Where’s the Pho? A True Vietnamese Home-cooked Meal

As shameful as it is to admit, I have to say that I spend an inordinate amount of time on Quora (especially when I know I have very important things to do, because that’s just how a procrastinator is). I once stumbled upon this question, which I found equal parts amusing and bemusing: “My Vietnamese girlfriend can’t cook Pho. Does that mean that she’s not good at cooking?”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Phở is the most famous Vietnamese food on Earth. Another truth is that Vietnamese restaurants have popped up in every corner around the world (thanks a lot, globalization!). The consequence of that, however, is that those restaurants, and the reputation of Pho, paints a very misleading picture about what Vietnamese people actually eat at home.

Source: sbs.com

The stuff that you see on the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, all the Pho and Pho cuon and Bun cha and Banh xeo – those are the food that we Vietnamese have when we eat out. Not everyone knows how to cook Pho, because a perfect bowl of Pho is like art. It’s something that you perfect over time, most often through generations, and it takes an immense amount of effort.

So what do Vietnamese people cook at home?

Vietnamese culture puts a heavy emphasis on balance and harmony, and that is evident in how we eat. That balance and harmony is present in the spices we use, the ingredients we pick out, the flavours of each dish. It is also present in the elements of a meal.

A complete meal should have five elements: rice, one or two savoury dishes (from meat, seafood, tofu, etc.), one vegetable dish, soup and the sauce (often fish sauce mixed with lime juice and chilly). Everything is placed at the centre of the table and is shared by everyone. Of course, people don’t have enough time and effort every day to ensure there are five dishes on the table all the time, but we at least want to make sure we are consuming rice, meat and veggies in one meal.

Source: Pinterest

The rice we use are often white rice, and the most popular types are either Vietnamese-grown rice, or Thai jasmine rice. Modern knowledge about health and carbs have steered many people towards alternatives such as brown rice or black rice if they can afford it.

As for savoury dishes, the main meats that we use are chicken, pork and beef. Seafood (clams, shellfish, fishes, etc.) and river fishes are abundant and affordable. Tofu is not a vegetarian-only sort of food (as it is often regarded in the West) but just another type of protein. We Vietnamese boil, steam, stir-fry, deep-fry, stew, braise and do just about everything under the sun to our meat. A typical dinner table probably has about two or three different cooking methods going on.

Vegetables and root plants are integral parts of Vietnamese cuisine. It started out that meat was a luxury in Vietnam, a luxury that most people couldn’t afford. Vegetables, meanwhile, was plentiful and readily available. Even now, as Vietnam is on the track of developing, vegetables and root plants remain integral elements to our meals. They balance the fat and heaviness of meat, they are a great source of vitamins and fibre, and they are healthy, so what’s not to love?

The concept of soup in Vietnamese cuisine is quite different from what you normally imagine to be soup. For us, soup in everyday meal is more of a broth with vegetables and meat, or the water from boiled vegetables. Ever tried boiled water spinach soup with tomato and a squeeze of lime? You are missing out!

Source: Blog Sinh Vien Nau An

Then last but certainly not least, is the sauce. Or to be more precise, it’s dipping sauce (nước chấm). The central element to Vietnamese dipping sauce is fish sauce, mixed with a few cut of chillies, a bit of lemon juice and a few drops of water. Depending on the dish, you can also add sugar, pepper, garlic, vinegar, etc. The sauce is an irreplaceable part of a Vietnamese meal; in many cases, it is what makes or breaks a meal!

So you see, what Vietnamese eat at home and what are sold in Vietnamese restaurants are very different things. If you have the chance to try a home-cooked meal, take it. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Banh Canh Ghe – A Southern Symphony of Flavors

Often times, I’m something of a food snob – terribly exacting in the taste of my food and having high requirements for whatever I eat. I’m also a bit of a typical Hanoian in the sense that I often turn away from Southern food, criticizing it as too sweet, or too sour, or the broth not clear enough.

 During my last trip to Saigon, I was pleasantly surprised. I had one of the best noodle soups in my life, with the most amazing broth ever, at a little shop in the heart of Saigon. It was crab noodles (Banh Canh Ghe) – a delicacy of the South that had slowly migrated to the North in recent years.

