Seasons in Saigon



Fruit's great innit? It looks cool. It tastes fab, gives your intestine a decent bit of fruitcerise and helps flush out any stubborn internal cobwebs. What's also super-top-nice about fruit in Vietnam is that the stuff's seasonal. What with the availability of all kindsa fruit year round in the west, I wouldn't be too surprised if there's some study somewhere showing that British and American kids don't actually know that fruit is seasonal. Whereas I'm fairly sure your average Vietnamese kid knows exactly when to find longans and litchis for sale.

I am British and as seasonally clueless as most of my compatriots. However, in Vietnam there's a nifty way of finding out what's a la mode at any given time. Take a walk down the street and see what's on offer. If it's on sale, it means it's 'in' and it didn't come from some Israeli kibbutz, a Californian growth hormone farm or the Windward Islands. These here grapes be in season right now and'll set you back 12,000VD/kg.

This guy's got a basket full of hairy, red chom chom (rambutan). You only find them during the rainy season - May to October(ish). They just recently started to appear on the streets. Binh Hoa, near Saigon, is where many of these fellas are grown. Crack open the hairy outer and there's a sweet, white blob inside. 10,000VD/kg

Sau rieng (Durian) is the legendary stinker. Can't quite see what all the fuss is about to be honest. It smells, but it's really not that bad. I'm not a big fan of this gunky, creamy fruit. It's the texture that freaks me out. However, noodlegirl is keen and so we normally buy at least one per week. It'll cost you around 12,000VD for one from a street cart like this. The skin is a jagged bitch and I've cut myself more than once on one of these things.

It's best to ask the seller to open your durian for you. They then stick the fruit meat in a polystyrene box.

The durian seller on my local market can be seen above hacking up a durian for us. She's not taking any chances and wears something of a falconry glove to protect her paws.

On Ben Thanh market (see pic above) the durian are larger, but cost about three times the price of the street deal. Noodlegirl says the taste from the Ben Thanh babes is in another league.

The durian seller on my local market also sells the centrefold of the fruitarian galaxy, the dragonfruit. But, I guess much like many centrefold models, there's not a lot going on inside. Under the gorgeous skin is an equally stunning night sky in negative effect - white flesh, dotted with wee black seeds - but it tastes of nothing, watery and unintersting.

Pimp my rice

Here's another in our occasional series of combo basket streetfood delivery devices. I find this lady trawling hers around the local market. She sells xoi (sticky rice - sometimes savoury, sometimes sweet) Please note the hygiene inspector friendly plastic tarpaulin food shields. These things are all the rage down south. Is there more dust down here? Are we just cleaner? Maybe this seller comes from Hanoi as she's not having any of them transparent kinky gloves.

We've covered xoi before and I'm not the world's biggest fan of this basic sticky rice snack stuff. Above and below are pictured the condiments section and the rice basket respectively.

Moving on to the scoffables. Below we have the sweet rice xoi. Note the copious amount of sugar ladled onto this rice filled polystyrene box. Somehow this reminds me of drinking coffee by the river in Vientiane. I watched as the coffee seller filled half a beer glass with sugar before ladling in the coffee. It was the thickest, blackest, stodgiest, and obviously the sweetest, coffee I will ever taste. I digress.

The xoi below is the savoury number. The sliced red meat is a sweet sausage (yuck). The stringy stuff is dried shredded pork. There's beansprouts, some pate and corn along for the ride too.

At 2,000VD a tray I won't grumble. The savoury xoi is pretty good - a salty, snacky near hit. I finished this in its entirety minus the red meat. I didn't attempt the sweet version.

Prehistoric roots

I'm fast becoming more than a little impressed with the humble lotus flower. The purple stalk (bong sung) furnishes the vast Bun mam hedgerow and is filled with a crunchtastic zap. It's seeds (sen) litter the ricemungus Com sen from Ngu Vien restaurant and can be procured as a snack snip outside Ben Thanh Market. The flowers are groovy. And it grows in mud. Now, I discover you can gobble the roots of this 'leave nothing to waste' plant.

Trai au (lotus roots) look prehistoric or Stag beetle-esque, doncha think? You crack open the tough outer skin with your teeth and inside you'll find a white pulpy centre. It's slightly sweet, a tad earthy and not unlike a traditional English Horse chestnut.

It seems there's very little you cannot eat, use or look at contemplatively from a lotus flower. Trai au cost bugger all - a 2,000VD bag is more than enough for one root snack head. What a fantastic hardy perennial. Respect. This seller also flogs dried fish, strawberries and when they're in season i.e. now - she also sells Vietnamese blackberries. Not sure what they're called, don't have a pic of them, but they're a bit sour and I'm wondering whether or not they'd work for a blackberry pie or crumble. Hmmm??

