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Hẻm Gems: The Case of the Twin Bánh Mì Chảo Switcheroo

In the land of copycat businesses, it always pays to double-check that you're at the right one.

A few weeks ago, my colleague dropped a Google Maps location in Saigoneer's Hẻm Gem Slack channel: 8 Dang Tran Con Street, a spot listed simply as 'Bánh mì chảo.'

We pledged to check it out, and one morning afterward we pulled up to the ramshackle business: a couple of plastic tables on the narrow sidewalk, one guy taking orders, and a woman cooking out of a cramped nook. The menu didn't exist, as there was only one item: bánh mì chảo. The Google Maps categorization of "bistro" seemed rather aspirational, but it was a cool, shaded morning on the quiet District 1 side street.

I must admit that I was pretty unfamiliar with this member of the bánh mì family, but it also turned out that we were at the wrong place. After a fairly underwhelming meal with a surprising price tag (VND50,000), we drove down the street and realized our mistake: there was another, more substantial business selling the same dish (and a few others) at 2 Dang Tran Con.

By "more substantial," I mean that they have a small indoor dining area with a few tiny wooden tables with equally tiny wooden chairs — long-legged diners, beware.

Already full, we decided to return a few days later and were thankful to dine at the correct spot. For those as unfamiliar as I was, bánh mì chảo is served in a small silver bowl packed with a fried egg, a couple of xíu mại, a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, a dash of cilantro, sausage and, in this case, stir-fried beef. On the side you get a bánh mì (duh), various sauces and some julienned carrot and daikon.

This version was superior to the copycat down the street (or was this one the copycat? There's literally no way of knowing), and a smidge cheaper too: VND45,000.

The weak point was the sausage, which is just the links available in red packaging at any convenience store so who knows what is in them, but the rest of the dish makes for a delicious, filling and fast breakfast. The stir-fried beef was a real standout, and I enjoyed mixing and matching the ingredients in the bread - though save some for mopping up the sauce at the bottom of the bowl, which features a wonderful mix of flavors by the time you're done.

Meals are prepared on the sidewalk, where the extremely friendly staff works amid an impressive pile of meat-based ingredients. We were also offered bánh tôm, or shrimp and garlic fried in dough, which isn't found anywhere on the healthy food pyramid, but would be perfect for anyone with a hangover.

In conclusion, you're welcome, dear readers, for us putting in the hard work of eating two meals to make sure you get the right one. And remember, never just assume that you're at the right business, for there could be a similar one invisible to Google Maps just a few meters away.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Friendliness: 4/5

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.

Bánh mì chảo

2 Dang Tran Con, District 1

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