Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City 14-17 May 2011

Day 1 - Upon arrival and check in to hotel, we took a cab directly to Pho 2000 (Decent Pho, can't go wrong choice)

After lunch, we went to Pham Ngu Lao area (backpackers area) to book the Cu Chi tunnel half day tour. Went from shop to shop and asked for price. Price quoted to us ranged from USD 6 to USD 4. We eventually went for the cheapest one at USD4 for pax as the guy speaks Chinese and is from Hainan (same as my grandfather!).

Lunch: Beef Pho at Pho 2000 (the one beside Ben Thanh market, made famous by Bill Clinton's visit, hence the high price of 55,000 dong each - twice the price of Pho at other places)

Went to Ben Thanh market and bought a cap for the Cu Chi trip the next day. Hubby bought T-shirt :)

Next, we venture off in search of Fanny.

Passed by Huyunh Thuc Khang Street Market and found street snacks.

We saw 2 motobikes and a 3-4 persons, crowding round a lady selling snacks from 2 baskets by the road. We choose a couple of items which the locals bought (using hand signals and pointing). Each item cost ard 5,000 dong each. For 3 items, it costs less than 1 SGD.

First is an orangy glutinous rice thingy, a hint of spiciness... Hubby prefer this to the other two.

Second item is this thing wrapped in leaves. A guy on a bike bought a huge bags of this so we had to try too!

Its actually glutinous rice again, but the purplish thing inside is banana.
The last item, is my favourite.

I saw something wrapped in banana leaf and comes with 2 small packets of condiments. It even comes with a plastic spoon - how thoughtful.

Inside the banana leaf is some whitish stuff (dont know what is it, and some yellowish stuff which I think is mung bean paste). For condiments, one pack is dried shallots, another pack is sugar. Mixed them all together and u have a crunch and tasty snack!

Next, we went to Fanny at Ton That Thiep street. An ice cream palor that is fancy and expensive by local standards. Our ice creams costs 60,000 - 85,000 dong each. Very intensively flavoured fruity ice cream. Must try!

Went to Art Museum, Notre-Dame Catheral and Post office

Dinner: At La Nicoise (Ngo Duc Ke, Dong Khoi area). No photos here. We wanted to try french food and saw great reviews on the tripadvisor. End up, its not french but they serve decent steak and the steak was done well. Dinner costs around 350,000 dong.

Day 2 - Day of the Cu Chi Tunnel tour.

Took cab directly to Pham Ngu Lao area and looked for breakfast. Saw this roadside stall that sells Ban Minh and decided to try. Its a sit down roadside stall (the dirtiest we tried), the lady was washing plates right next to me! Breakfast costs 55,000 dong.

Stir fry instant noodles with beef. Saw a guy ordered this so we 'copy' him. Surprisingly super delicious! Hubby loved it to bits. Even better after squeezing some lime over it. Not oily at all. Cooked with lots of kai lan and 3 huge slices of tomato.
Banh Mi served here is DIY style. The baguette and vegetables is served on the side. 2 eggs (maybe even 3) cooked in a mini wok with butter, a slab of pate. A bit too oily for me... but still very good.

Very pleased with our breakfast find. Breakfast is not complete without coffee. Had vietnamese drip coffee at a proper sit down 'coffee shop' where ang mos have their breakfasts. Costs 15,000 dong per cup.

The Cu Chi tunnel half day tour will return us to Pham Ngu Lao area by 2:30pm. By 11am, i am already feeling hunger pangs. Inside the cu chi tunnel area, we stopped briefly for some guys to try live firing using real bullets guns. We bought BBQ corn from the stalls (10,000 dong each) and is super sweet and tasty after sprinkling some salt and pepper over it!

The bus dropped us at Ben Thanh market at around 2pm and we went to a roadside stall we spotted during day 1. They have english menu! Total meal cost 100,000 dong. The guy pointed to the dishes we order and began talking in vietnamese '!%&*(, $%^**(, %&*()) , one hundred dong'. Don't know why but i found it funny and laughed out loud. They didnt charge us for the drink :)

Asked for a drink we saw the locals having everywhere we go. Something they called 'Cho'. Not sweeten, tasted like its made from a plant extract. Not much taste but very refreshing.

We ordered
- Fried glutinuous rice, topped with fried shallots and shredded chicken, served with a tangy and sweet sauce
- Vietnamese spring roll served with peanut sauce. They gave us two small bowls of the peanut sauce and had small spoons in it. The spring rolls are quite bland, lots of vege including basil which we dont like.
- Vietnamese wanton. The skin is like the crystal dumplings in Singapore, chewly texture. The meat is nice, served with fried shallots, some uncooked vege and chilli.
 Lastly, we had a bowl of bamboo shoot and duck noodles. The bamboo shoot is very fresh and crunchy. Soup is light and refreshing. Loved the generous serving of spring onions and cilantros. Yum!

After lunch, we did shopping at Ben Thanh (weasle coffee powder, cashew nut and a lacquer vase) and sat down for dessert at a stall inside Ben Thanh market.

Costs 20,000 dong each. There are stools around the stall and we ordered and sit down to eat, holding the cups in our hands.