Hu hit

This morning I was supposed to meet ex-CNN reporter, North Korea expert and Global Voices Online blogmeister Rebecca MacKinnon. She's here, I think, to learn how the media in Vietnam is or is not developing. And to talk about blogging. She had to split town early and instead of eating with me, she had the delights of a Vietnam Airlines sandwich to contend with on her way back up to Hanoi. When figuring out where to take Rebecca, I wasn't sure just how 'street' she would be prepared to go. So, erring on the safe side I chose to go 'very very' street. Let's see what she missed.

I've almost ingested and blogged from every stall down at the local market now. However, there are two soups I've yet to 'go live' on and they both reside up this back passage which runs off one side of the main market. As is usual on local markets, there are no signs telling you what's being sold or how much it'll set you back.

I only know this is a Hu tieu stall because... well... I'm very wise. Also I had this same dish two days ago as a 'home delivery'. The last time I blogged Hu tieu it was a bit of a District 10 disaster. That joint has since closed. However, I was so impressed with my 7,000VD home delivery and surprised that I'd never stopped by before that I decide to visit the stall in person this morning.

Hu tieu is a sweet noodle soup made from pork stock with a few small prawns, liver, kidney, pork slivers, he (a chive-alike) and beansprouts. It comes with the white noodles you can see above, but there is a Mi (yellow noodle) variant called Hu tieu mi nam vang. Side note, if you want really decent Mi, head to Mi Chu Tac on Ky Dong street.

I'm going white noodle this morning. The chef revives them in the side stock pot before shunting them bowlwards. However, being Rebecca-less and with the toad in tow, I decide to grab a mang di ve (takeaway) and bank this baby for lunchtime. So, in what is quite possibly definitely a first for this blog. What you are seeing has yet to enter my digestive tract. However, like I said, I had a very successful meeting with this beast two days previously and I feel confident I'm in for a carbon copy performance.

It's blisteringly good broth, not in the sense that it'll actually give you blisters of the puss spewing swollen variety, I don't think it will, well I didn't get any, but that's not to say you couldn't get them... I digress. If Rebecca had come I'm fairly certain she would have said something like, "This soup rocks. My buds'd love this shit." which in village English roughly translates as, "Oh that IS nice. I must tell everyone at the knitting circle to pop along for a post-knit nibble next week."

I don't know much, but what I do know is I've got a blindin' soup for lunch while Rebecca could well still be recovering from airline sarnie hell. Or did she go Business class?? Hmmm? Bloggers in Business class, that could never happen. Could it?

Bread bin

While I’m a big fan of Saigon’s sarnie scene, as a stand alone food item devoid of jungle filling, your regular Vietnamese street loaf - banh my - is largely lacking in… errr… loaf. Airy it is, at 1,000VD it's cheap too and it's well light, but tasty? Well not really. It’s not one of the world’s great breads, but its lightness probably lends itself better to a hot climate than some heavy rye bread brick. I buy it once a week or so from this seller who trades from the entrance of the local market next to a flower flogger and a che merchant. The executive style loaf on the left is covered in sesame seeds. Occasionally, if I’m feeling flush, I splash out on this more expensive 2,000VD chap. After 9am, this seller’s normally all out of sesame bread. Heated at home with salted butter, and a wee bit cheese, it works well enough for snack-mode moments. For the record, the best bread I’ve found in Vietnam comes from Hoa Sua restaurant shop in Hanoi. A charming rustic round loaf with a crusttastic crusty crust.

Market crisis

There's been something amiss down the market these past few weeks. The elderly Bun mam seller took sick two weeks ago. I don't think I'm the only Bun mam head shivering off withhdrawal pangs. The whole neighbourhood is suffering. You can see it in the downcast faces, the shuffling plastic flip-flops and the normally pristine shopping pyjamas that look a bit more crumpled than usual. Her slot's been temporarily nicked by a rice cake seller. It's a depressing sight. Distraught, I slope off on the trail of new blood to fill the void that is life without Bun mam.

The Bun thit nuong seller is flogging Banh xeo today This savoury pancake dish is an irregular fixture here. But, if she's got it on the go and you hang around long enough she'll rustle up a fresh one for you. We've covered this prawn, pork and beansprout number before at the 'famous' Dinh Cong Trang steet venue. We've also hogged one down in Chinatown. So, I'll spare you the usual bollocks, you can go check the past posts out. Unfortunately, this specimen isn't quite up to snuff, but it's fresh, light, filling enough for breakfast and costs 6,000VD. Vietworldkitchen.com has further details and wanderingspoon.com has a nifty MP3 file about cooking Banh xeo which site owner Thy tells was recorded in San Francisco. I wish the old soup demon a full and speedy recovery.

