What a great name for a restaurant – ‘Lunch’ – Com Trua means lunch. You see stalls, street-carts and dingey diners with the same name all over this town. Bargain basement street tucker that makes many a posh & prim eatery in Saigon look embarrassingly lame. For a start, these joints lack refrigeration. What’s on offer is fresh that day, not zipped out of the Zanussi at a moments notice.
I found this stall, next to the French Consulate, at 25bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1. It specializes in ‘Com Hop’ – pull up on your bike, point at what you want and takeaway in a polystyrene box - Simple. I chose to sit down on one of the tiny plastic chair and table set-ups, off the street, behind the stall. Vietnamese folk eat by the clock - 6am, 11am & 7pm - You can set your watch by the communal digestive tract of this nation and this is a super snippet of info to know. If you are peckish - say around 10.30am as I was - it is well worth hunting down a nearby Com Trua. By that time the grub is fresh out of the pan and already on the plate awaiting the 11am influx. You’ll have first and best choice of what’s on offer and you’ll eat before the hordes arrive. That’s a win-win-win situation.
This street chef serves up eleven different main dishes, including squid, tofu, fish and pork numbers. All looked excellent, but I plumped for the Ca Tre - a sweet and spicy fish steak number made with Ca Lop a slightly fatty fish – and some Tofu stuffed with spiced minced pork. All orders come with rice, sautéed beansprouts, a Nuoc Tram dipping sauce - darker and sweeter than a straight nuoc mam (fish sauce) - and Canh Cua Rau Dai – a simple warm bitter veggie soup.
If you eat ‘in’ they’ll also give you a jug of Tra Da – iced Vietnamese tea, normally jasmine or lotus – to help yourself to. The fish is totally fresh and comes drenched in a sweet nuoc mam based sauce with a smattering of sliced tomato, chili, onion and spring onion. The stuffed tofu is a little spongey and tricky to cut, but very tasty all the same. The minced pork in the middle tarts up the tofu, making it a bit of a tender, spicy bite. I enjoy the little soups – Canh - you always get in these places and this bitter little chap was a real charmer. Water spinach, little bit of minced pork, crab, garlic, stock and you’re done. I normally devour the veggies mid-meal and sup the soup last.
That little lot set me back a bank manager worrying 10,000VD, was devoured at 10:30am and filled me up until dinnertime.