Saigoneer

Hẻm Gems: Chinese-Malaysian Noodles and Saigon's New Generation of Street Food

When it comes to Saigon’s culinary landscape, the southern hub is pretty progressive. In addition to an array of Vietnamese dishes from every corner of the country, the city has also acquired a cosmopolitan palate that includes scores of Japanese izakaya, Korean barbecue spots, Taiwanese milk tea shops, Italian pizza places and burger joints of various international origins. The reason this works, an Indian restaurateur once told me, is because Saigoneers are open-minded: whether they know the cuisine or not, everyone is willing to give it a try.

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Hẻm Gems: The Ingenuity of 24-Way Grilled Oysters in D4

Innovation is important. With a healthy imagination and a bit of gusto, humans have the ability to create everything from DIY submarines to all-terrain wheelchairs to helmets specifically for married Thai women. But while we’re all quick to celebrate such ingenuity, it’s easy to forget the hours of trial and error that went into getting it just right.

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Hẻm Gems: The Green Delight of Phu Yen's Bánh Canh Hẹ

In the age of the internet, we go back and forth about everything, including whether or not the most important meal of the day is, in fact, important. While members of the medical profession continue to debate the merits of breakfast, however, Saigon is full of early-morning delights, from mouthwatering cơm tấm to bowls of phở and quick-and-easy bánh mì. For a departure from your average morning meal, however, look to a more elusive regional dish: Phu Yen’s bánh canh hẹ.

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Hẻm Gems: The Sumptuous Street Snacks of Ha Cao Ban Co

Whether we’re talking about the packaged foods aisle at Circle K or the lady whipping up bánh tráng trộn on the street corner, snack foods often meet two distinct criteria: they are both delicious and unhealthy. The nature of snacking alone – hastily prepared mini-meals eaten on the go – lends itself well to quick, cheap ingredients and foods that can withstand both time and a lack of refrigeration.

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Hẻm Gems: An Evening of Bánh Xèo Phan Rang and People-Watching by the Canal

There are certain foods in life that take time to love. Mắm tôm, for instance, or mắm chưng. Any of the mắms, really. Durian, I’m told, is a wonderful fruit on the fourth or fifth try. And while some of us are raised on cháo lòng and phá lấu and chicken feet, for others the journey toward appreciation can span weeks, months, even years.

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Hẻm Gems: A Quick, Delicious, No-Nonsense Lunch at Quan Com Ga Hai Nam

Now that I'm on my fourth chicken-centric Hẻm Gem, I guess I might as well start carrying out these assignments dressed as a chicken.

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Saigon’s First Designated Food Street to Open on Monday

Earlier this year, as District 1 People’s Committee Vice Chairman Doan Ngoc Hai ramped up his sidewalk-clearing campaign, Saigoneers wondered about the fate of the city’s street food vendors. Now, just as officials proposed in March, downtown Saigon is set to have its first designated street food zone.

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Hẻm Gems: Sủi Cảo and Handmade Noodles, a Match Made in Food Heaven

Is this the best mì sủi cảo in Saigon? I don’t know, but it’s pretty goddamn delicious.

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Hẻm Gems: Phieu Ky’s Fantastic Phở Sa Tế

While Pho Phieu Ky’s white walls and fluorescent lighting are nothing special, the hideaway shop in District 5 makes up for its bland color scheme by pasting neon characters – Roman and Chinese – across the glossy tiles along with wall calendars, rotating fans and a particularly jovial, glitter-covered cartoon rendition of Ong Tao riding a fish to heaven. The bright whites are certainly harsh, but on a dreary, rain-soaked afternoon this is not necessarily unwelcome. Nor, mind you, is the meal for which we’ve come: phở sa tế.

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Hẻm Gems: Cô Nhi and Chú Den's Humble Nui Xào Bò Cart

At this point in our Hẻm Gem journey, I’ve stopped thinking of us – a two-person team consisting of me and my photographer colleague Brandon – as mere food reviewers, but rather food hunters from hunting-gathering bands of the Paleolithic age.

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Hẻm Gems: Praise Be to Cheap, Tender, Delicious Chicken by the Mosque

Thanks to central Saigon's blistering pace of development and the short-lived sidewalk-clearing campaign of 2017's early months, the downtown area can be something of a street food desert.

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