 Regarding its origin, much has been debated about where Banh Canh Ghe comes from. Some say it’s from the South West provinces (or more specifically Kien Giang), other say it is the seaside provinces like Vung Tau and Phan Thiet that have created this delicacy. No matter its origin is, though, it is well-known that Banh Canh Ghe is now one of the most enjoyed noodle soups in Saigon.

 Appearance-wise, Banh Canh Ghe bears a close resemblance with Laksa noodle in Singapore. Both have that same reddish hue, thick broth and spicy taste. Having never tasted Laksa, I cannot give any comment on its taste. However, I can say that when it comes to Banh Canh Ghe, the noodle soup was a perfect blend of sweet, hearty and spicy broth, with specially-made noodles (three or four times bigger than the noodles you normally see) and a whole crab for you to finish it off. There are other garnishes to go with the soup, like crab cake, veggies and fresh herbs. Some places will also add prawns and other seafood, a slice of blood pudding or a whole egg.

 To me, this dish embodies the philosophy of Vietnamese cooking – that of seeking the perfect harmony between different flavors and spices. Here’s a dish that’s not seeking to blow your taste bud away, nor have you in tears as you eat. It’s spicy, to be sure, but it is the kind of spiciness that does not overwhelm other flavors. It enhances the richness of the crab. It circles each strand of noodle in a loving embrace. It leaves behind a slight reminder of the spice you just taste, making you hungry for more.

 One Google search of “Banh Canh Ghe Saigon” can give you numerous results. Not every restaurant will blow you away, but these 5 are guaranteed to satisfy even the harshest critics.

1. Banh Canh Ghe Ba Sach:

Address: 66 Hoa Cuc street, Phu Nhuan district.

Price: 30.000 – 70.000 VND

Opening hours: 10:00 – 22:00

2. Banh Canh Ghe Bay Lien:

Address: 778F Nguyen Kiem street, Go Vap district

Price: 50.000 – 77.000

Opening hours: 10:00 – 22:00

3. Banh Canh Ghe Cau Bong:

Address: 2 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, district 1

Price: 55.000 – 110.000

Opening hours: 15:00 – 22:30

4. Banh Canh Ghe 505:

Address: 505 Su Van Hanh street, district 10

Price: 50.000 – 100.000

Opening hours: 11:00 – 22:30

5. Banh Canh Ghe Muoi Ot Xanh:

Address: 484 Nguyen Tri Phuong street, district 10

Price: 45.000 – 75.000

Opening hours: 11:00 – 22:00

>>>Read more on Which Food in Ho Chi Minh City Should You Try.

6 Tasty Food You Should Try In Bac Lieu

In the previous article, I have introduced you about the “Agri-and-Culture” aspects of Bạc Liêu – The Wealthy Wild Child of Mekong Delta. You have visited must-visit and must-check-in destinations in Bạc Liêu, but your journey would be not complete if you miss the featured cuisines of Bạc Liêu. Below are what you should check out when visiting Bạc Liêu. 

>>>We will travel to Bạc Liêu in the end of July. If you are interested, please click here.

*Bánh xèo (Bahn-xeoSizzling crêpes)

Bánh xèo is a typical dish in Southern Vietnam. But each place holds their own Bánh xèo recipe. You may have known Saigon and Cần Thơ bánh xèo, but how about Bạc Liêu? Let’s try it and compare the difference.

**Try and prove! Here’s a tip to determine the bánh xèo of your life. First, when it is served, immediately pinch a crisp on the outer side of the crêpe and put it right into your mouth. Now, it should crumble and start releasing coconut fragrance in your mouth, and you should feel almost like tasting a piece of creamy crystal. That’s how you know that bánh xèo is ‘the one’. If the crust is too thick and leaks too much grease, I’m sorry, the search for your right crêpes still continues.