Floored

Floored

Who needs waiters?

Basket case

Hue street food

I've tried to like it, but I'm still having issues with Hue food. It's the rice flour pancake naffness of it all that I don't really get. Without the fish sauce dip, it's just rice flour pancakes and ground bean, maybe a prawn or sommit. But, well, it's all dullsville really. I'm a big fan of Saigon's premier Hue resto, however I rarely dig into the Hue section of their menu. Having said that when I spotted this seller hawking her creations down the market, I thought I'd try the street rendition and see how it compares.

Hue street food

It looks like she's one of the more popular dual basket contraption sellers as there's hardly anything left and what there is is a bit tired looking and pretty warm. This seller tells me she's from Hue and so if anyone knows what she's doing, I guess it's her. I order a threesome trial pack for 5,000VD.

Hue street food

Interestingly, as can be seen from the explanatory diagram above, she serves with a pair of transparent, disposable plastic gloves. This is a growing trend I've noticed. Not sure if there's a law or if the street sellers are just going for that chic, hygienic, slightly kinky look, but I'd be interested to know if this is happening in Hanoi too.

Hue street food

Not sure what they're all called. But one of these is Banh beo (rice flour 'n' green beans) They're all steamed and take about five minutes to prepare according to this seller. They come with a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip and as I said, without that, Hue food is verging on piss poor in my book. Even with it, we're still talking biggo blando. Maybe I should try her a bit earlier in the day next time. Get 'em fresh out the steamer. For now I just don't see the attraction.

Tet hangover

Tet hangover

I seem to remember Marks & Sparks (purveyors of quality cotton undies, potted plants and executive sandwiches) would start flogging off left over Christmas puddings before the nation had had time to hit James Bond, crack open the Cognac and gobble down half a hundredweight of Brazil nuts. No-one in the retail trade wants a warehouse full of Christmas puddings on their plate first thing in the new year. Not so Vietnam. Yer average Joe Nguyen wouldn't thank you for brandy snaps and cream on a traditional Brit pud - their loss, our heart attack. But they probably wouldn't snort at a stray, seasonal Banh Tet if they cornered one that had somehow survived Vietnamese new year plump, live and fast running out of escape routes. This morning I found two sellers shipping the left over leaden rice bricks. And folk were buying, myself included. At 13,000VD a slab, they're a steal.

Thit: Take Two



I hope this ongoing tour of my local market is helping illustrate just how much nosh there is in this city. This market isn't special, it isn't big. It's just like a squillion others in town, but I'm still not done exploring it. The thing is barely 100 metres long and I'm as tall as it is wide. So, you know, it's small, it's good and there are more, a lot more just like it all over Saigon. Go explore.

This stallholder sells Bun thit nuong (Grilled pork with vermicelli noodles) for 7,000VD and her stall is about midway down the alley. This is my first time stoolside at her perch. I'm a regular at the other thit nuong seller and I must admit I felt a bit of a slag sloping off to her rival four stalls and weasel's burp up my back passage, but there are noticeable differences between the two. This seller doesn't do the kebab numbers and she doesn't do those freakin' top rice roll rockers.

She's a straight up 'n' down thit woman. Vermicelli noodles, chopped up cha gio (spring rolls), veggies and scissored, marinated, grilled pork in a bowl, mish-mash-mosh, slurp of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and whallop, you're done.

I think old reliable four hops and a beetle's scrurry to her right is better. This was a bit bland and I do like my rolls, big time and OK, I'll admit I did stop by her rival for a nibble and a gulp on the way back to Pieman Towers. Whaddya think? Those cha gio above look a bit munchtastic ehhh?

Best noodle soup in Saigon

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The 'Best Noodle Soup in Saigon' Taste Everything Award goes to a 7,000VD (US$0.45) bowl of Bun Mam and the lady chef who simply goes by the name of Ba Sau (Number 36). She's been serving this one noodle soup from her small six-seater stall in an alleyway market in District 10 for the last 25 years. Bun Mam is just one of a swarm of native vermicelli noodle soups on offer throughout Vietnam, but in my opinion, it is Vietnam's soup star and Ba Sau serves the best I've found in Saigon.

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So what is it? Pictured above we have part of the assembly line; bun (vermicelli noodles), soup, aubergine and that green end of spring onion-alike on your right, which is not a spring onion at all, but something called he - a kind of garlic chive. Inside the table top glass cabinet are pre-cooked prawns and fatty, roasted pork complete with a crispy fat trim. Some Bun mam sellers also throw in squid and fish, but not here. The dish originates from Soc Trang Province in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

Temamtom

The soup stock is the key. It's a pork bone/fish combo number rammed full of goodies. Ba Sau throws in a no nonsense, roughly chopped up bag of fresh lemon grass and there’s a healthy splosh or ten of Mam tom, that's the purple prawn paste monster pictured above and the one providing the punch and the pong here. Bun mam does whiff.

