For my only evening in Saigon, I booked a Foodie Tour. Normally I try to avoid organized trips and tours, but with such a short amount of time in Saigon, I decided to risk it and take a night-time tour. The tour was run by a company called XO Tours who employ almost exclusively vietnamese women. They are really enthusiastic about showing you the local side of Saigon, and they took us to five different districts to taste vietnamese street food where the locals eat it. The best part? We got from place to place on the back of one of Saigon’s millions of scooters.
I’ve never been on a motorbike (and have hardly even been on a bike for that matter) so flying through the streets of Saigon on the back of a motorbike was completely surreal. I’ll never understand how we managed to navigate through those streets zig-zagging around oncoming traffic. I’ll admit, I spent a good part of my first few rides clutching to the seat, sure I would fall off otherwise.
My knees felt a bit wobbly by the time we got to our first stop, but there was definitely a thrill about being on a bike like that. Our first taster was Bun Bo Hue, a noodle soup similar to Pho from the Hue region of Vietnam. The soup has vermicelli noodles, beef, a lemongrass broth, and is incredibly tasty. We had it served with sugar cane juice, another delicious local special.
Before I knew it we were back on our motorbikes, this time headed for Chinatown. They drove us through the most amazing outdoor food market that reminded me of the market I used to get groceries from in Morocco with live chickens and ducks running around. There were tons of locals wandering through getting ingredients for that night’s meal; we were the only foreigners in sight.
Our next food stop was a road-side barbecue joint a little ways across the city. We went over two bridges on our bikes, both times leaving me holding on for dear life. But I survived, and a good thing too, because I would not want to have missed out on Vietnamese barbecue.
The picture above is of marinated goat, probably my favourite dish of the night. They marinated goat and ochra in an incredible spicy sauce, and grilled it right in front of us on small barbecues on each table. They taught us to eat take the goat in our chop sticks with a mint leaf, before dipping the whole thing in a chilli tofu sauce that I think I’ll be dreaming about for the rest of my life.
Also at this stop, we had barbecued beef with flavoured salt, grilled ochra, as well as possibly the most interesting dish so far: grilled frog. Unlike the famous french frog-legs, the Vietnamese grill up entire frogs, skin and all, and serve them up with another delicious sauce. You essentially eat the whole thing, and spit the bones back out. It, too, was delicious. This was all served up with limitless Saigon beer and spicy peanuts for the table to share. It was hard not to keep eating more and more, but knowing we had seafood coming next, there was some incentive to slow down.
Our last food stop was to the kind of place anyone would drive by without a second thought. But I’m definitely glad we didn’t.
We sat down at a very simple metal table, but it didn’t stay that way for long. They brought out plate after plate of delicious seafood, with everything from a coconut clam soup to spiced crab and grilled prawns. My personal favourite (pictured above) was the peanut scallops, served with green onions and crushed peanuts. I could have eaten those all night.
The grand finale was something I knew was coming, and I couldn’t tell if I was excited or terrified. Probably somewhere in between. Balut is a specialty in South-East Asia, and is best described as a fertilized duck egg. It is essentially a partially grown duck embryo still inside the duck egg, and it’s prepared similarly to a hard-boiled chicken egg. In the Philippines they eat it straight out of the egg, but the Vietnamese custom is to serve it in tamarind sauce, which I was grateful for. I was one of the only visitors brave enough to give it a try, and everyone watched anxiously as I took my first bite.
The picture makes it look pretty nice, but in person you could easily see the tiny duck embryo wound around the egg – not necessarily an appetizing sight. I tried it anyways, though, and it was surprisingly tasty. It tasted like a meatier version of a regular egg, and the addition of the tamarind sauce was especially nice. I’m definitely happy I tried it, but it’s not something I’d be quick to order again any time soon.
By the time I got back to my hostel, I was absolutely stuffed. I enjoyed my last ride on the motorbike, this time not needing to hold on at all, before sleepily wandering into the hostel and passing out almost immediately.