12.8.07

Give the people beef, said the Communist paté

We had a lot of beef, but we didn't get around to any banh mi with paté, mostly because every time we walked past a banh mi stall, the sight of the hefty baguettes made me think I wouldn't make it beyond two bites before I declared myself full.

But we had pho everyday, from street stalls and airconditioned eateries (Pho 2000's broth and menu is superior to Pho 24's, which must be why Clinton dined at the former back when he was still POTUS) --- with beef slices, beef balls or other cow parts which aren't on the average foreign traveller's diet, and, one time, pho with a baguette on the side. After one mouthful of soup-soaked bread, the only thing either of us could say was: "Now why the hell didn't anyone think of that before?"

Pho, glorious pho

I swear the pho in Vietnam tastes better simply because all the ingredients are locally grown, which means they not only taste fresher but also taste of, well, Vietnam. No Australian beef, no imported leaves and the soup's probably been brewed in the same scraped-up pot they've been cooking in for the last ten years. Don't look too closely at the pot or the dishwashing area --- it might put you off your meal. Just concentrate on the bowl of hot soup in front of you, never mind that the same shop's separate translated menu gave pho tai chin and pho chin vien the same description in English, all the iffiness has been scalded away anyway.

In between overdosing on pho, we traipsed up and down the streets of Saigon (meaning District 1, not some fond pseudo-American affectation): pondering narrow buildings and indecipherable shop signs, waving off offers of motorcycle or cyclo rides, sidestepping the inevitable puddles in the streets or cracked sidewalks (it rained everyday we were there), gawking at expert capteh players or neighbourhood aerobics classes in the park.

View from the room

Ho Chi Minh City was not as crowded, nor as grating, nor as smelly as I'd been led to imagine. People were generally friendly, and most people who tried to sell us something backed off quietly when we declined with a smile and a shake of the head. Shopkeepers tried to get the best price outta us, of course, but we never paid more than we wanted to for anything. It was generally the young guys who were easy to bargain down, not the cheerful but adamant aunties. Flinty they could be, and completed uninclined to coddle our rudimentary bargaining attempts.

When we wanted a break from the street scene, we hunted down some of Travelfish's top 10 Saigon cafes. Creperie & Cafe was the perfect antidote to a waterlogged afternoon in serious propaganda-filled museums. La Fenetre Soleil, though tucked away in a splendid second-floor space, offered plenty of people-watching opportunities.

La Fenetre Soleil

Other times, it was back to our daily diet of cafe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee with copious dollops of condensed milk); I probably consumed an entire month's worth of sugar in my four days.

Museums, sightseeing and urban rambles aside, we decided towards the end that what we really liked to do was to park ourselves streetside on the edge of backpacker district Pham Ngu Lao and watch the people stream by. Locals on bikes, of course, but also foreign tourists of both the amiable and the sketchy sort, or child street performers with fire-breathing or shoe-shining talents. Not to mention what seemed to be the nightly ten-minute blackout that would prompt the crowd's cheer (jeer?), as the only light left came from the individually-powered food stalls.

One last bowl of pho, one last T-shirt stuffed into an over-full backpack --- and then we flew home.

Baggage labels

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2 Comments:

At 8/13/2007 11:57 am , Blogger Eveline said...

Oh my goodness HCMC has changed so much! All those new buildings! I couldn't tahan the traffic and constant honking, but the food was good! Tried any bahn xeo?

Miss the coffee there too.

 
At 8/14/2007 11:49 pm , Blogger Tym said...

I've been to Hanoi before, where there was also traffic and constant honking, so Ho Chi Minh City felt like a mini-homecoming of sorts.

Alas, no banh xeo. I was looking out for it, but must've missed the signs ...

 

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