As mentioned previously, this is a bit of a whirlwind trip, which leaves me relatively little time to explore dining options on my own. Knowing I'd be in Saigon I went directly to EatingAsia's Vietnam archives and found I wasn't staying very far from Hồng Hạnh, a restaurant specialising in Hue-style cuisine they appeared to have much praise for. I jotted down a couple dishes that looked interesting and headed over one evening.
Even before your bottom hits the chair at Hồng Hạnh you're presented with two side dishes:
On the left is bản công thành chiến, a deep-fried, meat-filled bun. On the right and wrapped in banana leaves are two different kinds of Vietnamese sausage: giờ, a pepper-studded piece of steamed minced pork, and nem chua, raw fermented pork with plenty of garlic. Both were wonderful, particularly the giờ, and I could have ordered a beer and called it a meal.
But following EatingAsia's tips I ordered bún thịt nướng (no pic) and the dish pictured at the top of this post, bánh đa, a deep-fried rice cracker served with tiny freshwater snails fried with fresh herbs. The former takes the form of thin rice noodles and shredded herbs topped with thin slices of grilled pork. the dish was sweet from the ubiquitous nước chấm, a syrup and fish sauce condiment, and could have used a few more fresh herbs, but instantly reminded me of the fresh Vietnamese flavours I'd been missing since my last visit to the country. I really enjoyed the latter, which was as simple as it was rich and herbal.
Coming back the next day, I arrived just before lunchtime. Business was slow, and after a couple minutes one of the employees came over and sat with me:
She couldn't speak much English, and compensated by helping me order, and eventually, taking it upon herself to season my dishes with copious chili (luckily I like spicy). With her help, I ordered bánh ít trần:
a dish described in the English-language menu as "round patty stuffed with green peas paste and meat taken with taro cake stuffed with meat." The two patties, one of which was fried and crispy, the other steamed and sticky, were stuck together, were served with shredded daikon and carrots, and two types of Vietnamese sausage. Unusual, but tasty.
We also decided on a bowl of bánh canh cua:
a thick crab-based broth with pork and, according to EatingAsia, tapioca starch noodles. The crab wasn't the pleasantest I've ever encountered, but I really enjoyed the fishy heartiness of the soup, the clear slippery noodles and the fact that the Vietnamese will put crushed black pepper on just about anything.
Two excellent meals, and if for some reason I had to head back to Saigon again on this trip, I'd eat there again.
Hồng Hạnh 17A Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Saigon 08 3827 4252 Lunch & dinner
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