One thing you need to do in Vietnam is to đi nhậu, or ‘go drinking’ in its basic translation. However, it’s more than that. It’s the act of getting together with friends and celebrating their company for hours on end. Beer and food is always involved along with the loud banter and occasional singing. Sure, it may sound familiar, like your izakaya or tapas or even happy hour for some of you. But no, this tradition, or even obligation I dare say, is usually done street side on those small uncomfortable red chairs and flimsy tables that one of your friends will hold still for the night. And of course, it would be worth it when the place is bringing out plate after delicious plate of ốc, or for those who haven’t guessed it, snails. This was the case at Quán Ốc A Sồi.
Surprisingly, this amazing place isn’t located on Đường Vĩnh Khánh, where shops of this type seem to congregate (see the post about oysters prepared 24 different ways). No, this place is located in District 3 and has three storefronts all monopolizing one section of Nguyễn Thượng Hiền street. Even more impressive was the setup, solid chairs and tables with all your necessary utensils and condiments. Right on!
We happen to come here right before the rush and found a table right at the entrance. Full view of the scooters, cars, and people traveling through the street. We even observed the bicycle acupuncturist who rode by calling out his presence to those living above the shops. Neat. If I had an allergic reaction I know who to call for to help stop any inflammation so I could continue eating. That’s how it works right? Anyways, we ordered almost every type of mollusk on the menu. I was in nhậu heaven, especially with the bottles of ice cold beers at hand.
So the thing with drinking beer and eating snails (and other seafoods) is that you go at a slow pace. You’re not scarfing down snails and leaving in 15 minutes. You’re carefully prying open, twisting out morsels of goodness, and tasting the various sauces, all while enjoying a cold brew. And these places carry a variety of these sea delicacies along with several ways of preparing them. You’ll be wondering if you should circle back to that one you loved or continue on trying out new dishes. Preferably you’d do the latter, but if you have a big enough group, you’ll be ordering your favorites all night. For tonight though, we were only a party of two.
Service was almost family like. Our server helped us order, made sure the drinks kept coming, and even helped us open the cockles. That was a godsend since I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me. Glad our waiter showed me before I took a hammer to it. Well, even after dinner he helped our Uber driver find the correct street to pick us up. Now that’s friendliness you don’t encounter too often. After a tasty meal, this was icing on the cake.
I’ll be back with reinforcements next time I’m in town.
Quán Ốc A Sồi
237 Nguyễn Thượng Hiền
Phường 4, Quận 3
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Verdict: If you want a less crowded area without sacrificing good seafood, this is your place.
I don’t always sign up for tours, but one Airbnb’s Experience caught my eye, the Saigon Street Food Fest run by Saigon Extravaganza Tours. A tour which takes place on the back of a scooter whisking you around town. Not only will you see local shops and taste the foods, but you’ll get to experience the traffic first hand, piloted by experienced drivers of course. That sounds like a win win scenario. Although, being Vietnamese myself, I wasn’t sure. For the best spots for food, I had my friends. For getting around, well there’s Uber which even has scooters available. Then there’s the whole part of being around other tourists. Did I really want to do that? Well, in this case, it turned out great. All thanks to Jake and his crew.
The group is made up of college students who use their very own scooters to take you around. So keeping you safe also means they safeguard their daily means of transportation. Even better was that each tour guide wants to practice their English more so what’s a better way to do that than to show a bunch of foreigners around. Perfect.
This event started at 6pm and went for four hours, ending around 10pm. The cost was $60 USD which was paid through Airbnb. If you register through their site, the costs are a little less. Either way, it’s worth the price.
They had everything covered. From small things like hand sanitizer to their own photographer, all you really needed to do was to show up. Also, the weather forecast called for rain and in Vietnam, that meant at any time. If it were to rain heavy, the event would be canceled with a refund. If it was raining lightly, well, they have ponchos. Thankfully, it only sprinkled for a few minutes and there was no need for ponchos. So glad they were prepared.
If you want to see what it’s like riding through the alleys of Saigon, check it out here. Our tour guides sent us into a narrow maze where we kept thinking we’ve hit a dead end. But with a quick turn we found one path after another until we hit the main roads again.
It was such a fun group that the visitors from New Zealand decided to invite everyone out afterwards. Clubbing with people you just met? Sure, why not. And yes, all the tour guides came out as well. Now that’s how you have a Saigonese moment.
Thanks for making it a memorable night gang!
Saigon Extravaganza Tours
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Verdict: Ditch those big bus tour groups and get an up close personal view of the city through this group.