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Next up is the shrubbery pictured above. It comes on a side plate or ready blanched in your soup - your choice, but for the record I keep my hedgerow raw, add a squeeze of lemon and go easy on the yellow chilli slivers. This amazing bush is peculiar to Bun mam. The wee green chap to the top right, rau dang (a variety of cress), has the strongest flavour and is often served with Chao ca (Rice porridge with fish). According to local food lore, rau dang is very useful if you're suffering from a stinking cold. The purple fella is bong sung (water lilly root). We also have raw beansprouts, raw rau muong (stripped morning glory) and the green leaf trio of rau thom (sorrel), rau que (basil) and one sprig of sour rau ca which is a powerful and unusual 'fish mint'.

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Moving on to the taste. The soup is a slightly sweet, complex, muddy Mekong flood of fermented prawn paste and chilli lavered into a thick earthy stock. The aubergine has had time to soak the soup up and each velvet bite squeezes soup juice from the veggie core. It's an unlikely sounding hit, but a hit it undoubtedly is.

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It tastes blinkin’ marvellous which is why I have given it, and Ba Sau, the 'Best Noodle Soup in Saigon' award for the 2005 Taste Everything Food Awards. NB: I must thank Noodlepie readers, Ecr and Vickie for helping me with hedgerow herb translation work. See full list of awards.

Crab soup

Crab soup

Back down the local market scoping out new blood when I bump into crab girl. She has one of those nifty twin basket, over the shoulder numbers. She cruises the district looking for folk to ladle her soup out to. In one basket is a piping hot fusion of crabmeat, pork and quail eggs in a glutinous stock, Sup cua. The other contains a mish-mash of condiments and coriander. The wee plastic buckets in the middle contain takeaway plastic cups. A bit like a Starbucks drinks container, only transparent and sans straw. At 3,000VD it's not a thriller and no filler, none the less it's worth a gander if you bump into someone selling this globby broth.

Crab soup

Some of these soups can result in MSG OD, which gives a mild buzz up the spine. So long as you don't suffer from the MSG headaches, it's actually quite nice. Worse versions of this always appear as starters at Vietnamese weddings, that's every single Vietnamese wedding. One note for overseas readers, Quail eggs are bargainsville in Vietnam. Loved by Chelsea toffs (probably?), they're streetnosh in Saigon. The price did take a walk north with bird flu, but they're around 4,000VD for 20 on the market. Smashin' hard boiled with a salt/pepper combo side dip. Classy, yet common too - which is unusual in an egg.

Bargain broth

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If it's cheapsville I'm after this is the stall I drop by. She serves two dishes only, Canh bun and Bun rieu cua. I've yet to gobble her Canh bun, but have splashed out on her Bun rieu cua on several occasions. It costs just 3,000VD. That's one whole thousand dong cheaper than the younger, more glamorous, stallholder two steps and a horse's sneeze along the alleyway. But, is it any better? Well, no it's not, but she is up against the best Bun rieu I've ever tried. That said, this ain't no slouch. The Bun rieu cua here is far darker (sorry no National Geographic macro closeup wankery today) and is more frugal on the spamsticks than her snazzy competitor.

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However, she's one of the chirpier stall holders down the market and even though her broth isn't Olympic, I do enjoy pulling up a pew under her brolly for a slurp 'n' burp now and again. If you've yet to discover the delights of Bun rieu here at noodlepie, start you journey with Google juice. we've covered this beast several times previously.

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Of all the stalls down the local shopping precinct, there are only two that I've spotted with stall front signs. Unfortunately for the hopeless, bumbling nguoi tay balo's of this world, if you don't know your Vietnamese food, sign-less stalls won't help you as you pound your way up this back passage.

Now, does anyone know what profit there is in a healthy, fresh soup that goes for 3,000VD at a stall like this? 'Cos I'm buggered if I can figure it out.

For the clueless the handy noodlepie currency converter should help

3,000VD = 5.5 Russian Roubles, 20.3 Albanian Lek, 0.14 Jordanian Dinar, 0.52 Samoan Tala or not much of anything really.

Roll 'n' dip

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We've been here before. This is one of two Bun thit nuong sellers on my manor. I'm a bit of a regular at her stall. For those not in the know, Bun thit nuong is grilled marinated pork with cold vermicelli noodles (bun) and it looks like this. However, you can also get the same deal, herbs 'n' all, stuffed inside a rice paper. What's interesting at this Saigonite's stall is she's always got a bunch of sideline dishes on the go. I've seen Banh xeo, Bun bo Hue, various Canh (soups) and a bash at tempura. Today she plopped a bowl of Mam nem on my table, instead of the my regular Nuoc mam (fish sauce).

