on coming =)))
Banh Ca Cua
The Lunch Lady specializes in serving noodle soups and she rotates her menu everyday. When we went there on a Saturday, we tried this noodle soup with rich broth, shrimp, crab meat, beef, quail eggs, fishcake and more goodness. The noodles is also thick, similar to Japanese udon.
Buko juice
 The next day, we realized that we don't have to order all the side dishes so when the server was offering spring rolls, I raised my hands to make a big cross sign. The foreigners from the other table laughed and was almost amused that it was possible to say no. Looking at their tables, they only finished their noodle soups and haven't touched their side dishes. Chino and I thought that it's expensive to order everything and we also want to try eat as much food from other places.
Lunch lady's
The noodle soup for Sunday had a light but yummy broth, fish cakes, pork and smaller noodles. 

If you're planning to visit Vietnam, make sure to go to the Lunch Lady's. The whole experience from not knowing what type of noodles soup will they serve that day to finally tasting it and enjoying it under a tent with other travelers is a great memory!

Tummy Tour: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Vietnam

Because food is the best reason to travel
I didn't bother to research things to do and places to see for our spontaneous trip to Vietnam but I found time to look up the must try food and the recommended places to eat! 

Mon Hue's Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue is a Vietnamese soup with vermicelli rice noodles and beef. This one costs 65,000vnd and I tried it when I arrived in Saigon, it was late already and nothing was open except Mon Hue a fastfood chain found all over Ho Chi Minh.
Dac Biet
Dac Biet or chicken noodles soup from the cafeteria near Chino's office in Lu van Lang.
25 Hoàng Sa, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (it’s located very close to Lunch Lady)
Pho or noodles soup is one of the most popular Vietnamese food and we've tried to eat as much noodles as we can. We're actually full from eating from the Lunch Lady but it was right across and we can't pass up on this highly recommended place. The pho from Phở Phượng 25 is the best one that we tried, I can't forget how tasty the broth is and the big but soft beef strips. 
We found another good pho at a market across Bitexco Financial Tower. 

It's a foodcourt style restaurant where you can order food from different stores and pay at 1 cashier. At first they were wondering why we only ordered 1 noodle and then saw that we're sharing it. We have this feeling that we want to explain that we want to try as much food as we can that's why we only ordered one but didn't bother =)))
Pho Ha in Nguyen Hue
I've read that family run style restaurants are the best place to get good food so when we passed by this Pho place, we had to try it. There was a long line so we even waited for our turn.
We we're disappointed because the broth tastes like a watered down soup and we even bought 1 soup each! We're just happy that we're able to try eating on the street with these table and stools that reminds me of the study table that we use when we're younger.

2) Bahn Mi

37 Nguyễn Trãi, Ho Chi Minh City (though the address is 37, it’s right at Hem 39)
It was an adventure to look for Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai because it was inside a dark alley but it was worth it. 

Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai
Banh Mi is a Vietnamese word for bread or baguette. What makes each Banh Mi special is the fillings, for 37 Nguyen Trai, they use little grilled minced pork sliders. It costs 16,000vnd or $0.75 but it's the best that we've tasted. We actually bought it, stored it inside my bag, had dinner, went back to the hotel and remembered it 5hours later when we're unpacking. The sliders were still juicy and we regretted that we only bought 1 piece!
Cheesesteak bahn mi
We passed by another Banh Mi store and tried this yummy cheesesteak banh mi.
3) Grilled Meat and crab

Barbecue Garden
Chino's officemates recommended this grill restaurant so that we can take a break from vegetables and healthy food =)). We liked the ambience and even if it's outdoor, they have a mist system which makes the heat bearable.
Barbecue Garden
4) Dessert
We tried Bo Nuong Pho Mai, grilled beef with cheese and crab fried dumpling.

For dessert, we tried Banh flan or custard caramel. The first one is from the hotel breakfast buffet and Anhhong brand is from the grocery. Both are addicting!
 When in Vietnam, drink lots of coffee and Jasmine house tea!!

