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Hẻm Gems: 60 Years of Guangdong-Style Chinese Food in the Old Market

Besides being the “it” place to obtain imported goods, Saigon’s chợ cũ, or Old Market, is also a treasure trove of hidden eateries.

Things have never been easy for chợ cũ, even back when it was located on Nguyen Hue Boulevard, known at the time as Boulevard Charner. The initial site was an unplanned trading hub brought about by its proximity to the Cho Vai Canal. Once the waterway was filled in due to improve the area's hygiene and cleanliness, the bustling market lost its calling card and was eventually relocated to Ton That Dam Street, where it remains today.

Fortunately, the businesses in chợ cũ met success again and the market gradually found its place in the hearts of old Saigoneers as both a foodie’s paradise and a center for cheap foreign products. Back in its heyday, the area was also an enclave of the Chinese community members of whom first arrived in the city to trade and decided to settle down. Therefore, one only has to take a stroll along the quaint street to be tempted by a smorgasbord of delectable Chinese dishes: seafood congee, roast pork and more than a handful of noodle dishes.

Nowadays, the local community has changed from those golden days. The street’s repertoire of food has also moved away from indoor restaurants to a bustling street food scene offering scores of mouth-watering snacks: bột chiên, bò bía and súp, to name a few.

I’ve written my fair share of Hẻm Gems for Saigoneer, but it’s been a while since we last covered a place that has all the textbook hallmarks of a “gem”: well-hidden and delicious, with a rich history to boost. Com Tho Chuyen Ky is the epitome of Saigon-style Chinese food cuisine.

Despite its central location, it’s very easy to miss Chuyen Ky altogether, as the restaurant’s humble hand-painted sign is obscured by the clutter of market kiosks out front. The eatery also doesn’t have much in terms of interior design: a few sets of metallic tables, a counter and huge menus hanging on the wall.

Chuyen Ky’s most unique feature only appeared when we finished ordering: dozens of hand-crafted clay pots containing rice. These rice pots, or cơm thố, even made their way into the place’s name and are more than just an aesthetic gimmick, as the rice was actually steamed inside these earthy creations. Each pot contains about two-thirds the amount of a normal Vietnamese bowl.

According to Thuy Thuy, Chuyen Ky’s current owner, the restaurant purchased thousands of the pots from an artisan decades ago thanks to their remarkable quality. However, since the potter has stopped producing them, she shared that they had no choice but to replace them with mass-produced items when one breaks.

Once our main dishes arrived, it became apparent that Chuyen Ky’s strength lies in stir-fried dishes, as pretty much everything was well-seasoned and delivered in a timely manner, in spite of the relatively obvious hint of MSG. We definitely recommend the sweet-and-sour pork, or sườn xào chua ngọt (VND90,000), and the spicy lemongrass chicken (VND80,000) as starters. The price of each dish may seem steep at a glance, but the portions can easily satisfy three or four hungry diners.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5 

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 4/5

Khoi loves tamarind, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Com Tho Chuyen Ky

67 Ton That Dam, Ben Nghe Ward, D1

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