Delicious Saigon

I had a notably irritating border crossing experience last week from Cambodia to Vietnam- the two main factors being 1. That it took a lot longer than it should have and 2. That I was majorly ripped off. I had hired a moto to take me 40 km on a rough, rural Cambodian dirt maze to the newly opened border at Ha Tien on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta; the driver got lost several times and I consequently missed the last bus to Saigon from the border by 15 minutes. A Vietnamese dude scammed me into paying him $7 to take me 20 km where he swore a bus would pick me up; he didn’t mention that the bus was a 10-hour local bus that stopped in every village on the delta (I was supposed to take a 6-hour coach bus with air conditioning). Of course, I was overcharged about four-fold for the bus fare as well. You win some, you lose some. I finally arrived in Saigon at 10 pm.

I had half expected Saigon to be a total shitshow, a hectic business hub of nothing but scam artists and drunken backpackers. But I was pleasantly surprised, and found a modern city of lively energy, on the fringes of becoming a world metropolis.

the streets of Saigon

the streets of Saigon

I spent the entirety of the next day people watching and observing the bustling scene by way of eating on the street, stall-hopping between various food vendors, sampling each of their specialties. And so began my love affair with Vietnamese street food and Vietnamese coffee. Vietnam is an adventurous-foodie-on-a-budget’s paradise, with each stall (or whatever you want to call it- usually a woman or man sitting at a small, low table of various ingredients (s)he assembles per order) specializing in one or two particular dishes such as quail egg and liver rice soup, or a delicious duck salad. With each dish somewhere between 50 cents and $1, I grab a beer and plop down in a plastic chair next to an old man or some local teens, to enjoy and experiment whatever my chef-of-the-moment has to offer me.

P5182614

this man makes "Vit" (duck) featured dishes

this man makes "Vit" (duck) featured dishes

P5222737At any hour of the day there are locals of all shapes and sizes (I mean that figuratively) spilling out onto the streets, sitting on little plastic stools, consuming pho, coffee, cao lao, or what have you. I know I have a tendency to compare places to Paris (my favorite international city) and I will do so once again, because I feel the same “c’est la vie” energy (or je ne sais quoi…) when I turn each block, exploring hidden alleyways with many a delicious surprise.

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~ by ceciliabien on May 24, 2009.

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