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All I know about Mam nem is that it's an anchovy sauce, but there's anchovies in Nuoc mam, so what's the deal here? Comments please? There's not much of a chili jolt to Mam nem, which is a good thing. Until enlightenment in the comment box, get a loada that roll above. Meat, herbs, noodles, rice paper, dip. OK, OK, it's not gourmet carcass, but let's not get picky. You don't need flesh from a Tamworth to make this roll rock. I only stopped by for a nibble, I ended up getting through three of these. What a mix, what a taste. Who thinks these things up?

UPDATE: Reader Nguyen enlightens us in the comments box:

Mam nem is different from regular "nuoc mam" in that the fish hasn't been extracted from the sauce, can feel scraps in your mouth (unless you filter it yourself). To create an even better sauce than what came in the bottle, add finely chopped pineapple, lime, garlic, a little oil and hot peppers. In my opinion, it's among the stinkiest. No doubt could kill any flies and buzz too close.

Blog readers are brilliant, aren't they. Thanks.

Sweet tatties

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This girl is another occasional seller at the local market just around the corner from pieman towers. She sells boiled tapioca sprinkled with coconut and a dash of pandan leaves. Her tabletop spot is located near the entrance to the thin stall-lined alleyway that we have been crawling our way along intermittenly for the last couple of months. She also sells chopsticks and rice paper for building rice wrap dishes. A bag of Khoai my dua (Tapioca with coconut) will set you back 2,000VD.

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They look better than they taste. They're a bit too bland, the coconut doesn't overpower, neither does it add enough grunt to tempt you into a repeat nibble. Handy way to grab your carbohydrates, but that's about all.

Get yer eggplants out

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On Sunday I noticed these two girls grilling eggplants up against the alleyway wall of the local market. They heat them whole on a pavement level charcoal barbie. When they're done, they slice them wide open, bag 'em up warm and sell them with a small bag of garlic and chili rammed  nuoc mam (fish sauce). They're a snacktastic 5,000VD and better for you than a bag of Wotsits. These girls aren't market regulars. Maybe they got these aubergines as a job lot.

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Every week someone different crops up in a tiny recess selling anything from tofu to sweet potatoes to full-on soups. Always interesting. Always worth checking out.

Soup market

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This lady serves Bun bo (Beef noodle soup) at the very far end of the alleyway which makes for the local market. Like most of the stallholders here, she sets her table up in front of her opened house. In this case that's next to the Banh khot seller. Her young son is clearly visible in the small living space behind the stall. I take a plastic seat stall front, order my soup and wait as her son skillfully manipulates a bewildering arsenal of weaponry to help save the planet from a group of evil doers wont on creating a blonde utopia upon his TV screen. Jerry finally eats electronic lead and my soup arrives.

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That slab of spam centrestage is a tasty, pepper filled giant. In fact it's the best thing about this rendition of Bun bo. The thinly sliced beef looks wan and is a trifle chewy. The thick bun (vermicelli noodles) are fresh, as is normal and expected in Saigon, but the soup is sadly lacklustre. There's little depth of any kind and we're deep in watery territory here. This stall doesn't seem to be the most popular on the market. In fact it's empty. One of the two Bun rieu sellers further up the market win the 'most popular with the punters' prize. However, you will find pleasant service and a quiet seat here. You'll need 7,000VD for a bowl of the beefy stuff.

Salad days & a fruit fix

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Yesterday, many of the regular stall holders on the local market, including old troutface with her Bun mam, switched from meat based scoff to strict vegetarian. I wasn't quite sure why, but in the comments Lisa tells us, "January 9 is the equivalent of November 30th on the lunar calendar. Vietnamese Buddhists do not eat meat on the 30th, 1st and the 15th of the lunar month." Thanks Lisa, now I know who's Buddhist and who ain't and also when I can and can't get a meat fill down here. There's plenty for fruitarians too. Here we have the papaya seller. The smaller, reddy ones on the right are sweeter than your regular more yellowy numbers on the left. Personally, I find papaya a wee bit bland, but at 2,000VD a slice it's a healthy snip.

Bitches broth

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I'm a big fan of the many varied Vietnamese soups here in Saigon. Something of a soup stalker, if you will. But what, I hear you ask, is my favourite? That’s a tough one right enough. Don't think I haven't mulled it over. I've thought of little else for the last eight years. But as of January 2005, I’m 98.89% certain of the one I’d choose. But, am I sure enough to commit that conviction to blogdom? Hmmm… Let’s put it another way.