Bánh xèo in Bạc Liêu follows the basic ingredients: rice batter, mung beans, slices of pork, fresh shrimps, onion and bean sprouts. But the secret that makes it unforgettable is the crispness on the crust. Many tourists keep coming back to Bạc Liêu to retrieve the authentic taste of this mouthwatering crêpes. Try it for once, the ‘bánh xèo’ of your life awaits you there!

Address: Bánh xèo A Mật61/2 Tỉnh Lộ 31, Ấp Giồng Nhãn, X. Hiệp Thành,  Thị Xã Bạc Liêu, Bạc Liêu.

Price range: 50,000 – 60,000 VND.

Bánh Xèo – the ‘yellow’ temptation.
photo: www.monngon.tv
*Bún bò cay (boon-ba-caySpicy beef noodles soup)

Vietnamese cuisine has more Bún*-based dishes than Phở*-based ones. So, next time if a Vietnamese describe you a “noodles” dish, think wider than Phở Bò. Ask them which type of noodles it is because the textures of the noodles are different.

*Bún: think of rice noodles in the spaghetti shape. *Phở: think of rice noodles in tagliatelle shape.

Bạc Liêu has a signature Bún dish called Bún Bò Cay (spicy beef Bún). If you’re a fan of spicy food, do not miss it. Non-spicy eaters can also try the milder version. Just ask for no chilli, and the chef won’t make you suffer.

The broth is the star of the dish. It’s a mixture of aromas (cinnamon, turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, etc.) which pairs perfectly with the tender beef loin. A spoonful of soup brings you pleasure. But hang on, your inner beast is about to release itself. Red chilli oil, (contains garlic and red peppers tossed in oil) floats on the surface is the reason to name the dish bún bò cay (cay means spicy). It is what we call “satay” and is the highlight of the dish.

Because of its heat, herby smell and vibrant spice, Bún bò cay is approved to be the best hangover cure for those who happened to “have too much fun” last night but want to come back to earth early morning.

Address: Quán Ánh Nguyệt 119 Cao Văn Lầu,  Thị Xã Bạc Liêu, Bạc Liêu.

Price range: 25,000 – 35,000 VND.

Spicy !!
photo: chonoicairang.com.vn
*Bún nước lèo (boon-nuoc-leoBroth noodles)

There are fresh fish and shrimp with slices of pork. The bún noodles dive in the clear amber colour broth. Wow, it looks as if the chef has scooped a tiny bit of Mekong river to the bowl. Speaking of the broth, I’ll explain why it is so special that they wouldn’t give this dish another name.

Have you heard of the Vietnamese fermented fish (or shellfish)? We call them ‘mắm’, they’re the key ingredients for many dishes in the Mekong Delta. In Broth Noodles, they cook ‘mắm cá sặc’ (fermented snakeskin gourami) with lemongrass and a special root vegetable called ‘ngải bún’ in seafood stock up to 8 hours to develop all sorts of sweetness and umami taste in the soup. The last attempt to ‘sweeten’ the broth, even more, is adding coconut water.

Scoop in a spoonful of the crystal clear broth and feel the love between mắm and fresh seafood. Now, you owe the chef a thumbs up and a compliment.

Address: Quán Út MénQuốc Lộ 1A,  Vĩnh Lợi, Bạc Liêu.

Price range: 30,000 – 35,000 VND.

_ Really? Broth noodles? You mean… just noodles and broth?!
_ Yeah, that’s true!
No, I’m kidding :).
photo: vanhoamientay.com
*Bánh tằm Ngan Dừa (Bahn-tam-Ngan-ZuaSilkworm rice cake salad with coconut sauce)

Bánh tằm (silkworm rice cake) is named after its shape. The little “worms” are hand-rolled out of rice starch dough. Bánh tằm salad includes rice cakes, pork skin strings, meatballs cooked in tomato sauce, carrot pickles and spring onion oil. The sauce is very unique because it is the combination of coconut cream and sweet fish sauce. Of course, there is some fresh chilli to balance the ‘dessert’ feeling of this savoury dish.

I had the first bánh tằm bite when I was six years old, but honestly, I found it a little odd. However, from the second bite, the oddity started playing catch with my taste buds and kept fooling around in my mouth until I finished the plate clean and clear. Do I recommend trying bánh tằm? Yes, a hundred times yes! Try it for once to experience going through from one surprise to another, but in a good way. Overall it’s a delightful tasting experience.

