Sitting on an uncomfortable metal stool outside a traditional market on Hai Ba Trung Street in the breezy evening air is the perfect vantage point for watching Saigon happen at its usual manic pace. Everyone always seems in such a hurry and the place continuously pulses and gyrates in some sort of chaotic motion. Indeed, other westerners and I gawking at this mass of humanity usually seem to be the only people out there not in any sort of rush to fill that gap between points a and b.
This strip of food stalls lining Tan Dinh Market’s perimeter off Nguyen Huu Cau Street all look alike. Garishly lit signs advertise basically the same selections and women stand out front yelling at passersby to detour right into their particular stands. After carefully debating the sanitation levels of each and realizing a lack thereof is a lowest common denominator holding them all together, a game of eenie, meenie, minie, moe led to the one where the aroma of potentially amazing soup tantalized my nose.
This delicious soup turned out a two in one meal. I will explain how later. Yes, it was suspiciously similar in taste to some of the won ton soups around town, albeit it without the wontons. Though this one’s name is a new addition to this culinary journey, it’s base is an already familiar hủ tiếu. What pho is to Hanoi, hủ tiếu is to Saigon. The best part of hủ tiếu is the endless variations of it. One street vendor may toss in shrimp and another wontons. Tonight I chose a variety called xá xíu or roast pork.
Wonderfully edible pink edged pig slices formed the basis of this one. Just being able to actually eat the entire portion of meat is a wonderful feat in this country. A crispy fried rice wafer absorped the broth so well and was such a wonderfully gluttonous splurge. One piece of fried food is ok every once in a while, right? Surely one piece won’t crash and burn my diet.
I greedily spooned the slightly sweet clear broth into my foodhole. Spicing it up with the pepper infused vinegar brought it to taste perfection. Give me an IV drip of this broth and I’d be happy for days. Now here is where the second meal comes in. Once the liquid was gone, a pile of al dente noodles, pork, and, vegetables begged for some flavor. A few squirts of sweet chili sauce from a plastic container that has seen better days along with more super spicy vinegar created an amazing bowl of sweet and sour noodles. A great meal like this brings so much pleasure to the senses.
Soup and noodles for about a buck fifty and a priceless view…Street food doesn’t get much better than this.