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Hẻm Gems: Flan by the Canal, a Cute, Affordable Date in the Age of Inflation

Skip the formal attire, a bit of loose change is all you need for a waterfront rendezvous in Saigon.

Photo by Alberto Prieto. Graphic by Tiên Ngô.

Bánh flan Thái Thủy is not made to be a typical dating spot. It's not listed on any guide for couples or featured in romantic roundups. If you happen to stroll by, it might not catch your eye; its facade can pass for any of the myriads of street food stalls across Saigon. But should you come by yourself and experience it firsthand, you'll realize that this little place has all the ingredients for a perfect date.

Ingredient No. 1: A prime location

Nestled on the curvy sidewalk of Hoàng Sa Street, Thái Thủy offers simplicity at its finest. Its humble setup includes a few plastic seats and a stainless-steel cart, yet it boasts a pristine view of the verdant Thị Nghè Canal. Wherever you sit, you're treated to vibrant green grass and the constant flow of traffic under the canopies of golden oak and plumeria trees.

Ingredient No. 2: Inflation-proof desserts

The menu is concise, with just four options that the owners have perfected over 14 years — flan, longan jelly, cheese-filled coconut jelly, and flan-filled coconut jelly. Each dish is freshly made daily by Thái, the owner, and his wife, Thủy, starting from 9am.

This humble setup has been the family's main livelihood ever since this neighborhood was a working-class area, before the canal renovation project. Originally a bike repairman, Thái learned the flan recipe from a friend and tinkered with it. “It was fate, you know. Hard to explain! Back then, no one sold snacks here, so I gave it a shot. Luckily, people supported it, and I've been selling ever since,” Thái explains.

Thái's flan stands out with its velvety texture, a perfect blend of creamy egg and a touch of bitter coffee to cut through the milk's sweetness. The jellies, with their firm bite and gentle sweetness, complemented by the light coconut milk, offer a refreshing respite from the tropical heat.

On sunny days, Thái can sell up to 1,000 servings, providing a steady income for his family despite the long hours. Grateful for the support of Saigon's flan lovers, Thái has kept his prices between VND7,000 and 8,000 over the years, even as expenses climb. “With fuel prices rising, everything gets more expensive. I trim my profits a bit to keep our quality consistent,” he says with a smile.

Ingredient No. 3: Free whimsy

Though the stall opens late, the best time for a date is between 5 and 6pm when the golden-hour sun wraps everything in a beautiful yellow glow.

From your seat, you can see pastel pink, orange, and purple hues dance across the expansive sky as dusk falls. It's the perfect backdrop for a film photo, a deep conversation, or simply holding hands and appreciating nature's free poetry.

The ever-moving scene of city life also offers its own delights. Watch adorable dogs strut as if on a catwalk (or should we say, dogwalk?); guess the songs blaring from the speakers of middle-aged women doing aerobics; or play silly counting games: red bikes vs. blue bikes, Grab vs. Gojek, people walking against the flow vs. people walking with it. The loser pays for the flan, but the winner? They get to enjoy the best desserts, witness the most beautiful sunset, and indulge in the silliest games next to their favorite person.

Bánh flan Thái Thủy is open from 4pm to 9pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 5/5

Bánh flan Thái Thủy

893 Hoàng Sa, Ward 11, D3, HCMC

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