Address: Ngan Dừa market34 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Ngan Dừa, Hồng Dân, Bạc Liêu.

Price range: 15,000 – 30,000 VND.

Bánh Tằm is the result of the mixed culture among Chinese – Vietnamese- Khmer cuisines.
photo: tungxichlo.com
*Hủ Tíu Bò Kho – (Hu-tieow-ba-khaBeef Stew with Flat Rice Noodles).

This noodles dish doesn’t relate with the Spicy Beef Noodles I’ve mentioned above. Bò Kho (Vietnamese Style Beef Stew), is very much alike Beef Ragu; however, it has a distinct fragrance of lemongrass, star anise and garlic. Hủ tiếu bò kho literally means noodles and beef stew. A bowl of this soup includes tender beef, softened carrots, noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, fresh herbs and smokey hot soup. These elements complement each other so well that they bring the dish to cross the deliciousness standard.

Hủ tíu bò kho is preferably a breakfast dish. There’s also another way you can enjoy it, which is Bánh mì bò kho (Beef stew with bread). In this version, you will enjoy only beef stew, and a loaf of bread served alongside. For me, both versions are equally tasty. There’s one more tip I recommend: you should dip the beef in a small bowl of salt, pepper and lime which comes with the bò kho bowl.

Address: Quán Cari Vịt Linh, Cao Văn Lầu, Thị Xã Bạc Liêu, Tỉnh Bạc Liêu

Price range: 35,000 – 50,000 VND

The broth is full of fragrance, almost like a perfect perfume for the beef.
photo: afamily.vn
*Longan fruits

In the last article, I mentioned that Bạc Liêu has a famous ancient longan garden. Yes, I would be very happy to recommend the place to you. They grow many tropical fruits there, especially longan fruits (meaning dragon eyes).

Under the rough and brown skin lying the transparent flesh wrapping around a black seed, looking like an eyeball. The flesh gives you a juicy and candy-like taste. I’m pretty sure you might have to keep eating more and more of them because you won’t be able to resist yourself from its sweetness, which works like a refreshing treat below the heat of sunlight.

Besides longan, there are more fruits such as tropical tangerine, mangosteens, mangoes, and so on. Basically, it depends on which period of the year you visit Bạc Liêu because fruits are grown in crops. Longan fruits are available from June to  September annually.

Address: Vườn Nhãn Cổ Bạc Liêu ( Bac Lieu’s Ancient Longan Garden)  2,  Hiệp Thành – Vĩnh Trạch Đông, Bạc Liêu city.

Longan, anyone?
photo: lamtho.vn

I hope you will have a great cuisine experience in Bac Lieu. Bon appétit everyone!


101 Guide to Eat like a Local in Saigon Chinatown (Part 2)

Good day guys, I am back and so excited to suggest you more places to eat in Chinatown. Are you really hungry now? If yes, let’s follow me! We’ll get food real quick.

>>>Check part 1 here if you miss it.

 Afternoon Snack

Mid-day snacks are common here. People despite their ages enjoy this extra meal with absolutely no doubt because these munchies are super delicious.

*Bánh Củ Cải, Bánh Hẹ (Radish/ Chive cakes) – fried rice starch cakes with chives or radish filling (vegan) served with pickled carrots and sweet and sour soy sauce. The cakes should taste crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside.

Address: 143, Lê Quang Sung St, Dist 6.

Price range: 10,000 – 30,000 VND

Sizzling, colourful and wonderful rice cakes.
photo: kenh14.vn

*Bò Bía (Popiah) – a famous Hokkien spring roll but has been put in a Vietnamese twist when it comes to Cho Lon. Now what we can find in a Vietnamese popiah roll is lettuce, fresh herbs, lap cheong (sweet sausage) slices, fried egg strips and stir-fried jicama (củ sắn), served along with sweet black bean dip. The roll is made exclusively tiny and sold extremely cheap. When you order Popiah, don’t order one but make it a dozen to fill your stomach.

