I received another Tweet about a recommendation for a great dinner, and off I went to Hai Ba Trung Street in search of a bowl of bánh tằm bì. At the particular address any semblance of a restaurant was glaringly absent. Walking up and down a side alley was the same, and I even showed the name to some random passersby who just shrugged their shoulders. A woman who had parked her cigarette cart out front was about as close to a meal as this stretch of sidewalk came. I got to thinking maybe things were locked up tight for the holiday.
For the second time in so many days I ventured back with my friend once again in tow, and all we could find was a shoe shop. Even the cigarette lady had been replaced overnight by a banana man. So what’s a guy to do when he wants a bowl of bánh tằm bì on Hai Ba Trung Street? Good question. I don’t know either. If anyone finds out let me know because hardly anyone I asked knew of this dish or where to find it. Since my journey for a bowl of this stuff had already crapped out twice, this mission to eat it took on even more urgency.
The third day I figured Ben Thanh Market might be a good starting point since its collection of food stalls purvey just about anything found in southern Vietnam. No, I don’t like going there because it doesn’t exude that gritty feel of a real Vietnamese back alley. And yes, the market is a magnet for tourists and a mecca for annoying touts. Nonetheless, I maneuvered through throngs of both all the while wishing I had a sign hanging off me saying leave me alone, I live here, I know your tourist unfriendly tricks!
Somehow the wonder of all wonders happened. The first market stall I walked up on miraculously had this dish on offer. What amazing luck. Bánh tằm bì at long last, and I must say this is an amazing one.
It’s like dessert and lunch wrapped into one. Creamy sweet coconut sauce is ladled onto thick udon-like rice noodles. Assorted herbs, peanuts, scallions and pork are tossed into the mix and a bit of sweetened fish sauce adds that down home Vietnamese flavor so necessary to round out a meal. Some oily chili pepper paste kicked the tongue burn up a few rungs on the heat ladder.
Did I say how much I like this one? Is there anything out there that doesn’t taste good with coconut of some sort? Add this one to my go to list of go to meals.