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While dodging motorcycles and sipping lots of coffee, Erwan delves into the flavorful cuisine of Saigon, Vietnam's trendy former capital.
- [Erwan] Good morning, Vietnam. This country has to be one of my favorite places on Earth. My first encounter with it, was back in 2006, when I lived in Hanoi for about six months. I quickly became enamored with the food and drinking culture there. Back on plastic stools, too cheap to believe beers. The amount of herbs and happy bewilderment, each time a dish was put right in front of me. Saigon is a type of city I could come to each weekend, just to eat. We tried to make this show not just about food but in a city packed with delicious aromas, wafting through the air and side stores at the corner of every street. It's tough to focus on anything else. Saigon comes off as hot, brash and unfriendly to most travelers looking to immerse themselves in an Asian country. Often becoming a quick transit stop for the regions of Da Nang, Na Chang, Hanoi, Hoi An or even, Phu Quoc. It has a strong, chaotic face, that hides a world of deep and rooted ethos of a nation. While probably not the best place to travel to with children, if you are a group of adults, hungry and willing to walk through millions of motorcycles at every street crossing, get your senses ready because they're about to combust. Ho Chi Minh or Saigon, is one of those cities that is just so full of life and full of energy and today, where we stand, is a testament of what the city is today. Behind us, we have the Notre-Dame cathedral, which is a remnant of the French colonization and we're surrounded by lots of different Vietnamese restaurants. So, I think that's what Saigon is today, is a good mix of both, what is traditional French, traditional European and traditional Vietnamese. For this episode, I have a very special friend joining me, Chef JP Anglo. I needed an extra stomach, I think. And JP, what are you expecting on this trip?
- Anything, I'm open to everything that you're going to feed me. This is all new to me, so I don't know what to expect.
- The whole point of Overnight is, we're going to show people what are the best places to eat, what are the best places to drink, what are the best places to have fun and go out, and then we'll try to do that in a 24 to 36 hour time frame.
- You up for it? Let's get to it. You'll land at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, which is located just six kilometers from District One. So, it should take you, without traffic, about 20 minutes to get into the city, refreshing in Asia. However, the new airport is planned to open in 2020 and is located 50 kilometers from the city, so come to Saigon now if you can. If you need some quick cash and in need of the Dong, airport exchange rates are usually quite decent. We are now in Saigon and a lot of things you have to remember when you land at the airport in Saigon, the best way to get to the city, is a taxi. But, there are so many different scams and it can be a little aggressive. So, use two different types of companies that I usually trust, the Mai Linh and the Vinasun company. You can see their color ways, identify them and use them. This time around, we actually decided to book our hotel, or our room, rather, through airbnb. It's right here on my app, we're checking in right now, what's cool is that you have a Google integration for Google Maps, so you know exactly where it is. Yeah, it was just really simple to book, I was talking to this girl called Han, and she set everything up for us and the place looks awesome. I'm sure we're going to meet a lot of cool people there. This time around, we decided to stay at the trendy, artsy boutique hostel, the Common Room Project. People from all over the world coming in and out, adding to the friendly house ambience. It made us feel as if we were living temporarily with a bunch of travelers. This makes it easier to share experiences and figure out what's not to miss in the city. Now I know it may seem typical, but the first thing I had to do was eat something out of a bowl. I've tried food all over the world, but there's something about eating in Vietnam, that will never be matched. Outrageous humility, cold stainless steel tables and lots of pointing to be understood. What better way to start our trip in Saigon, but with a nice, hot, piping bowl of Pho. I think it's JP's first time, so he seems to be really excited about it and this is one of the best places, Pho Le, just get the bowl with all the meat inside and just enjoy it as much as you can. I'm so excited, let's get to it. Now there's always going to be a debate as to who sells the best bowl of Pho. Honestly, they are all better than what you're probably eating right now. Other places I've enjoyed in the past are, Pho Dau, for Northern-style Pho. Pho Hung, for Southern-style Pho, or Pho Phuong. We've got the standard Pho, which is basically all like, I think four meats inside, you've got tendons, you've got brisket obviously, which is the most traditional one, and then always serve with a shitload of herbs and beansprouts, which I love because these things are so aromatic. I don't know if you've ever tried the Vietnamese limes, but they're so sweet, so tasty. Usually they serve it with chili, fish sauce, soy sauce. I love putting this deep red chili, it's so good. It's about to be fire in my mouth.
- Alright, I'm going for it.
- So, JP as a Pho virgin, first impression?
- Meaty and done with a lot of soul.
- You can tell that they cooked it for a long time. Look at how they braised the meat. That was really good Pho, that was legit.
- [Erwan] People you know, may not recommend walking around because of all that heavy traffic. But, I see it as an adventure. While it may not totally be pleasant to keep having to stay alert while strolling down the streets, it's the only way to make sure you never miss out on a hidden gem. Life happens out in the streets, so take full advantage of it.
- I think there's so many motorcycles here, it's crazy.