Bonus: Craft beer and Burger
Craft beer
A well lit alley led us to Pasture, a popular pub in Saigon where we tried the craft beer sampler. The most memorable ones are coffee + beer, jasmine + beer and Thai tea + beer combinations. It was a struggle to go down from the stairs after I finished a total of 2 glasses while Chino willingly finished the remaining 4. 
The 'Worst Burger' in Vietnam
By pure luck, after buying Kipling wallets from Behn Thanh Market, we stumbled up the 'Worst Burger' in Vietnam as featured in Adam Richman's Secret Eats. We shared 'The James Brown' a burger with USDA beef, bbq sauce, pulled smoke pork shoulder, cheddar cheese and coleslaw! 
Soul Burger
Chino and I like to binge watch from Travel channel and Asian Food Network so this was a fun surprise.

What to do and see in Ho Chi Minh(Saigon), Vietnam

Honestly, Vietnam is not on my priority must see places this year but my boyfriend went there for a business trip and I decided to tag along. Before that, I'm only interested in Vietnam because when we we’re still dating, Chino mentioned that he wants to go there just to try the ‘Lunch Lady’s’ meal as featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show.

On Monday morning last week, his flight was confirmed and in the afternoon, I booked mine. Fortunately, CebuPac has an on going seatsale so I was still able to get 50% off plane tickets, the hotel is free so I only plan to bring food and transportation allowance. On Friday afternoon, I rushed to the airport for my 7:35PM flight.

The most fitting theme is what to do on a spontaneous trip to ho Chi Minh!

It was a 2hrs and 15mins flight and with the 1hour difference, I arrived by 9PM. Chino fetched me from the airport and we booked a GrabCar to drive us to our hotel, Oscar Saigon, which is located at the heart of Quan/District 1. The first agenda is to eat dinner, most of the restaurants were closed by 10PM and we ended up at Mon Hue to taste my first Vietnamese noodles for this trip. 
Nguyen Hue/walking street
I was also pleased to see the ‘night life’ in Nguyen Hue, a walking street across our hotel. It was filled with people hanging out and sitting on the floors or their stools. 
Motorbike street food stall
There's a lot of street food vendors with their stalls attached to their motorcycles, and of course, there were motorcycles everywhere!!

The next day, we enjoyed the free breakfast buffet at the hotel and prepared for our walking tour. Unlike other South East Asian countries that I've visited, there is no bus, or tuktuk for easy commute within the city. The subway is still under construction so our option is limited to walking or booking Uber/Grab car.
Nguyen Van Binh
Chino's office mates told him that the War Remnants Museum is a must see place. From Nguyen Hue, we passed by Book Street - Nguyen Van Binh and we're pleasantly surprised to see a whole street dedicated to selling books, souvenirs and coffee. It has it's "Insadong" feel and at the end of the street, we saw the Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral which we plan to visit. We walked to Tao Dan Park and finally saw the sign leading to the museum. 
refreshing coconut juice
Vietnam has wide roads and motorcycles are coming from different angles so it was fortunate that a coocnut juice vendor helped us cross the street. He asked us where are we from and even told Chino that he can take a photo with his goods. He surely knows how to deal with 'tourists' as he handed us the juice with straw and we're forced to buy it. It costs 4x more than the usual but we realized that we're too thirsty from our walking tour.

