The journey to and from the table for this street food meal proved as interesting as the meal itself. My new friends Richie and Mimi enjoy street food as much as I and are definitely able to unlock a whole new hidden side of Saigon. They held the keys to an entire meal of animal insides as well as to a motorbike I borrowed to make my maiden self-driven cross town voyage.
Saturday night is probably not the best day of the week for a Western guy to insert himself into traffic best described as mass pandemonium and utter confusion. Perhaps every rule of the road known to man succumbed to my two wheeled fury as I manipulated that motorbike to Alley 565 off Nguyen Trai Street in District 5.
The lure of good food is a strong enough motivator for me to fling myself through obnoxiously chaotic rotaries and massive intersections lacking any semblance of lane control. Just when I was begging the traffic gods to make it all stop, a wooden pushcart adorned with Chinese symbols marked the end of the road for this journey. This outdoor joint called Dai Thanh is the typical mom and pop food experience done Saigon style with metal tables and impossibly small squat stools lining both sides of the street.
Richie had earlier promised our menu would include chicken but not just any chicken. This meal was culled from parts of the bird better left unexplored. By now most everyone has sampled a shish kabob, so imagine one of a more offal sort. Wooden skewers of hearts, lungs and kidneys arrived along with a deliciously spicy dipping sauce. Mimi swears by it and now I taste why. Next arrived two plates of other assorted delights including intestines and stomach of our other barnyard friends. Choi oi!!!
Richie explained these most interesting bite size morsels are rare treats called phá lấu nướng which roughly translates as grilled innards. Heart is tough and rubbery while kidneys are a much softer mush. Use your imagination for the lungs and guts. In all honesty it tastes just fine. I mean really. What’s the difference in eating muscle and fat off a bone versus any other part of the bird? Yes, I know what you are about to retort. That scary texture and images of a beating heart dancing in my head are exactly what made me put the skewer down and call it a day.
All wasn’t lost though for our meal presented much to like. The kim chi’s wonderfully vinegary vegetable bits imparted just enough heat to numb my tongue. Perhaps killing tastebuds with this fire is like morphine for the tongue when it succumbs to assault by body parts usually reserved for the science lab. Also, the chicken wings could pass for our American style Buffalo ones were a little spice added. The best part of all though was hanging out like a local on a sidewalk under a blue striped awning. Though I couldn’t really connect with some of the food, I felt part of the culture. I can’t wait to what Richie and Mimi serve up next.