Bo la lot & banh hoi at Stall 1090, 20,000 dong. Bo la lot is grilled ground beef wrapped in la lot (betel leaves). They’re the little green cylindrical packages. I remember my mom using vine leaves when she could not find betel leaves at Asian markets. I asked to substitute the usual bun (vermicelli) for banh hoi - very thin rice noodles, usually steamed instead of boiled. I really enjoy these thin noodles. The beef seasoning was excellent, but I’m used to a better quality meat. I couldn’t resist ordering a chao tom (ground shrimp, grilled around a sugar cane) for an extra 15,000 dong.
Banh Canh Ga at Stall 1084, 25,000 dong. I had spotted a stall selling chao (rice porridge) and had the intention of eating there, but it was closed. Looking lost in the middle of food stalls in Cho Benh Thanh will quickly attract vendors asking you to come eat at their stall. The lady assured me her stall had chao ga (ga = chicken). Once I sat down, the lady at the counter offered mien ga (clear noodles) or banh canh ga. I ordered banh canh ga – banh canh is specifically the fat noodles above. The broth was excellent, sweet and flavourful. Banh canh is not my favourite though; I don’t hate it but I don’t love it.
Bun Rieu at Stall 1128, 20,000 dong. I do not usually feel like eating soups due to the hot weather here even though I am a total soup fanatic. After a morning shower, it actually felt cool so I thought I should take advantage of the weather and have some soup. Bun rieu is a vermicelli crab soup and is one of my favourites in the winter. It’s hard to explain what it is since my mom actually makes the rieu (the lumps at the bottom) from a can and simply adds eggs. Authentic rieu is made from a tiny crab mixture. The norm here is to serve fried tofu and huyet (blood). I had a nibble of the blood just to say I did, but it’s not really my thing. They served this with bean sprouts. I like my version better (even if it’s from a can) because I add a ridiculous amount of tomatoes and iceberg lettuce! It was still good though.
A condiment for bun rieu is mam (middle container), which is fermented shrimp paste. It’s stinky and salty, but it’s a must for this dish!
Banh beo at Stall 1170, 6,000 dong. I realize I've included banh beo in this eating challenge before. That’s because there is a lot of overlap between the food stalls. I’ve noticed this stall in the northwest corner of the market because it always seems very busy. Maybe because of its low prices! This is my cheapest lunch yet. At this stall, the banh beo were a miniature version. You could have cha or nem for an extra 3000 dong. I opted for nem since I haven’t had any since I got here. Nem is ground pork that is cured and is not cooked. This was good although the nuoc cham was a tad on the sweet side, even for my taste (and I like it sweet!).
Bun moc at Stall 1266, 25,000 dong. Bun moc is a pretty simple soup: broth, noodles and pork patties. The broth was very flavourful and the cha was very good too. It was good, but I was sweating buckets which made it a bit harder to enjoy. I find it hard to eat soup in the hot weather.
Bun cha gio & nem nuong at Stall 1044, 30,000 dong. I’ve been obsessing about cha gio (fried spring rolls). This is the fifth time I’ve had it in a week… These were good because the vendor heated them up on charcoal grills so they were crisp and hot. The filling had big chunks of pork, which I’m not used to because my mom usually uses ground pork. The nem nuong (grilled pork meatballs) were perfectly flavoured; they were just very fatty. Again, I’m used to my mom’s and she uses leaner meat. The little joint near my place definitely makes them better!
Rau ma, 6000 dong. I accompanied my cha gio with a rau ma juice. I’ve never had this green juice and my mother tells me it’s very cooling. Not just cool temperature wise. Vietnamese people believe that certain foods make you hot or cool internally. Well, rau ma may be cooling but it tastes the way it looks, like drinking grass. It was fine when I was drinking it, but the minute I swallowed, it was just grotesque.
Com chay thap cam at Stall 1014, 15,000 dong. Being the first (along with the 15th) of the lunar month, most com tam (rice) stalls offer a chay (vegetarian) option for practicing Buddhists. Thap cam is sort of the special (I can’t think of the correct English term!) which includes pretty much a little of everything offered. In this case, there was a lot of tofu, some okra, some faux chicken at the bottom and pickled vegetables over a bed of rice, accompanied by a sauce made out of chau (fermented tofu). It also came with a canh (soup) with big chunks of squash. This was pretty good; I liked certain things more than others. I wish I had a better idea what I was eating though!
Bo bit tet at Stall 1054, 25,000 dong. I’ve had bo bit tet (beefsteak) a couple of times in Vietnam. The best I’ve had is still at my aunt’s; she used melt-in-your-mouth Australian beef. I headed for Cho Benh Thanh around 9:00 (that’s early! I’m usually lazing around at that time) for breakfast. The bit tet came out on a sizzling cow-shaped plate with one egg, topped with pate, onion and crispy slices of garlic. Vietnamese love their pate, another French influence. The piece of beef was pretty small. This was accompanied by a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette bread) to sop up all the sauce. Quite a heavy breakfast! I’ll have to hit the gym extra hard today!