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If I was banged up in Bellmarsh taking a shower and three 200lb sweaty, tattooed bitches had my legs spread, neck held in a fist vice, one side of my face melded to ceramic wall tiles and the threat of an afternoon at the ragged end of the prison meat train very real and rather imminent. If I found myself in such a spot of bother and was then asked what my favourite Vietnamese soup was, I’d have to own up and say, “Bun mam" But, I'd say it very, very loudly taking extreme care to enunciate my consonants.

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Bun mam is blindin’. This penny-pinching troll stallholder on the local market is the only mean minded witch seller of this powerful broth that I’ve found within a mile radius of Pieman Towers. Bun mam doesn’t appear to be as ubiquitous as Bun rieu, Pho, Banh canh cua or Hu tieu. I’m not sure why that is, or even if that statement is factually correct, but I don’t think Bun mam is held in such high regard as Vietnam's better known super-soups.

Hhbpbunmamassemblyline

So what is it? We covered it briefly before and back then I promised to delve deeper. I'll be honest with you, I haven’t journeyed much further at all, just around the corner actually. But I do have a few more factoids to hand. Pictured above we have part of the Bun mam assembly line, bun (vermicelli noodles), soup, aubergine and that green end of spring onion-alike, which is not a spring onion, on your right is called he, (Sorry, I don't know the English. Any help appreciated). In the table top glass cabinet this thief lady stores pre-cooked prawns and fatty, roasted pork. Some Bun mam sellers also throw in squid and fish, but not the tight-fisted bitch seller at this stall. The soup stock is the key. It’s rammed full of goodies, not sure what exactly, but I do know there’s a healthy splosh or ten of Mam tom, the purple prawn paste monster, in there. That’s the one providing the punch and the pong here. Bun mam does whiff.

Hhbpbunmambush_1

Next up is the shrubbery. Now, if anyone can tell me why different Vietnamese soups come with different hedgerow clippings, or none at all, I’d love to know. The amazing bush pictured above is peculiar to Bun mam. That wee green chap to the top right, rau dang, has the strongest flavour (English anyone?) and is often served with Chao ca (Rice porridge with fish) and is apparently useful if you're suffering from a stinking cold like me at the moment. The purple fella is bong sung (English again?). We also have raw beansprouts,  raw rau muong (raw stripped morning glory) and the green leaf trio of rau thom (Sorrel), rau que (Urr... English?) and one sprig of sour rau ca which is a powerful and unusual 'fish mint'.

Cmttbunmamcloseup

Moving on to the taste. It’s a slightly sweet, complex, muddy flood of fermented prawn paste and chilli lavered into a thick earthy stock. I could blabber on for hours about it, but to be honest I don’t really know what I'm talking about, what's in it or how it's really made. However, I do know I couldn't possibly come close to reproducing it even if I did know. It tastes blinkin’ marvellous.

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I visit this lying cheat seller about once a week. I first tried it hand delivered to Pieman Towers, pictured below. Impressed, a month or two later I popped down stallside for a butchers myself. If you have a Vietnamese face at this sly businesslike stall, it'll cost you 7,000VD. Difficult to disguise a pasty Brit face anywhere and I got wholloped for a full 10,000VD for my first purchase. I briefly challenged the cheating scum elderly trader in my pathetic, pidgin Vietnamese, but the evil one she wasn’t having any of it. I didn’t want to make Satan’s mistress her lose her faeces in public and so I sloped off, soup in hand, ego singed.

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A follow-up visit a week later, accompanied by a Vietnamese face, and this two-faced harpy grey-haired stall-holder told my accomplice, “NOW, he knows the real price, he can have it for 7,000 dong.” In so doing I broke noodlepie’s number one rule, ‘Never return to a seller who diddles the dumb foreigner. No matter how good the grub is.’ There is no rule number two. But Bun mam is THAT good. Yes - good enough even to break noodlepie-law for. But, if you ever fancy a fill at this arch criminal's lair stall holder’s table, watch your pennies or she’ll shaft you. Prison style.

Sweetscoff seasonal quiz

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Three desserts from the previous post. Made of what? 'n' what they called, huh? Not the faintest here, if you're on your hols, have a big one. We will.

Black brew

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This is one of two stalls flogging Che (Sweet desserts) and tipples on the local market. From her front of house scoffstall, with its array of large stainless steel bowls, she does a very brisk takeaway trade. To her right she has a selection of pre-prepared bags. The white ones are sweetened coconut milk, the black chaps are Nuoc do den (Black bean juice). She also has bags of Che ready to go. What's handy with stalls like this is you can order what you want and go scoff someplace else (say, the Bun thit nuong stall for example) and she'll deliver the goods to you.