Address: 266 Hải Thượng Lãn Ông St, Ward 14, Dist 5.

Price range: 15,000 – 30,000 VND

Oh, I see rainbow, I see rolls! Nom, nom, nom.
photo: gocbeponline.com

*Khổ Qua Cà Ớt – bitter melon, aubergine, chilli, tomato, tofu, okra, etc. stuffed with fish paste and cooked in broth. It takes several efforts to cook this dish, but the result worths the time they spend to make it. Because what you will get is a cheerful bowl filled with a feast of colours. For now, this dish is sold in many regions outside Chinatown. But the authentic should be tasted inside the place where it is created.

Address: 52, Lão Tử St, Dist 5.

Price range: 20k – 40k VND

The only thing I can say after finishing this delicious gift is: Oh, interesting! I go order one more bowl. ;).
photo: phunuonline.com.vn

Dinner time starts around 5.30 pm. At this time, the streets are filled with tempting food fragrance. You might be lost in the jungle of food in Cho Lon, however, here are some options you can choose to satisfy your hungry belly.

*Mì (Noodles soup) –  Slurping a hot bowl of noodles soup is my dinner fantasy in Chinatown.  Choices vary from chicken, duck, pork, seafood to vegetarian options. Noodles (or dumplings) are then bathed in the smoking hot broth and served immediately. What I recommend to try is Mì Vịt Tiềm (Chinese Style Braised Duck noodles). The dish is signature for its herby black broth and flavorful tender duck thigh.

Address: Mì Vịt Tiềm Thượng Hải 481 – Hẻm 481 Nguyễn Tri Phương St, Ward 8,  Dist 10.

Price range: 60,000 – 80,000 VND

I see a sexy tanned leg there!
photo: kenh14.vn

*Vịt Quay (Roasted duck) – In this neighbourhood, there’s a street that exclusively sells roasted ducks. When entering Bùi Hữu Nghĩa street (Dist 5) for the first time, it is quite odd seeing those ducks hung in lines everywhere. They may look quite naked, but their smell is tempting and immediately your mouth starts watering. The duck meat is excellent, greasy yet meaty. The marinade is so special that you might want to marry the chef to eat roasted duck every day. However, it is not a daily meal for local people, but they do eat it often, especially on special occasions.  

Address : Vịt Quay Phát Thành – 157-159, Bùi Hữu Nghĩa St, Ward 7, Dist 5.

Price range: 300,000 – 400,000 VND / whole duck

Poultry sister squad.
We’re ready to serve your hunger belly!
photo: lacviettravel.com.vn

Who would NOT love desserts? Dear fellows, let’s go for a treat outside. We know that sweet treats are the perfect choice for a good ending of a “food-ful” day.

*Hong Kong style pastries (Guilty pleasure alert!) – Inside the little bakery lies many little fluffy golden treasures lying ready-to-pick-up on the trays. The popular dessert pastries are pineapple buns, egg tarts, egg waffles, taro/pandan/durian puff pastries, etc. Those delightful rascals will manage to trick your mind to consume some more calories to your diet. They’re irresistible!

Address: ABC Bakery – 229-231-233, Nguyễn Trãi, Ward. 2, District. 5.

Price range: 15,000 – 30,000 VND.

Are you in misery being on a diet? Grab a dessert to cheer you up! 😉
photo: pasgo.vn

Chè (Dessert soups) – ‘Eating desserts is good for your health!’ This weird declaration applies only to Chinese chè. Ingredients for cooking Chinese chè are water chestnuts, dried longans (fruit), seaweeds, silver tree-ear fungus, lotus roots, dried jujubes, etc. braised in rock sugars. It might be a bit scary hearing those unfamiliar ingredients. In fact, for thousands of years, the Chinese have been practising healing health problem with food. Chinese chè encourages the body’s detoxification process, enhances metabolism and balance body’s temperature.

Address: Chè Hà Ký – 138, Châu Văn Liêm Street, District 5.

