Travel: Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City in 48 hours (Day 2)

After our first day of checking out most of the main tourist attractions around the city center, we spent the second day just walking around town taking in the feel of the city and really diving into a day of gluttony.  If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you would know about the crazy amount of scooters there are zooming through the streets.

To start off the day we had banh pate chaud from Banh Mi Tuoi, a French inspired pastry filled with seasoned pork.  The crust was so flaky and buttery.  Really a delicious breakfast treat or snack.  And of course we washed it down with a Vietnamese style iced coffee.

One thing I was sure that I wanted to do in Ho Chi Minh City was to go see The Lunch Lady.  I first heard of The Lunch Lady from Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations.  Since I was so moved by the experience, I felt compelled to write a separate post about my visit to her, so you can read about it here.  We left early to find The Lunch Lady since we had heard her shop was off the beaten path and she often sells out of food because it gets crowded for lunch.  I didn’t want to miss out!  I get anxious about my food.

After a satisfying meal we took a cab back to the city center and walked to a few shops near the famous Hotel Continental and Saigon Opera House.  And then to get a better look at the city we stopped into the Caravelle Hotel to their roof top Saigon Saigon Bar.  It was a beautiful day.  Ch-ch-ch-check it out…

Some 333 (ba ba ba) beer & snacks….

For the food and beer coma I needed a caffeine pick-me-up.  Did you know that the Vietnamese are pretty serious about their coffee?  It’s delicious.  If you don’t know, now you know!  Later in the afternoon we stopped into the popular Vietnamese coffee chain Trung Nguyen Coffee.  You will see them all around town.  It’s “The No. 1 Coffee.”

This place looks like your typical coffee shop, like Starbucks.  I actually don’t think I ever saw a Starbucks in HCMC which was surprising since they love marking their territory.  But I was happy about that.  Trung Nguyen Coffee is a sit down place.  I am assuming since Vietnamese style coffee uses the slow drip method, it takes a bit longer to get it to-go.  When you arrive you get a brochure telling you about all the different beans they have and background on the brand and history.  You choose your bean and place the order with a server.  I ordered the “sang tao 4 – sang tao/ creation, iced” (iced coffee with condensed milk).  When the coffee arrives it’s perfect.  Perfectly sweet, perfectly frothy.  My friend told me you’re supposed to sip it slowly and allow some of the ice to melt but as the fat American I gulped it down in 5 sips and it was gone.  I’ll have another please.  Thanks.

Although delicious and worth the try, I think for the price, every other Vietnamese shop that serves coffee is just as good.  But I’m no coffee snob.

Did I tell you that coffee is a digestive?  I was hungry again.  Well actually, I was on the hunt for banh mi sandwiches.  I wasn’t going to let Banh Mi Bistro from the first day spoil my outlook on my favorite sandwich.  We had heard of a more authentic place just around the corner.  Nhu Lan is a bustling deli/market that sells snacks, cold cuts and baked goods.  Since we were there pretty late in the afternoon we decided to grab one of the pre-made sandwiches on the deli counter.

This was a pretty good banh mi sandwich.  The flavors were all there and working together.  It was definitely more authentic then the one we tried on the first day.  It was tasty but since we got it pre-made the bread didn’t taste as fresh and was a little stale from being trapped in the plastic bag.  If you ever go, I recommend a freshly assembled sandwich versus pre-packaged.

Our last meal of the day was the ever popular Pho noodle soup.  You didn’t think I could leave HCMC without a bowl of pho did you?  We checked out Pho 24.

It was pretty good but didn’t knock my socks off.  I ordered a bowl of pho with flank steak.  There was a special pho with the works from tripe to filet to meatballs but I was still pretty full from stuffing my face earlier in the day.  As with almost all noodle soups in Vietnamese cuisine, the magic is in the broth.  The broth was flavorful but where was the hot sauce and hoisin sauce to drizzle in my soup?

The next morning, we had one more meal before leaving HCMC – breakfast.  From walking around town we had spotted a small crowded banh mi sandwich stand across the street from our hotel.  Crowded = Good.  I was still searching for a banh mi that was better than Out the Door in San Francisco.  In the morning before our flight we decided to grab a sandwich to go.  I had a good feeling about this one….

Here it is-Tuan Map’s banh mi…

And then a close up….

There it was.  What I was searching for.  So. Good.  It had everything.  It even had marinated pig ear.  Did I mention my love for pig ear?  The bread was so perfectly airy and crispy.  The cilantro gave it that fresh taste.  Crunchy pickled carrot and daikon radish.  Cold cuts.  Pate.  Spicy peppers.  Watch out for the peppers.  Vietnamese peppers are no joke!  It’s basically like eating fire.  I take out the peppers since the leftover essence is enough heat for me.

There you have it.  HCMC in 48 hours.  The people friendly and the food devine.

The Details:
Banh Mi Tuoi Bready | Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, District 3, HCM City | (08) 3930 6792

The Lunch Lady | 23 Hoang Sa, District 1, HCM City

Caravelle Hotel/ Saigon Saigon Bar | 19 Lam Son, phường 2, Tan Binh District, HCM City | (08) 3848 5587

Trung Nguyen Coffee | (multiple locations in HCMC)

Nhu Lan | 50-64-68 Ham Nghi St. Dist.1, HCM City | (08) 8292-970

Pho 24 | 05 Nguyen Thiep St., Dist. 1, HCM City | (84-8) 3822 6278

Banh Mi Nong Tuan Map | 196 Pasteur Q.3, HCM City | (08) 3823 2149

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