The drink on the left is longan drink. Contains dried longan, ginko nut, strips of agar agar, some seaweed look a like thingy and other bits and pieces of unknowns.

The drink on the right is called Tri-colour if i remember correctly. It has fresh coconut milk (taste so much nicer than the packed ones used in chendols and bo bo char chars in Singapore) and is akin to Chendol without gula melaka. My favourite is the white beans in there. Super soft and sweet.

After desserts, we had shots of 'cho', for free.

For dinner, we are determined to have french food, so we went to La Fourchette, known for 'solid french food'. The food there is expensive for local standards, but much cheaper compared to Singapore. Total bill comes up to 1 million dong, which is around 60-70SGD.

Our entree is more expensive than our main course. It's foi gras (duck liver) from France.
This alone costs over 300,000 dong but a must try.

This foi gras is nicer than the ones we had in Paris. Heavenly...

2 thick slabs of foi gras, served with 2 slices of toast, salad and some soup made into jelly.

This is our second entree, french Onion soup.
I always wanted to try authentic french onion soup.

Very rich clear broth, and slices of onion, topped with 3 slices of crispy toast (the sides remains crispy after being soaked in the soup!) topped with cheese.

We feel full after the entrees. Oh no!

After clearing the entree, the resturant served us a huge glass of yellowish stuff. Guess what is it? MUSTARD!

Now for the main course, I had duck confit. 

After watching Jamie Oliver on TV and knowing how duck confit is made, I am curious about the taste.

Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, served with crispy diced potatoes (made with real potatoes and had bits of onions mixed together) and french beans sauted with butter.
Hubby had duck breast, done to perfection. Tender and moist but not too bloody, served with potato pie and french beans.

Day 3 - Breakfast at a Pho restaurant beside our apartment. Costs 22,000 dong per bowl.

Had beef and chicken pho. Decent and clean, no complains. We added 'you tiao' which cost a few thousand dongs. Super crispy, hubby tried one and dont like it, said they uses stale oil. I love it as its super crispy. Had the remaining three all by myself!

They served 'Cho'  here as well. Free. But doesn't mean you will want to try it. The locals drink cho from shot glasses on the table. The shot glasses are shared, I assume, as it looked very dirty.

Then we walked to the Jade Emperor pagoda followed by a visit to An Dong market. Appears to be a wholesale market for clothes. Bought some coconut tree chopsticks and spatulas from the top floor. From the basement, some preserved duck meat and pig liver sausages, some fried ikan bilis and more cashew nuts!

Time for lunch but we are in a hurry to visit War Remnant meseum. Search for a Banh Mi stall and found one opposite the market. Its a stall setup outside the owner's house. Ordered one, tried it, and ordered another! Costs 15,000 each.

First, she cuts the baguette open, spread a generous amount of partially melted butter and pate on the inside. Went into the house and returned 2-3 mins later with the toasted bagette and fried egg. Then add fresh cucumber, pickled radish, cilantro and 4 slices of ham at our request. We opt out of sliced chilli. 

Bite into it and we realises how well everything goes. Bliss.

For dinner, we decided to have vietnamese food. Nha Hang Ngon is rank no. 1 on tripadvisor and is near where we stay (Somerset Chancellor)

We order blood cockles ('hum'). We dont stir fry blood cockles in Singapore. In vietnam, their stir fry it so the sauce coats the shell. Messy to eat but the sauce is very good. I will suck on the shell, open it, pull out the flesh and dip into the sauce again. Its served with lime and salt on the side. Dip into it and the cockles has a refreshing taste as well.

Grilled oysters with herbs, served with lime and salt as well. Fresh oysters. Taste wise, its fresh oysters lor :) 

Broken rice (porridge) with braised pork and preserved radish. I ordered this for the braised pork. i know that there is a vietnamese version of braised pork that is cooked with coconut juice. Hoping this is the one but the pork belly that comes with it is not nice at all. Very fattening and hard. Not nice.

The porridge on its own, has a natural sweetness and a fragrant similar to that of barley. Good on its own. A pleasant surprise! And the preserve radish, goes super duper well with the porridge and on its own. The porridge and radish alone, will make me order this again - if there is a next time!

Lastly, pork chop with rice and crispy pork skin. The pork chop is well marinated and nicely grilled. Goes very well with the white rice. The so call crispy pork skin is not crispy. Eaten together with the rice does gives the rice an interesting texture.

Total damage ~ 350,000 dong.

Day 4 - Last day in HCMC, had the hotel breakfast buffet.

Followed by another trip to Ben Thanh market to get some more lacquerware.

Then lunch at L'Etoile which serves french fast food - accordingly to lonely planet.
BAD BAD CHOICE. Costs 150,000 dong. Have photos but not worth my effort to load them here. 

The salad has a bad taste. We feedback to the waiter but he claimed that its the 'special dressing'.
Two small and tough cuts of pork, homemade pasta swimming in tomato sauce is edible.
The dish is served on a metal tray with different compartments (image those used in prisons used by the inmates you see in TV)

The only consolation here is the scrimp ravioli soup (which taste very similar to our wanton soup) and the iced black cofee.

Lastly, our last contribution to the Vietnam economy, had 2 cups of cuppacinos and a ham sandwich in the airport for USD 13!.