Superb noodle soups abound in Saigon, you have to try hard to find a REALLY bad one. The soup kitchen I nipped into on this occasion is Thanh Phat at 258 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street - it's on the other side of that traffic nightmare above. This canteen - not quite a restaurant but no shack either - is your common or garden Saigon eatery. Cheap grub for the masses on the move - all metal tables, food in a glass display case out front, neon heavy lighting, big sign advertising the house specialities and pyjama clad cooks. No deviation from standard Vietnamese so far.
One steaming vat of stock does all 5 soup dishes here; Hu tiu (sliced pork, prawn, liver, thin white noodles and a side of veggies. Sometimes spelt Hu Tieu) Mi Nam Vang (much the same ingredients, with a thin, yellow 'Mi' noodle), Banh Canh (same ingredients again, but a thicker fresh noodle) Hoanh Thanh (Won ton noodle soup) and Bun Moc (have had it, but can't remember what it is at the minute - think it's the same with a big pork knuckle inside). They also serve a Chao (rice porridge) in this case Chao Thap Cam which is basically an animal innard porridge - tasty.
I ordered the Hu Tiu and the Banh Canh to take away, costs 10,000VD per soup and an extra 1,000VD a dish for bagging up the bowls and veggies to take home - very handy. Even though the Banh Canh and the Hu Tiu are exactly the same, except for the type of noodle, it's the Hu Tiu that comes with the veggies (bean sprouts, lettuce, a type of celery leaf and half a lemon). Not sure why there is this veggie-discrimination, but it's never hindered the spirit of sharing and giving at pieman towers.
So, on to the tasting notes... Sorry, but can't escape the fact that, it's a bland broth, not awful, just - not exciting.
Tired, grey morsels of liver, stingy on the prawns (1 per bowl...), the pork slivers were fine, but as ever it's the soup that bonds the whole and if that's messin' with mediocrity, you're just eating without enjoyment. Hu Tiu and Banh Canh, on this take, are probably not culinary classics in the same vain as Vietnam's brothbustin hits Mi Quang and Bun Rieu - much more of which blogging up tres soon. There's just not enough goin' on in there. Or perhaps this canteen just isn't a good example. The joint was chosen at random. In Saigon such random bites often throw up edible ecstasy, but not tonight. I'll keep an eye out for more, and hopefully better, Hu Tiu and Banh Canh around town. I want to like these dishes.
UPDATE: This joint has now closed.