50 side-dishes allure night owls to Saigon porridge stall

By Huynh Nhi, Yen Nhi   April 26, 2021 | 02:37 am PT
For two decades, a porridge stall in Saigon has drawn patrons with its pineapple leaf infused fare and unusually big array of 50 side-dishes.

Trinh Que Lan, 64, and her sister established the 211 porridge stall in 1998. It was initially located on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, then moved to its current location at 15 Chau Van Lien Street, Ward 14, District 5.

Fresh pineapple leaves, used for infusion, are washed, then rolled and added directly to the pot so the porrridge retains its white color of rice.

"At first, the shop only offered about three or four types of side-dishes. Today's variety came about thanks to customer recommendations. Preservable sides include easy-to-prepare pickles, sausages and dried turnips. Some others need to be cooked daily," owner Lan said.

The side-dishes are prepared into portions and are always ready as ordered. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.

Side-dishes are portioned out at the 211 porridge stall in Saigon. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.

The menu includes 50 side-dishes, some meat-free. All are prepared by hand. They range from familiar dishes served with white porridge including salted duck eggs, braised pork, pickles, shredded pork to less common ones like sausages, fried salted cabbage and eggs, and goby fish braised with black pepper.

These dishes have proven to be favored by Vietnamese, Chinese, and other foreigners, according to the owners. The most requested dish among foreign customers prior to the Covid-19 pandemic was canned mangrove crab.

"Mangrove crab broth has a sour and sweet taste. Many customers love eating their porridge with it," Lan said.

Stir-fried and boiled vegetables like lotus root, broccoli, string beans and bok choy, sauteed water spinach and fermented tofu all add a unique character to the porridge.

Braised mushroom with black pepper, steamed duck eggs with vegetable, string beans, stir-fried ladies’ fingers and 2 white porridge portions are priced at VND 45,000 ($1,96). The dishes are well-seasoned and at a very economical price. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.

Braised mushrooms with black pepper, steamed duck eggs with vegetables, string beans and two portions of porridge are priced at VND45,000 ($1.96). Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.

Due to the large number of side-dishes, each is separated by color to determine their price. For example, yellow plates cost VND10,000 ($0.43), blue ones VND15,000 ($0.65), and red VND20,000 ($0.87).

The stall only has plastic tables and chairs to serve a maximum 20 customers. It is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, becoming the most crowded around 10 p.m. as commuters make their way home from work.

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