Dim sum pieces awaiting their final steam bath in a metal cooker line the shelves of a serving cart parked in the street. The place seems to have a high turnover so I wasn’t overly worried about these bite size nuggets festering too long in the evening heat. A slight glimmer of angst did cross my mind though as it does with every meal in Vietnam. Imagining how dim sum the size of a Gobstopper candy could bring anyone to his knees six hours later always gives pause before that first bite. I am most pleased to report though no such bowing before the porcelain god ever became necessary.
Dim sum deep in District 10 is best described as a very ordinary meal in some very unordinary surroundings. I hopped on the back of my friend Kevin’s motorbike to brave rush hour chaos to meet our friend Phu at 500 Vinh Vien Street. This dim sum parlor has no name that I could readily identify other than its address on a second floor sign. Whoever said getting there is half the fun was knew what he was talking about as that motorbike ride was the usual mind bending craziness. Driving here is like being launched uncontrolled out of a slingshot and hoping nothing hits you along the crosstown trajectory.
The set up is as basic as basic comes. Two narrow rows of metal tables protrude out into the sidewalk from the open air shop house. Only a single awning separates food goers from the elements above. An old lady hunched over bowls of ingredients fashions the dim sum in the back of a crowded room visible to the street, and members of presumably her family handle the rest.
These tiny steamed hors d’oeuvres have their origins in Chinese cuisine, but they are quite popular all across Vietnam. At one point we even had a dim sum breakfast on board our planes, and they are ubiquitous at hotel breakfast buffets.
Soft sticky dim sum wrappers hold in finely minced pork balls the size of a marble along with random pieces of diced shrimp. A faint hit of lemongrass permeates the inner filling, and the soy based dipping sauce is nicely sweetened complement. Imagine the black sauce we pair with pot stickers in the US and you’ve got the basic taste comparison here. Tossing in some searing hot birdseye hot peppers lets us feel that burn so important to a great meal, in my opinion at least.
Were these mind blowing foodgasmic amazing? Not really. Were they good and satisfying? You betcha and especially for the dirt cheap price. The gritty surroundings of a District 10 side street so far away from my every day Saigon were like a perfect condiment spicing up the whole experience. A great meal takes us on a journey far from the ordinary, and I am on this food journey to collect experiences as well as new tastes. District 10 dim sum sure does deliver.