Tag Archives: adventurer

Miss Saigon – Part 1: Vietnamese Food

17 Apr

After swapping my Swiss Miss (via Thailand) for Miss Saigon, I was eager to get my teeth into something tasty. I’m not sure I could name one Vietnamese dish, apart from maybe a noodle soup.

At 6pm, only a few hours after I booked into the hotel, I was collected for a Street Food tour which also included a tour of the the most famous places at night. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting for the guide to turn up on a motorbike, pass me a helmet and tell me to get on the back!

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and from my limited experience so far I’m not convinced that Vietnam was the best place to start. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 10 million people and a motorbike population of just of 5 million. If Holland rode motorbikes instead of pushbikes this is  exactly how the Netherlands would be like. It doesn’t seem that there are too many road rules. People go where they want to. Roundabouts are a logistical nightmare. You round a corner on a main road and in the middle of the road is a man in the road struggling to push a cartful of mangoes up the hill. Gulp!

Luckily my guide was a careful driver and didn’t drive too fast or wildly. At first, I was hanging on to the poor sod for dear life but I soon got used to it. He left me outside a shopping centre while he parked up the car in the multi-storey. It wasn’t long before 3 children came up to me. Instantly, I put my guard up: I wasn’t sure if this was a trick to somehow distract me while an amigo helped themself to my bag. In the background, I could see a woman smiling ear to ear and I realised these were her children. The children simply wanted to practice their English with me. They told me they learn English at school and they practice as much as they can with foreigners visiting the city. One of them asked me if I was sad because I was on holiday alone? I said, no, I was having a great time anyway.

My guide took me to enjoy broken rice and poor spare ribs in a small restaurant. Broken rice is very common in Southern Vietnam and the grain of the rice is actually very small. The food was tasty as was the apple and grapefruit juice. We wondered around the main plaza which was alive with people. There are water fountain displays and lots of people were out enjoying the weather because it was Sunday. In the middle of the plaza and in front of the government buildings is a statue of Ho Chi Minh who the city is named after. I had no idea that the city is named after a person and I’m not sure there are many cities in the world that can claim that. 


After we met with a friend of his, who is also a tour guide. I think she wanted to practice her English, which was fine with me. We set off on the bikes again and crossed the Saigon River. On the bridge we made a quick stop to collect some corn that is typical Vietnamese. It was warmed with chili, spices and onions. Next stop was a few minutes away and was where the action was happening. In the evening young people gather on the bank of the river and barbecue. We found a street seller and had some fish kebabs, sausages (a bit like a German wurst), deep fried eggs in batter and a Vietnamese-style lemonade that had passionfruit in it. After stuffing myself to bursting point (as usual), we drove home in the tunnel going under the River and was back at the hotel.

The next morning was an early start. I had a cooking class to go to! Because of the bad traffic I was left waiting in the hotel lobby for 40 minutes, but the tour company had phoned in advance to tell me they would be late.

After getting stuck in traffic and arriving even later, I arrived for the class. I was in a group with four other ladies (2 Swedes, 1 from Portugal and a British lady who has been living in South Africa for almost 30 years). To being with we went to collect our ingredients and learn more about them. All of the produce is grown or produced at the site, with the exception of sugar and oil which they buy from the local market. It was so interesting to pick my own lemongrass and see how it is grown. They also grown their own oyster mushrooms in a really unique way in rubber plant shavings and plastic bags. 

I also found out how peanuts are grown. Did you know they were grown underground? When you taste them before they are roasted (like we did) they taste like peas. Really! They do! That must be why we call them peanuts in English. Thinking about it some more in German the word is Erdnuss coming from Erd for earth and Nuss from nut, which is exactly how they are grown!

On to the cooking and I was so glad to hear that we were cooking 4 courses! The first was spring rolls with a homemade dipping sauce, which I have always wanted to have a go at but I was too nervous to give it a go. They are so easy to make and I will definitely be making them when we get home and no we didn’t make that rice paper! That would have been a step too far for this amateur chef! 

Next up was a papaya salad with fried beef with lemongrass and ginger! Delicious and more and so simple to make again! Luckily, the chili was mainly for decoration for this dish or I would have been suffering later. Next was a chicken and mushroom dish that was marinaded and cooked in a clay pot. Again deliciousness personified! It didn’t look as attractive as the other dishes but the smells and flavours were incredible. 

Dessert was a banana spring roll. I have never heard of this before and to say I was sceptical was an understatement. Served with coconut icecream (I’m not a huge fan of anything coconut), it was a dream and a perfect ending to a fantastic experience and meal. Throughout the day I had learnt a lot about marinades and sauces as well as ingredients and flavour combinations. 


Our chef for the day was Mi (pronounced Me) and she helped us to prepare the dishes and answer our questions. She was a great head chef and was knowledgeable and funny (even though she told me off for forgetting to put herbs in my second spring rolls). The whole operation is run by Chef Tan who has appeared in cookery programmes with Gordon Ramsey. He told us he has two restaurants in Melbourne as well as his cookery school. If you are in the area, I highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone. The atmosphere and staff are excellent and, even though the  course is commercially designed, it loses none of its charm and authenticity.

After the cooking class, I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a large network of connecting tunnels underground that the Vietnamese people used during the Vietnam war to evade capture from the Americans. It’s incredible that people lived underground with living rooms, workshops and medical quarters. It was also possible to go underground and see the size of the tunnels, which have actually been enlarged for tourist to see how life was like. The tunnels are narrow, dark and oppressively hot. I have no idea how much willpower these people must have needed to survive.


I don’t know very much about the Vietnam war but I will go home and read up about it. It’s a war on recent history that I never learnt about at school and is definitely a war that has shaped modern day Vietnam. History is important and it can helps us understand the world today.

Traffic jams stop me getting to the hotel in good time but enough time to relax by the pool with some very cheap beer before another long day tomorrow.