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Hẻm Gems: A Perfect Saigon Breakfast

Most days, I roll out of bed 15 minutes after my alarm has stopped ringing, stumble downstairs, brush my teeth and leave the house just in time to grab my morning dose of caffeine before heading to the office.

If reality were different, however, I would wake up refreshed. I would bicycle to breakfast, spend extra time on my morning coffee and make friends with every local vendor I could find. I would always be in a good mood. I would never sweat. I would look like Beyonce and my entire life would take place under an Instagram filter. If only I had more time.

But alas, such are the demands of a young professional in the modern age. Instead, I am haggard and starving and never have time for more than a bánh mì on the go. Still, it's nice to take a scheduled detour from reality every now and again and venture out to a new breakfast spot.

Enter Banh Uot Nong Uyen. This small, one-room operation is the kind of place I would go everyday if my life were perfect and I had all the time in the world. From as early as 4am, the folks who run this street cart are up and churning out Styrofoam containers of tasty bánh ướt accompanied by several types of chả, nem and other meats.

The tiny spot in Binh Thanh District is an all-white room packed with images of the Buddha, a sizable altar and an impressive collection of mystery rượu containers, in which various roots and other medicinal items have been added to the murky fire water.

Up front, however, is where the action is. One woman prepares the bánh ướt in its usual drum-shaped steamer, while another cuts and prepares the fixings to accompany it. In addition to chả – not my favorite processed meat in the world – and nem, the folks at Banh Uot Nong Uyen make a slightly sweet chả giò, or fried spring roll, that pairs well with the strips of steamed rice cake and copious amounts of fish sauce. Bánh cống, or shrimp and mung bean cake, also rounds out the bánh ướt toppings here; the fried cakes have an almost rye taste to them. Throw on a few bean sprouts and some herbs and you've got yourself a grade-A local breakfast.

Of course, the obligatory jug of fish sauce is present at every one of the small tables set up in this one-room restaurant, as well as additional chilis. A self-serve pitcher of trà đá is also on hand.

The two or three women who usually operate the street cart work nonstop during peak morning hours – usually between 7am and 9am – to serve drive-through customers before the whole operation shuts down at 10am. All told, the folks involved are nice enough, if a little curt, but the breakfast is delicious and the atmosphere is genuinely Saigon.

To sum up:

Taste : 4/5

Price: 5/5 – VND15,000 for breakfast ain't bad. 

Atmosphere: 4/5

Location: 3/5 

Friendliness: 2/5 – Not the chattiest of crowds but nice enough.

Dana is 70% caffeine, 50% fish sauce and hasn't taken a math class since 2004.

Banh Uot Nong Uyen

15 Phan Van Tri, Ward 14, Binh Thanh District

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