Chinatown is quite the unique part of Saigon. The guide book toting tourists are few and far between. Actually let me reword that. The tourists are mercifully pretty much nonexistent. It’s about as non-Chinese as a Chinatown can be as well. I can wander largely undisturbed around the streets that have seen better days to soak in the color and chaos. The food down in this area is dirt cheap, highly geared for local tastes, and served in some quite unsavory environs.
Time has tempered my inhibitions when it comes to food sanitation over here though. Actually, as with everything over here, you just eventually wear out worrying and finally throw in the towel. If the locals don’t look like they are keeling over after they leave a food joint, I’ll give it a try. Follow the crowds to a place with high turnover at appropriate dining times and gastronomical revenge on western stomachs should be kept at bay.
A restaurant at the corner of Nguyen Trai and Phung Hung in Chinatown would have scared the you know what out of me merely six months ago. Now its sidewalk grill blowing smoke signals all over the neighborhood was drawing me right in. What a difference half a year makes. A dilapidated awning protects a couple of basic metal tables from the even more run down surrounding, and roast ducks hanging in the open air told me this place does it right.
The family running the joint seemed so surprised a westerner would grace their joint, but seemed pleased when I ordered the sườn nướng, or grilled pork chops, and in Vietnamese no less. I did seem to be a novelty though, and the stares of others burned holes right through me. I especially liked the guy working a sewing machine right across the eating table. That’s Vietnam where personal space is nonexistent and everything else just blurs together in one spinning mass.
This slab of pig was one of the better ones I have ever tasted in my life right down to the sweetened fish sauce served on the side. Soft perfectly grilled meat fell so easily apart as I cut into it with a fork and spoon. Yes, that is the style here for knives are just not part of normal table repertoire. If I could recreate the marinade, I’d dump it on everything and then suck more into my body with an IV drip. The honey like glaze infused a nice sweetened char into every bite, and I actually found myself gnawing on the bone to excise the taste from every last nook and crannie.
This portion controlled business over here has got to go!! Give me an all you can eat buffet of these chops and I will feast like a king.