For lunch, we headed to Cuc Gach Quan for some traditional home cooking. And by home cooking, I meant some high quality cooking you’d expect for special occasions. This wasn’t your run of the mill Vietnamese food. No. It was some well prepared dishes that delivered on it’s hefty price tag. Expensive, when compared to other restaurants around here in Saigon.
The restaurant sits across the street from the office of the owner who happens to be a renown architect. You will notice the refined touches to the delightfully unique French colonial home. Inside the living areas are divided up into dining sections. I wish I took pictures of it, but you can visit their site to get a glimpse. You can even book a specific room on their site for special parties.
Our order consisted of classical dishes my mom used to make with a few others. And I have to say, they nailed the flavors. It felt like I took a time machine back to when I was a kid, gleefully gobbling up bowls of rice while sampling one dish after another. That’s what I really really liked about the dishes here. They are on the smaller side, which might be due to my familiarity to oversized American portions. Still, this meant we could order more and get a complete feast. We did just that. No regrets. The whole meal was a field day. Each dish standing tall on its own and a few that worked so well together.
I have to say, this place satisfied my Vietnamese itch for high quality food.
Cuc Gach Quan
10 Đặng Tất, Tân Định, Quận 1
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 8 3848 0144
Verdict: It’s on the expensive side. But if you want to have everyday Vietnamese food, stop by for a feast.
There’s a stretch of Vinh Khanh Street in District 4 where you can lines of stores making seafood for your street eating pleasure. One such place, Chilli, stood out for its offering of oysters prepared in 24 combinations. There was a bit of a hesitation splitting two dozen oysters between the two of us, but as you know, we only live once. Plus, this was a place for nhau, where friends get together for hours of food and beer. There was plenty of time and no need to rush. We just sat back and enjoyed eating.
It’s not to hard to find the Chilli. They take up two whole store fronts with an extra seating area off to the side. That’s where we sat. Tables made for two with complete access to the high foot traffic streets. Which of course meant easy access for the street peddlers. Three people stopped by hawking their lottery tickets, snacks, and even napkins. All trying to tell us a story that got lost in the haze of my rudimentary Vietnamese. There was even a street performer who stopped by, blew fire, then asked us for money. *face palm* Did I wear my “I ♥ Vietnam” shirt or something? I hate sticking out like a tourist. But don’t worry, you can never let it ruin the night. Just kindly say no or do what my friend does and ignore them. Seemed to work for her.
Anyways, back to the shop. Look for the signs and the wonderful people with the chilli shirts.
I actually didn’t see the signs because I was walking under the canopies. But as soon as I came across the road side grill with these little dishes, I knew I was at the right place.
Arriving at 6:30pm there were enough tables open. Within the hour, they filled up. I can see why. Regardless of the oysters, there was plenty of other foods and the locals were coming here for them. The main attraction may have been the ability to grill things at the table.
As for the oysters, they came in sets of five. Being opportunists, we ordered all five sets ranging from 75,000 to 89,000 VND, which, if you did your math, meant one duplicate oyster dish. Not sure which one we had twice. I couldn’t remember the flavors after all the beers. The wait staff, which you would need to flag down, were happy to keep me stocked with cold bottles of beer. And by the time I scarfed down that last oyster and wipes my forehead, life was good. This was the street eating and drinking I was looking for. Next time, I’m going into the late hours.
105, 232 Đường Vĩnh Khánh
Phường 10, Quận 4
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opens after 4pm
Verdict: A must recommend at this point. That is before the oysters gets too popular.
Looking for a late night bite that’s light and casual in the heart of District 1? Stop by Dì Lý – Bánh Đa Cua for some northern cuisine from the Hai Phong region. A flavor that’s not too heavy on the palate, yet still relying on the ingredients of seafood. It’s tucked away from the bustling streets and up the stairwell into its moderately sized dining room. It’s a great escape for some good wholesome food.
This was a quick bite to eat tonight. And since I did my research, when the server sat me down, I was ready to order. Within ten minutes, the food came out, a warm bowl of noodles with an appetizer. I said quick, not small. Throughout the meal I watched as other dinner parties were here sampling each other’s dishes. Something I couldn’t do since I was solo tonight. Oh how I would have loved to try out more of this style of food. Some were of course familiar Vietnamese dishes, but there were others I wanted to try. That of course means I’ll have to come back.
Dì Lý – Bánh Đa Cua
103 Đồng Khởi
Bến Nghé, Quận 1
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 8 3829 8249
Verdict: Pretty good introduction to Hai Phong food and refreshing break from the Southern style foods you may know so well.