Saigon Stories Part 2, Vietnam Travel Log 2018

11th August 2018 / Ho Chi Minh City

Part 2 of my Saigon Stories begin on a hot afternoon, when my mate Marius realised he got the wrong luggage at the airport the night before, and had to go back to the airport to return someone else’s luggage and claim his own!

Annoyed at his idiocy and having to waste the entire morning for him, my other mate Paul and I went to look for some hipster joint for lunch and ended up at Propaganda.

Propaganda (21 Hàn Thuyên, Bến Nghé, Quận 1) ticked all the right hipster boxes with their colourful decor and painted walls, it was packed with tourists and locals alike on the Friday afternoon.

I ordered the roast chicken set which came with fish cake rolls, roasted chicken with broken rice and a choice of Vietnamese coffee.

Lunch at Propaganda, Saigon.

The fresh rice rolls were tightly packed full of crunchy greens and a lovely savoury fish cake that balanced the bright and fresh flavours perfectly.

Duck Rolls

We also got a duck roll that was equally delicious, though we couldn’t really tell if it was duck within.

Roast Chicken Set Lunch

The roast chicken was pretty awesome with a thin crispy charred skin and absolutely juicy flesh within. Dipping the chicken with the provided nuoc cham instantly lifted the flavours of the roast chicken two-fold.

The Avengers HQ in Saigon

We wandered around a bit, marvelled at the Avengers tower in the center of Saigon before heading back to rest up for the long evening ahead.

Our evening plans began at 5:00pm with the liquid buffet at Qui Cuisine Mixology (22 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1), one of, if not the hippest and hottest mixology gastro-club in Saigon, managed by our good friends.

The level of decor and service is one of a kind and top of their class in Saigon.

Very shortly when night fell, the place was packed to the brim, like bees flocking to honey.

Beef Salad

Our dinner at Qui started with the beef salad. It was well portioned and executed with tender pieces of medium rare beef and lots of toasted sesame seeds. The executive chef is actually a Singaporean, who came out to say a few words, and I greeted him with a homely ‘Ho seh boh??’.

Lamb Kofta

The lamb kofta were competently made, but left little impression other than a filler.

Nha Trang Oysters

The Nha Trang oysters were fresh, I was especially intrigued to try them because I would be flying to Nha Trang a couple days later. They were small and quite briny. Unfortunately, one of the oysters I had was not well shucked with pieces of shell in it, resulting in me spitting out a good part of the oyster.

Wagyu Beef Gyoza with Foie Gras

The wagyu beef gyoza caught me completely on it’s wagyu and foie gras hook. Although in this state, they could use any meat and pull it off as wagyu. The little chunk of foie gras on top did gave the otherwise normal gyoza a pleasant lift, further accented with the sweet soy reduction.

Shrimp Tempura

The shrimp tempura was my favourite dish of all. Chunks of shrimp battered and fried till crispy and then dressed in a mayo-mixture. It reminded me of my mum’s home-made shrimp fritters and also the ‘salad sauce shrimp fritters’ at Hong Kong restaurants. Very addictive and tasty.

Qui Roast Chicken

Last but not least, the roast chicken, very crispy, almost as if it was deep fried; Juicy flesh within. The people in Vietnam really know how to cook their chicken well!

A lot of drinking ensued from 17:00pm to 23:00pm, after which I adjourned back to my hotel room, whilst the old men continued their much missed revival of their glory days.

Of course, I couldn’t go to sleep without trying out this lovely Bun Cha from a old granny selling it by the street right outside the hotel. The grilled pork was so incredibly fragrant with the charcoal aromas, marinade and charred skin.

The plain vermicelli helped offset the richness a bit, and then the flavours are returned to the palate with the Nuoc Cham and chilli sauces. My stomach handled it perfectly the next day.

Day 3, time to get serious. A visit to an extremely highly recommended Pho joint – Pho Le (413-415 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường 7, Quận 5).

Pho Le was already packed when we arrived at 9am, we made our way to the second floor.

Pho Tai (Rare beef) at Pho Le

Wider rice noodles are used here, which surprised me. The beef slices were rare and cooked to a medium rare in the hot broth.

The broth now, was a whole new level of awesome. Mind-blowing. Again that signature clean yet fortified taste, like a consommé. Totally lived up to expectations and worth every bit of recommending. Is it the best pho in Saigon? I am totally unqualified to say so. Is it the best I’ve ever had? It’s in the top 3. No wait, yes, yes it is the best.