Price range: 15,000 – 25,000 VND

Dare: name all the ingredients you see in this bowl of ‘chè’. Hint: no you can’t, it’s too complicated.
photo: daotaobepvang.com

At the end of the day, we’ve had many memorable and impressive food experience. Enjoy your good sleep, and may tomorrow bring you another feast in Chinatown. Dear folks, I hope you’ll have a unique food experience in Saigon Chinatown following some of my suggestions. Much love!


101 Guide to Eat like a Local in Saigon Chinatown (Part 1)

Chinatown, located among districts 5, 6 and 11, has a rich and colourful culture built by the Chinese Vietnamese locals. The town fascinates people by its variety of religions, temples, lifestyles but more importantly, cuisine. There’s an old saying regarding an ideal life as “ Ăn cơm Tàu, ở nhà Tây” ( Eat Chinese food, live in Western houses). If you happen to visit this charming town, why not experience a once in a lifetime feast of joyful Chinese food? Chinatown’s food will serve your appetite perfectly.

One of the most remarkable food experiences I’ve had so far belongs to the food in Chinatown. I always remember celebrating many splendid occasions and eating the tastiest food ever in this delightful town. Now, please let me guide you through every meal they eat daily. Just like the Spanish diet, the locals enjoy 5 meals a day, all of which are colourful, flavorful and wonderful.


 The most important meal of the day. On weekdays, these are signature breakfast dishes that you must try:

Bánh Mì Chảo (Bread and a Pan) – a small loaf of bread serves along with fried-eggs and liver paté and meatballs in tomato sauce.

Address: Bánh Mì Chảo Cô Phương.  4A, Lê Quang Sung St, Ward 6, Dist 6.

Price range: 20,000 – 40,000 VND

“Everything” set: fried egg, liver paté, meatball and jambon.

 Hủ Tiếu Hồ (Teocheow’s noodles) – chewy flat rice noodles cooked with pickled mustard green, pork and intestines.

Address: 237 Cao Văn Lầu St, Dist 6.

Price range: 25,000 – 60,000 VND

Photo: afamily.vn

 Dimsum  – Weekends are the time for special treats. Eating a dim sum brunch in restaurants is a popular tradition maintained in many family reunions in Chinatown. On the table, there are small steam pots loaded with a plethora of dumplings prepared in different styles. There is no limit for ordering food. The restaurant keeps serving new dishes as long as you are able to finish them all.


Baoz Dimsum Restaurant, 86-88 Nguyễn Tri Phương St, Ward 7, Dist 5.

Dim Tu Tac, 29B, Trần Hưng Đạo St, Ward 6, Dist 5.

Price range: 150,000 – 1,000,000 VND

Dim sum – a Hong Kong style break’feast’.
photo: baomoi.com


Lunch meals are served from 11 a.m until late noon (3 p.m). Portions of food are ready to serve instantly when you arrive at the food stalls, delivery service is also available. But hurry up! The later you eat, the fewer options you can choose.


 Sa Tế Nai (Satay Noodles) – rice noodles cooked in special broth with peanut fragrance and chilli oil, topped with slices of beef or deer meat and fresh herbs.

Address: Lâm Phát Ký – 311 Lê Quang Sung St, Ward 6, Dist 6.

Price range: 30,000 – 60,000 VND

Beef bathes in the lovely satay broth Photo: monngonvietnam.vn

 Cơm Gà Hải Nam (Hainanese Chicken Rice) – The notorious Hainanese Chicken Rice is a wonderful choice for lunch. Each portion contains tender chicken pieces served with rice cooked in the same broth they cook the chicken and soy or chilli sauce on the side. Having its first bite makes you realize you haven’t had anything as “chicken” as this, keep enjoying until its last bite, you might fall in love with the chicken!

Address: Cơm Gà Hải Nam –  934, Trần Hưng Đạo St, Dist 5.

Price range:  30,000 – 60,000 VND

Tender chicken and its perfect partner chicken rice.
Photo: bepgiadinh.com

Looks like we’ve spent half a day satisfying our hungry tummies. Now, please take a long walk around to discover the beauty of Saigon Chinatown. I’ll be back in a short while and show you where to eat for the rest of the day later!

Thank you and see you soon!