Vietnamese cuisine is one of my all-time favorites. Excitement was an understatement when our TV show “Foodprints” made plans to go to Vietnam since I’ve never been there.
But I have dined in Vietnamese restaurants abroad, such as in Los Angeles as well as in Vancouver where Song Huong is. I remember feasting on pho, fresh and fried spring rolls, dry noodles with patis, and banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwich.
Before “Foodprints” went to Ho Chi Minh for a five-day shoot, I had done my routine two-week diet. Though my flight was delayed for two days, it just meant I had to catch up when I arrived.
The mission: three days of hectic shoots of restaurants, translated into eating, eating and more eating.
We had a good Filipino guide, Janice Lim, or Ja, who has been a resident of Ho Chi Minh for the past five years. She knows the best dining, shopping and sightseeing places. In fact she rubs elbows with many of the tindera in the market.
Pasteur is reputed to serve the best pho in town. I had the mixed beef pho. Saraaap!
There was so much eating, I didn’t even have the sumptuous breakfast at Sofitel where our staff was billeted. We ate at the palengke sitting on tiny benches, enjoying dry noodles with strips of pork drizzled with sweetish patis.
Mixed meat banh mi
We visited Hong Hoa which bakes its own Vietnamese baguette. I knew I was going to eat a lot here but the banh mi was so delicious I had two. It was the mixed meat version. On crumbly, crusty, light and most delicious bread, it had butter, three kinds of meat, two kinds of ham and meat loaf, lots of paté, cucumber, pickled carrots and radish, jalapeño chili, wansoy and some sort of Maggi Savor-like seasoning. Fantastic!
At a cooking school I finally learned to make Vietnamese fresh spring rolls; Viet chicken salad with that famous patis dressing; and fried rice wrapped in lotus leaves. Very interesting.
I hopped on the scooter of Sofitel executive chef Sakal Phoeung, who took me to his favorite hangout after work. Most of the dishes had meat, coated with tapioca flour, and then steamed. The dish I first tried in Vancouver and have never stopped dreaming about was there—fresh rice noodles with spicy mini clams, topped with shaved banana hearts and lettuce and mixed with Vietnamese bagoong. Grabe, ang sarap!
Chef Sakal also took me to a drinking place where most of the pulutan were shells or clams. We ate in a place that served nothing but live soft-shell crabs, which were biting me but, hey, soft shell nga di ba?
I was likewise a guest in a Vietnamese family home where I was served a typical dinner. One thing I learned about Vietnamese cuisine, it is not only delicious but also healthy. There’s lots of leaves which you put together, get a chunk of meat, dip it in sauce and eat it that way. I loved it.
We took motorcycle rides driven by pretty Vietnamese ladies in their national outfits. We cruised all over the city. If you think motorcycle rides are scary in Manila, try it in Ho Chi Minh. But the people are disciplined and they give way to each other.
I didn’t have time to shop but, as Arnold would say, “Al bi bak.” For sure. Next time with my family because I have fallen in love with Vietnam. People are kind and accommodating, the place is clean and progressive, and there is much to discover.
Now I know what to do and where to go in Ho Chi Minh. Calling Janice Lim! Look for her on Facebook and ask about her tours. So worth it.