Chinese snacks get a Saigon makeover

By Tam Linh   November 16, 2019 | 04:30 pm PT
Some of Saigon’s favorite snacks originated in China but have acquired a local twist.

Pha lau (Offal stew)

Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh

Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

A stew made of beef and pork entrails like pha lau might put some people off but many Saigonese foodies will tell you that once you try it, especially at a place that gets it right, you will fall in love with the taste.

It is said that the dish was imported to Saigon 100 years ago and is characterized by the taste of coconut milk, the pungency of cinnamon and the flavors of five other spices.

You can also find pha lau made from goat entrails served with bread and instant noodles or as grilled skewers. It usually costs from VND15,000 ($0.7) for a portion.

Where to find: Pha lau stalls in Market 200 in District 4; Alley 76, Hai Ba Trung Street,  District 1; Ban Co Market in District 3; and Alley 177, Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1.

Sui cao (Wonton)

Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh

Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

The wonton has a filling of minced pork and vegetables that become even tastier when had with the broth. The filling is wrapped in a light yellow dough crust which is then elongated and rolled. The dough is usually steamed or boiled and served with hot, clear bone-cooked broth.

Dipping sauces like red vinegar or soy sauce with fresh chili are strongly recommended to enhance the flavor. A bowl of five to seven wontons costs around VND30,000 ($1.3).

Where to find: Wonton stalls on Ha Ton Quyen Street in District 11 or Nguyen Trai Street in District 5.

Ha cao (Dumplings)

Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.

Originally from Chaozhou (China's Guangdong Province), ha cao is often served as an appetizer and can be cooked with either a vegetarian or meat filling. It is somewhat similar to wonton but is cooked differently. The dough is white and becomes transparent as it is cooked. It is round and usually fried or steamed.

The fillings are quite diverse and could include shrimp, crab, pork, eggs, chives, and vegetables. Sprinkle some fried onion and laksa leaves and add some chili sauce and soy sauce. Because there is no broth in it and is fairly easy to serve, many street vendors sell it.

A portion with 10 pieces costs VND15,000-30,000 ($0.7-1.3).

Where to find: Co Giang - De Tham crossroads in District 1; Nguyen Thuong Hien Street in District 3 and Ky Hoa Street in District 5.

Bot chien (Fried rice cakes)

Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.

Bot chien is a street dish from China but made and loved in Saigon. The recipe is straightforward: pour rice flour batter on a large flat pan, break an egg on top, fry and cut it into bite-size cubes, and top with green scallion. The egg is what holds the pancake together.

It is served hot and crisp with a dipping sauce made from sweet rice vinegar and soy sauce. Add some shredded green papaya to balance out the oil.

A plate of fired rice cakes costs VND15,000 - 20,000 ($0.7 - 0.9).

Where to find: Alley 76, Hai Ba Trung, District 1; a small eatery in Alley 185, Vo Van Tan Street, District 3; and push carts in Districts 5, 6,10, 11.

Bo bia (Fresh jicama rolls)

Photo by Khanh Hoa

Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Hoa.

Easy-to-find, affordable and popular are how a Saigonese would describe this sibling of the more popular goi cuon (spring rolls). Bo bia is what many locals think about first when they think about having an afternoon snack. You are more likely to find these colorful rolls at cheap places than in fancy restaurants.

Thin strips of jicama are rolled with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, fried shallots, fried egg, and herbs, are rolled in a rice paper and eaten with a slightly sweetened peanut-based sauce mixed with roasted peanuts

It costs VND1,000 - 5,000 ($0.04- $0.22).

Where to find: Lu Gia residential area in District 11, Nguyen Van Giai Street in District 1; Tan Dinh Market in District 1; Suong Nguyet Anh Street in District 1; and Tran Binh Trong Street in District 5.

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