Cholon Market is the largest indoor market in the Chinatown area of Saigon. We went there with our friend Lori and some local young people she’d been put in contact with before we arrived. We thought this would be similar to our tour with the Hanoi Kids. We were wrong. They spoke very little English and seemed pretty uninterested in talking to us. After taking us way out of town to visit an interesting and very old pagoda, we went over to the Cholon market. The market itself held very little interest (for us) in the main section, but the food parts are always fascinating for me. We wanted to try some of the local food, but the girls we were with looked horrified at the prospect so off we went for lunch…
Not surprisingly, the place our volunteer guides for the day choose for lunch is the well known and heavily touristed Quan an Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) , the Saigon branch of the place we ate with Hanoi Kids in Hanoi. Our guides could have redeemed themselves (story at link above) by helping us order interesting food here, but basically it’s “every man for them self.” They order what they want and not to share, much to my dismay. Both here and in Hanoi we’ve been sat away from the cooking action and had to order by menu. Were I to return, I would make sure to sit in the main area.
Lunch was ok, but not stellar. David orders Bun Cha and is disappointed (but I’m not surprised because this is primarily a Hanoi dish). Lori orders a fish dish which arrives sizzling on a platter set atop a burner on the table. It’s pretty good. I order the pork patties wrapped around sugar cane and grilled.
After we ditch the “guides”, we’re in the mood for a bit of refreshment and set out in search of what we’ve dubbed “Ass Weasel Coffee.” All right, let me explain.
In Vietnam and other parts of of South East Asia there is an animal which depending on what you read is either a weasel or a civet cat. This animal lives in the highland forests, eating coffee beans right off the plants, and because the beans aren’t digestible, “excretes” them out whole. Still with me here?
The beans are then collected, roasted (killing off any nastiness you might be thinking about) and then ground and brewed. Apparently, the animal’s digestive enzymes make for one smooth tasting coffee. Thus, we now have the coffee we’ve christened “Ass Weasel Coffee.” We wander a bit, trying to found an outlet of a small coffee chain called Trung Nguyen, one of which is supposedly near by, but no such luck.
Dinner near the Ben Thanh Market
For dinner we head over to the Ben Thanh market where we’d seen all the outdoor restaurants setting up the night before. We choose one at random called Hai Lau where we can find a seat and sit down. The present us with a laminated menu book and we order a few selections and some beer. Suddenly, I really need to find a bathroom (I’m still plagued by intermittent tummy-trouble). When I return, the food arrive and it looks good, but I have little appetite. We’ve ordered some rice pancakes with pork, fried squid, and another large omlette-like pancake filled with bean sprouts, herbs and shrimp. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood to write anything down so I don’t have the Vietnamese names.
To end the evening we go up to the bar on the top of the Sheraton. The view is spectacular for the 24th floor. As with most hotels, the drinks are overpriced. One of the drinks isn’t what it’s supposed to be and we have to convince the waiter that it’s not the right alcohol. The waiter brings the bottle to the table and pours it in front of us. It’s the right stuff this time, but I’m not sure he ever understands that the first one wasn’t the same.