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Hẻm Gems: In Praise of D1's Cheap, Dependable Sidewalk Cơm Trưa

In these trying times, the comfort of familiarity goes a long way.

At Saigoneer, when it comes to food, we're nothing if not opportunists. By my count, we've done three Hẻm Gems within a two minute walk of our office, and it's time to add a fourth.

Com Tam Ba Tam has been one of my go-to lunch spots from the first week we moved into our current spot on Pasteur Street. I'll admit right off the bat that the food isn't the best you'll find in town, but it is reliable and extremely affordable for this part of District 1.

I go there so frequently that recently I walked up and was handed a container of cơm tấm sườn ốp la before I could even say anything. You don't get that kind of service just anywhere.

It's a pretty standard lunchtime spot featuring a cart holding the food tucked away in a nook, with tables and chairs spilling across the sidewalk, depending on the mood of the local pavement police. The menu, however, is fairly extensive, with over 20 items, including all kinds of lunch favorites, from cơm tấm to bò kho to gỏi cuốn.

On this particular day, one of my three or four weekly visits, I was accompanied by our photographer and a new intern. Though business isn't as busy as it was before the pandemic began, the tables are still full at lunch time: almost always with the white shirt and black pants uniforms of nearby office buildings.

We waited to be seated for a few minutes and then quickly decided on a bánh mì bò kho, a cơm tấm sườn, a couple of plump spring rolls, and a plate of juicy-looking grilled chicken. The service is snappy, and your food arrives almost immediately.

This was actually my first time trying the banh mi bo kho, largely because I always get take-away and am scared of spilling the rich, meaty broth either on my laptop or on myself. Turns out it would be worth the fried motherboard or stained shirt, as this may be the best thing on the menu: herbacious, piping hot, and full of juicy morsels of meat.

The com suon opla is comfort food for me at this point. Is it the best in town? Not by a long shot, but given how gentrified much of District 1 is becoming, it's fantastic that you can still find a solid plate for VND45,000.

The chicken was excellent, even though our intern wondered if it was cooked through all of the way (it was).

We were also surprised to learn that the humble eatery has only been around for two years. It has the feel (and mid-day crowds) of a place that has been around for ages, and I'm so glad it's there.

So, if you happen to be near the Post Office and in need of an affordable, fairly delicious meal, look no further than this port of calm in the stormy seas of the world.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5 (depends on your tolerance of heat)

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

Lunch dishes

86 Nguyen Du, District 1

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