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We've ploughed a path though several other Vietnamese streets drinks over the months and I've tried many more non-blogged ones, but I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that this is the first time I've ever tried the excellent Nuoc do den. From what I can gather it's just black bean juice, water and sugar. Earthy, refreshing and a thirst slakin' must try, I'd say. And at 1000VD for each healthy slug, you'd be a fool not to. I lurvvve my Mia da and Rau ma, but this is a great new addition to the hot weather slurp list. I'll certainly be back for more of this.

Sweet tray

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This seller struts her sweet tray through the local market, down the many nearby narrow alleys and along the main thoroughfare on a daily basis. We catch up with her mid-market between the bras and the broccoli. She's trying to squeeze past the usual glut of lazy, lard-arsed, shoppers astride their motorbikes, engines on, smoke puffing at the low level stalls full in the faces of the breakfast crew.

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As you can probably tell from the photos, she's not the cheeriest of sellers. Her sales banter is non-existent. She prefers to let the snacks speak for themselves through her mobile glass cabinet. Decent display of buns, banana cakes and coconut sundries. I'm reliably told that many a street seller hawking these kinda wares gets their supply from a small cake factory outlet at wholesale prices. Wherever she gets them from, or even if she makes them herself, they look and taste way better that the ones you get in some of the larger bakeries in town. Those are tasteless at best, inedible at worst.

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Feeling flush, I splash out on a single Banh gui (Rice flour cake stuffed with coconut) for 1000VD. My experience in Korea taught me rice cakes were to avoided - bland and crap is being way too polite. But, Vietnam is different and southerners are notorious sugar fiends. These greenies seem to be a popular purchase with shoppers. I see three people getting stuck in and one buyer was straight in after I cough up the sobs for this. I understand the green exterior of a Banh gui is made of nep, a hard short grain rice often used to make rice alcohol, which is worked into a paste and then coloured with... ummm... something green. They look scofftacular.

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Under the hood we have sweetened, dessicated coconut. The green mulchy rice cake blob is a yummy gum workout and the sugary, flaky filling crumbles upon scoffing, flooding your gob with mucho coconuto. It's really rather good, not heavy at all.

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I'll definitely keep a look out for this lady whenever she's playing a gig down the local market. Her cakes certainly rock, next time I'll check out her buns.

Meat market

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Continuing our mini-series from the local market, today finds us masticating at the meat stall. This seller flogs Bun thit nuong (Grilled meat and cold noodles) from an L-shaped table top stall dumped outside her front door and next to the Hot toc (hairdresser). A curtain of carcass smoke choking a trail across the upper section of the market is what first drew my attention to this stall. Of all the sellers down the local market she's the friendliest. Although I'll admit, she's the one who does the nattering, I just frown confusion.

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The nursery school seating helps make it a popular hang with the street's old lady mafia. A six foot tall honky isn't exactly a snug fit in these surroundings, but I try to blend in... As with probably every local stall at every local market in Vietnam, it's not just the food that's the draw, everyone's here for a gas and a gossip. The mobile Xoi seller who plies her morning trade up and down this alley is a regular squatter here. I digress... on to the food. In the two-tiered glass case above, we have 'the goods'. Top left is banana flower, next door some ready-wrapped rolls (more of which in a minute), then comes cooked, skewered pork meat kebabs and some very dainty cha gio. Sauces, condiments and debris and stored down below. Her 'kitchen' is a low level barbie she prods on her left hand side.

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Above we have some fresh meat beginning their journey deep into the heart of char-town.

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And these fine looking specimens are fresh outta the fire. I don't know about you, but meat has rarely looked more tempting than that flagrant display above. Now, there are a couple of options ahead of you. You can make a rice paper roll filled with meat, lettuce, cucumber, basil, bun (cold vermicelli noodles) and banana flower. Or you can go for the full Bun thit nuong-monty i.e. same as a rice paper wrap, but more of it and whacked on a plate rather than rolled up, i.e. something like this. You can also skirt the meat (Why the hell you'd wanna do that, I don't know...) and shove a cha gio in the rice paper instead and then add all the usual trimmings, wrap, dip and scoff.

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On this visit I'm in snack mode and plump for a couple of meat-filled rolls and a paltry one cha gio. The dip is a nuoc mam (fish sauce) firey chili fiend. If you're no vindaloo afficiando, approach this bowl with a degree of caution. This seller seems to fob off the ready-wrapped numbers in her glass cabinet to the mang di ve (takeaway) crowd. However, pull up a pew and she'll make sure you get a pipin' fresh slab of meat in your roll which she'll also wrap up for you if, like me, your rolling technique is less than good. Her rolls are a herby, carnivorous hit, her cha gio a bit of a limp, cold miss. 8-10,000VD depending on what, and how much, you scoff.