“Can I get mo’ herbs?” (Said no one in Vietnam, ever)

Remember when I said in Part 1 that they serve literally a bush of herbs? Here’s proof.

These lime and chillis are extremely potent. Do not, underestimate, the green looking chillis.

The cook taking a short breather.

The grumpy old men went back to nurse their hang overs while I had a massage and wandered the streets of Saigon. We agreed to meet at 4pm for …

The BEST BANH MI IN THE WORLD. I don’t believe this shit can get any better.

Enter Huynh Hoa Bakery (26 Lê Thị Riêng, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1). This place opens only at 2:30pm and has a queue at practically any time of the day. It has been highly popularised by media and foodies across the world, and much to my surprise, lives up and exceeds the hype!

The epitome of Banh Mi.

There is literally nothing to fault in this sandwich! From the perfect roundness of the baguette, to the lightness of the crust that gently gives way to your gums when you bite into it, engulfing your mouth with the pillowy fluffy bread within.

Such light and airy bread!

The first bites introduce you to the fatty cold cuts, sausages, luncheon meats where I could’ve sworn I had fatty juices flowing through the cavities of my mouth, and then balanced with the crunchy fresh herbs of coriander, Vietnamese mint, basil and some other thing.

I just.. can’t…

Subsequent bites introduce you to the tart flavours of the pickles and cucumbers, and then suddenly, you bite into the birds eye chilli and a rush of heat suddenly floods your palate, as you scramble to chew more of the bread and pickles to put down the fire in the mouth.

What a fucking ride from a $2 sandwich. *inserts mindblown gif*

Some say we are faster than Foxconn factory workers.

Although the queue looks long, the workers at Huynh Hoa Bakery are as efficient as Foxconn Employees assembling an iPhone, working smoothly and quickly down the production line.

The Banh Mi Brothers, Marius and I.

I was told our evening would include a historic tour of all the clubs one of my mate’s mate had opened in the last 5 years in Saigon with lots of drinking involved. Hence I suggested a substantial dinner to try out a more upscale steakhouse in Saigon, Mad Cow Steakhouse (Level 30 Pullman Hotel, 148 Tran Hung Dao Boulevard).

Beautiful wine glasses.
Cold bread. WHY???

The place was a little quieter than I had expected, but slowly warmed up to more customers later in the evening at 8pm. Sad that bread was cold.

Softshell Crab Papaya Salad.

Soft Shell Crab was a little fishy in it’s namesake salad. Portion was quite small too.

Nha Trang Oysters

Nha Trang Oysters were similar to what I’ve had at Qui, not really a big fan at this point.

Lovely grill.

Ours and other customer’s steaks grilled on the charcoal grill. Nice. That marbled wagyu striploin at the top is mine. 🙂

You know it’s bad when no one eats the mash.

Mashed potatoes were dry and boring.

Australian Wagyu Striploin

My Australian wagyu striploin was well cooked to medium rare, and had a nice char on the outside.

Nice and pink. Good.

Good work on the beef, although for some reason, it didn’t taste as fatty nor rich as I had expected it to. I can’t really recommend Mad Cow. It’s a nice concept, but neither the food nor the experience live up to the expectations.

We would later visit over 5 different clubs and bars led by our friend, and I would end up with a severe case of stomach flu the next day, resulting in severe pains up to my flight from Saigon to Nha Trang. Thankfully after some medicine from the local pharmacy, I managed to curb the symptoms and bounced back the day after in Nha Trang.

Stay Tuned to the next Travel Log which I will feature some of the awesome street eats that I had in the beautiful coastal resort town/city of Nha Trang.

 

Author: Fred Lin

Fred "The Shanghai Kid" Lin was born in Singapore, and grew up in a family of foodies and home-cooks. He moved to Shanghai in 2007 and fell in love with the city, eventually carving a self-made career out of digital media design and development. He founded The Shanghai Kid food blog in 2013, and opened an award-winning Singaporean restaurant in 2014, which won CityWeekend's Outstanding Southeast Asian restaurant of the year in 2016. In 2017, he decided to reboot, and shut down all his businesses in Shanghai before moving back to Singapore with his wife. Fred plans to immigrate to Melbourne in the near future.

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