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Alley cat cooks

D12-bun-rieu-alley

This alleyway in District 12 is much like a zillion other Saigon rabbit warrens. It functions as a market from 5am and street stalls start shuffling their feet by 6am before shutting up shop, or moving location around mid-day. If you come across a nondescript alleyway like this it's well worth poking your nose up its entrance to see what you can sniff out. More often than not this is where Saigon's crack cooks crank out superb home-tweaked renditions from the extensive Vietnamese kitchen hit parade.

D12-bun-rieu-stall

This stall is a house, a kitchen and a restaurant all in one. No signs, no menu, no napkins, no fuss - just grub. Like all the best street stalls, it's a one dish show - Bun rieu (Crabmeat noodle soup) - it's a pieman fave and after yesterday's, similar, but more basic, Canh bun I couldn't resist comparing notes when I stumbled across this stall. I counted four separate stalls down this alley, each serving a different noodle dish. Not one stall has a sign up to advertise its wares or to help clueless foreigners. These alleyways are strictly local affairs. Everybody knows Mrs. such-and-such serves Bun rieu at number 23 and Mrs. such-and-such churns out Pho at number 10 etc.

d2bunrieuspread

You can be certain if you nip down an alleyway and there's only one stall flogging Bun rieu along its entire length it's selling it 'cos the locals eat that particular dish there and nowhere else. Vietnamese folk are discerning about their food and they love to gossip. If a stall is crap, word spreads, no-one goes and it shuts down. The theory, according to pieman, goes like this. Over time, in any given street or alleyway, the cooks who cook the best bring down all the rest leaving the best of the best of the best. I'm sure this isn't always true, but you get what I mean.

D12-bun-rieu-closeup

However, this rendition would seem to prove the theory. It's the best Bun rieu I have ever tried. I think you've really gotta throw in the purple monster (the Mam tom I mentioned yesterday) in the pot on the table above and half a teaspoon of that freshly minced red chili for a heat heavy hit. Squeeze in a lemon, chuck in a bit of hedgerow and off you go. At 4,000VD, it's cheaper than the last one I tried in District 1. The tofu chunks are slightly smaller and so are the synthetic looking slabs of congealed blood, and that's no bad thing. At least it's all bite size. The broth leaps with tomato sweet tangy vapours. I supped this fella to the bottom of the bowl and it's not every day I do that. I'll be back for more from this stall.

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I'm impressed that you're willing to eat congealed blood. Most people who didn't grow up in Asian culture (or perhaps you did?!) won't eat it. It's one of my favorites.

European bred, but you might be surprised... One of my fave dishes is Scottish (has to be Scottish) Black Pudding. It's very popular in the UK.
http://www.visitdunkeld.com/black-pudding.htm

And the French boudin noir isn't bad:
http://www.fict.fr/cic/CIC/produits/boudins.htm
The Sofitel Plaza Saigon even sells it.

Duh. I should have guessed that other cultures would have their version of congealed blood. Somehow "congealed blood" doesn't sound quite as tasty as "black pudding".

BTW, I had lunch at Sofitel's Rivoli restaurant today. Made the mistake of ordering salmon a la carte. I haven't had such a slow, over priced, and bad meal in ages. We are planning to try the Sunday buffet soon, though, based on the review you wrote up here.

Hi pieman, someone pointed me to you site, and Oh wow..... I travelled to HCMC/Hanoi regularly on business for almost 2 years, and I *loved* stuffing my face full with local delicacies. It took me a while to feel comfortable with the truly local establishments, but I must say some of the best food I've had were from Vietnam... and hey, I lived in Paris for 2 years!

There's a restaurant in Q3 HCMC that I loved, and whenever I was in HCMC my local assistant and I would pig out there for lunch everyday. The place is called Hoang Ty, not sure if it's still open. I haven't been back to Vietnam in 18mths. Their signature dish is thinly sliced pieces of pork or a whole fish which you eat wrapped with a special pancake and pickins' from a huge platter of fresh herbs/greens. My assistant and I would then round that feast off with sharing a bowl of noodles with pig trotters. It's relatively expensive fare by local standards, but a steal even then. Have you been there?

I'm hoping to head back to Vietnam some time this year, it's been too long since I had a good helping of ngo sen thom thit and I think my quality of life just hasn't been the same since my last dose!

Lei - enjoy the buffet. If you think it's good, crap or otherwise, shove a comment in the comment box on the buffet blog page. More opinions the better.

BTW, if you like foie gras, there's a deal at the mo' 'eat all the foie gras you want' over at:
http://www.restaurant-lebordeaux.com/
I went last weekend - excellent. Only managed 2 plates of fg, but thoroughly enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. Reviews here:
http://www.elephantguide.com/bordeaux

Fimo - don't know the place you mean. Think I know the dishes though. Yes, we are thoroughly spoilt here. Ngo sen thom thit - is that a lotus, prawn salad thing - yeah? They do a farily decent one over at:
http://noodlepie.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/streetfree_stre.html

Great looking bowl of noodles! I'm sure it tastes as good as it looks! I'm jealous and drooling right about now!

I am not sure the Hoang Ty that Fimo said is the one i know or not but the Hoang Ty i know is in Binh Thanh District and they serve the same dishes Fimo ate. The noodles with pig trotters is Banh Canh Trang Bang - it is exactly the Banh Canh Trang Bang in Nguyen Van Thu Street Pieman posted here. Pieman - you make me so hungry ... so yummy

i will hit home one day...food look so damn good!

Is this hygenic?!

Well, I never got sick from it. So, I guess it is :)

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