The cake lady

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Our next pew down the local market finds us with the Cake lady. Here we're talking Banh khot (sometimes called Banh can). They're small, sweet, savoury pancakes made from ground rice mixed with water to make a batter and in this case some corn is added. They're normally dipped in nuoc mam (fish sauce) and gob-popped within a few minutes of exiting the pan. Leave them too long, or take an extra bag home as we did, and you've got nothing but soggy, no-fun scraps. Speed is of the essence with Banh khot. She's a seven days a week stallholder and, much like the banana griller we got stuck into recently, you'll need to book your cake ahead of scofftime. Alternatively, if you're shopped out, like us, sit stallside, listen to your battered snacks sizzling from the two burners on the go, have a natter and wait your turn.

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She sets up stall in front of her house, next to a Bun Bo Hue seller, at the very far end of the market. It's popular with the youth. We're here for a good ten minutes and there's not a codger in sight. Each burner cooks eight Banh khot, but one portion consists of five cakes. You can also ask for a mini-plate of greens and herbs to perform a cake-wrap, if that's your thing. We opt for straight cakes, chilled via the fish sauce bowl. I was a little too eager to get stuck into these fellas and can report roof-of-mouth-burn is a factor with this dish. A plate is around 5000VD.

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Cooked to a crisp, moist inside, slightly sweet. We've had better, prawn dusted Banh khot at Co Hai and far worse on Ben Thanh night market, but for al fresco, post-shopping scoff, these hot fluffy fancies and their salty dip will do very nicely thank you very much.

Banana barbie

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The smallest stall on the market is run by one of the oldest sellers. Sympathy is what brings me to her banana barbie. Her neighbours have put the squeeze on her basement level banana grill. It fills a thin crack between a veggie vendor to her right and a heaving stall stuffed with fish sauce, mini bags of mam tom, packs of instant noodles, rounds of rice paper, jars of spices, pasta, grains and bowls of pickled cabbage to her left. However, she's the only banana burner in the lane and the locals are bananas about her bananas. Most buyers 'book' their 'nana before they go off and collect the day's kitchen needs from the other stalls.

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She sells Chuoi nuong (Raw grilled finger banana) 1,000VD and Chuoi nep nuong (Grilled finger  banana wrapped in rice and banana leaf) 2-3000VD. The wrapped chaps on the right above are all booked solid throughout the morning. We have to settle for the cheaper standard burnt banana. It's a sweet, soft, snack snip with a charred exterior and a warm core. Splendid.

Market forces

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If you keep your eyes open and take a walk through any district on any given morning sometime between 6am and 9am you're guaranteed to come across at least one small market. Titchier than the whoppers in District 1 or Cholon, but no less interesting. This is one such market, about 5 minutes walk from Pieman Towers. We nip down here to buy veggies and fruit and invariably stop by at least one stall for scoff 'n' gossip. In among the root veggies, meat sellers and clothes hawkers there are fifteen or so food stalls, churning out soups, noodles, sweets, snacks and savouries. Almost everybody flogging here runs a front of house operation. Either it's their own gaff behind the stall, or they rent the pavement space.

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As you can see, for home cooking, there's plenty in the green department. Plenty I like the look of, plenty I haven't the foggiest what to do with. You won't find courgettes, leeks or anything too 'foreign' and exotic here. These kinda markets aren't often frequented by big noses like me. So, unlike say, Ben Thanh market, it's strictly veggies for Vietnamese and Vietnamese cooking. I've never seen another big nose down here and there's a fair few in the locale. Of the food stallholders some operate at weekends only, whereas others serve seven days a week. There are also a large number and variety of 'mobile sellers' who pass through flogging food like Banh Chung Chien (Fried rice with pork fat and beans) from wheeled carts or shoulder slung double baskets full of Xoi. If I arrive late, say, around 9am, a number of stalls are already closed or closing.

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The biggest problem for me with this is that I'm more of a Special K man at 8am. A tub of fish sauce fuelled broth doesn't, always, have quite the same allure. The fish here ain't great, but you'll find eel, river prawns and heaps of river fish sold at the three or four pavement level fish specialists. The only fish I've bought here are Luon (River eel) and Ca Loc. Both are good for making Chao. The Ca Loc goes for 20,000VD a specimen, the Luon for 90,000VD/kg. They're normally kept alive in plastic basins and killed to order. From death on the market to mastication a la maison can take as little as an hour.

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That's the briefest of introductions to the local market. Over the coming weeks, in something of a 'Market Munchies' mini-series, I'm going to blog from the foodstalls. If I can, I'll try and glean a bit of background about the sellers themselves. Whenever I can't, it'll be scoff only blogging. I hope you'll enjoy the ride.