We paid 15,000VND entrance fee and started checking out the planes left by US in Vietnam War. Truly, History is written by the victor and it's interesting to read about the perspective of a small country who won over world superpowers. We stayed in the museum for almost 2 hours and I swear, I had goosebumps the entire time. There is an eerie feeling in the air and I quietly sobbed on some of the stories and photos that I saw. We we're emotionally and physically tired and ended up having a feast at Lunch Lady and Pho 25. In the evening, we did a craft beer tasting at Pasteur, I’ll have a separate blog post for ‘What we ate in Ho Chi Mihn’.
Saigon map
His office mates also warned us about buying anything from Benh Than Market so we decided to go to the other market that Chino found but turned it out to be the same market! I know, it's confusing but funny because we got lost in translation. Our only goal was to buy a Kipling wallet for our mommys but I had a mistake of checking out a North Face bag. Do not enter a store by yourself, I felt kinda harassed and was forced to buy the bag. The salesday literally trapped me inside the store and wouldn't leave me alone while her male buddy was chatting up with Chino outside huhu. It was a good purchase considering the quality and price of the bag but it was an overwhelming experience for me.
Cho Ban Co Market
Sunday was dedicated to souvenir shopping! We went to Cho Ban Co and I noticed that locals were a lot nicer, meaning they gave us space to look around without the pressure of buying something. I bought 1 floral top, the price and quality is comparable to clothes sold in tianges here so I didn't feel the need to hoard. My only regret is that we missed out of the street food.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
We took a cab to go to Jade Emperor Pagoda, it's a Taoist temple built for the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang. The smoke of incense fills the air when we entered the temple and we're amazed by the word carvings and statues. I didn't take photos inside to give respect to members who were worshiping when we visited the place. When we're looking for places of interest near us, we got curious about this Taoist temple because even if it was built by the Chinese community, it was said to be influenced by Catholic, Hindu, Islam and other religions.
Saigon river
We walked along the riverside to visit Lunch Lady for the second time. As expected, the food was fantastic! 

Book Street
We booked an Uber car to go to Book Street or Nguyen Van Binh to look for Chino's pasalubong for his daddy, a history book from a local perspective. I ended up buying a used Ho Chi Minh Lonely Planet for PHP120.

We decided to catch the 4PM mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. We already knew that it will be in the local language but before the homily, we decided to leave because yeah, of course we can't understand anything. We figured out that Chua is God, though.

Apartment Cafe at Nguyen Hue
I'm really in awe of the French influence in Vietnam's architecture, even if we stayed in Quan1, the business district, it was rare to see high rise buildings. I appreciate the low rise buildings because it gives of a feeling that you can breath and you can enjoy the skyline more. I also like that buildings have little balconies which can be very useful for owners and generally pleasing to the eyes as well. The Cafe Apartment in Nguyen Hue Walking Street is often compared to a 'chocolate box' of independent coffee shops. Too bad, I only saw it from outside. I didn't know that I can pay 3,000vnd to use the elevator and go coffee shop hopping!
night life
This photo was taken outside our hotel, Oscar Saigon, which is also across Nguyen Hue. I find it very interesting how the young and old Vietnamese casually hangout in the street with their stool, coffee or assorted food then enjoy their picnic style hangout. I envy them that they their city is this safe and they were able to enjoy this simple yet fun routine. Chino and I also joined the fun and sat down in the middle of the walking street while enjoying street food!
City Hall
On Monday, Chino had to go to the office while I get to enjoy my holiday walking around Saigon.
Saigon Opera House
This is Saigon Opera House, aside from being my personal landmark to go to Chino's office, it is the best place to enjoy cultural shows! We're supposed to check out AO show, a dance circus and musical that depicts Vietnamese life, but we can't find a good schedule.  
Art Arcade
I was able to buy a painting of a Vietnamese lady in Spring background here at Art Arcade. What's fun about exploring alley's in Ho Chi Minh is that sometimes we end up on someone else's dining or living room and of course, you have to watch out for motorbikes every time!
manga overload
After buying Trung Nhuyen and Highland coffee pasalubongs (and discounted Pandora charms) at Vizcom Centre, I decided to spend the rest of my free time on a 3 floor bookstore in Nguyen Hue. I'm so amazed that they have a lot of books translated into their local language and half of one floor was dedicated to Japanese culture! There were shelves of anime goods, Japanese self help books and mangas!

I really enjoyed our spontaneous trip to Vietnam, it helped that our hotel was in a good location so it was easy to just Google a place of interest and often walk to go there. Ho Chi Minh was able to retain it's French influence and mix it with their local charm. I would like to go back when their subway is operational so that we an explore more areas with ease.