- [Erwan] After a massive bowl of soup and some roasted coconuts, next to the Independence Palace, we digestively walk our way to the Loft Cafe. Vietnam has a very strong coffee culture, cafe culture, rather. Maybe something that they took from the French. You'll find a lot of different styles of coffees here. Most of them roasted in house for the purpose of serving them. You have it like JB's having it, black with condensed milk or like myself, just Espresso. What's great about these places is, there's usually a hub for culture and people getting together. Loft Cafe right now, which is on the second floor of a walk-up, very easy to miss. If you don't know where it is, you have to go through an art gallery and we'll be checking out other coffee shop concepts. The city is a perfect place for caffeine heads and if I had more time, I would definitely go coffee shop hopping. Other places you might want to check out are, the extra hip and cool L'Usine, Cafe Runam, for some local style beans, Nam Long Coffee Company, Bosgaurus Coffee, The Workshop or our next stop, the hard to find, Cupping Room. Just use Google Maps in street view. It's pretty funny how nowadays, wherever you go in the world, you come to these third wave coffee shops and you find the same type of people that come here, the same, like-minded people. I like to travel, but then I like to find things that are familiar. And everyone has their own version of it. So this was a place called The Cupping Room, it's a second floor walk-up. What was the entrance like?
- You wouldn't expect anything, very low-key, very old and there is too many motorcycles here, that they even park it inside. Even on the second floor, there are bicycles parked inside.
- And the sign outside was just a paper.
- A paper, yeah. But you were saying that, you could smell the beans.
- From downstairs, so basically if you're trying to find this place, just follow the smell of the beans and you will find it. It's a nice little haven, they roast their beans in house. Just right in front of you. And then they just brew it right over here, so pretty cool.
- Not only that I'm eating and drinking so much coffee, I'm also learning lots about history and about life with Papa Erwan. It's amazing when I'm with him, all these chicks look at me all of a sudden. Spillover, basically.
- Here we are walking down the famous Dong Khoi Avenue, which is probably one of the oldest boulevards here. It's a nice place to be, because you have the Opera House, you have the big shopping centers and lots of side streets with colonial style buildings, restaurants, cafes and the likes. So if you managed to pull your way out from all that eating, if your stomach needs a much needed rest period, take a stroll down District One, it's the best place to see all the big monuments of the city. The Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel, yes, the Eiffel Tower dude. The Fine Arts Museum, The City Hall, The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Independence Palace or even the City Museum. Having worked up an appetite yet again, we set off into another food adventure. It's important to come to Saigon with a few notes of what are the must try dishes and to always try to leave some space for something unexpected. Here we go for a Bun dish. Bun is basically anything with rice noodles in a bowl with a bunch of different toppings. JP and I here, we're about to have Bun Thit Nuoung. What it apparently is two different types of pork, so we have pork shoulder, we have some sort of pork sausage, they're both marinated in lemongrass, soy, ginger, lots of the classical flavors. And apparently, there's a secret ingredient that Madame here, doesn't want to tell anyone. So these are many of the lunch ladies in Saigon, which is pretty cool. She's been here for 40 years.
- [JP] Yup.
- 40 years, making one thing and making it really well. So all that pork and then the spring roll which you have over here, is then placed on top of rice noodles with Thai fish sauce dressing and some peanuts. It's so simple, but it looks absolutely delicious. This is going to be a killer meal, I can feel it. I can taste that crunch already, the noodles are loaded with so many textures, deep fried pork fat, peanuts, crunchy Vietnamese spring rolls and just so much love. Other noodle dishes you might want to try are, the Bun Thit at Chi Thong, the Bun Bo, which is the beef version, at Bun Bo Hue Dong Ba, or the Crab Noodles at Bang Cang Cua 87. Our blow-up continues and we decide to go try some Banh Khot, which is small rice pancakes with shrimps and toppings.
- I hope I don't fuck this up. Oh, there you go, now I won't fuck it up. I thought that all those herbs were going to overpower the meat, but it didn't.
- There's so many layers of flavor, the Banh and then you have the seafood, then you have the shrimp powder, the greens that you put on top, the fish sauce, the chili, the papaya, like six herbs.
- But it's so simple, right?
- Yup, but delicious. Wow.
- [Erwan] Next stop, we head out for some Banh Cuon. Alright, so we're on our third food stop, must have staples that we're trying to go through, so here we have Banh Cuon in front of us, which basically means, Banh means anything made with flour, so rice flour in this case, the lady over there, you saw, she made a really cool...
- Like crepe.
- Crepe of rice flour and water, put it over a cheese cloth over a steam pot and so she makes these really thin layer, which is really nice and then fills it with pork mushrooms and stuff. Then they served us, fermented, I think it's called Naem, it's a fermented pork sausage, so it's raw pork, wrapped in Guava leaves, with some vinegar, some sodium, just to solidify it. It's nice and sour and then finally, a rice flour cake filled with coconut and then little local Vietnamese pork hams.
- Two kinds of tofu.
- Two kinds of ham.
- Oh, ham.
- This is made out of pork, smells like tofu, made out of pork. The non-traditional one that we have here, this skin is actually made out of cinnamon. Alright, let's try it out. I know this may seem like a lot, but I'll give you some other places you might want to try to check out along the way. The egg pancake, Bahn Xeo, at the famous 46a Banh Xeo, probably all the crab dishes, at Quan 94, the blood sausage at Quan Loan is amazing, or even the delicious suckling pig at Lang Nuong. We're in front of the Le Van Tam Park, that used to actually be an old cemetery, turned into a park. We're here to try out the papaya lady. She's known as the papaya lady and whose papaya salad has become so famous, that sometimes, she sells over a hundred kilos of papaya. She's been doing it for 27 years and because of this little business, this little store you see behind me, she was actually able to send her son to university in the States. Little stories like that, that make you happy. She's either at her cart in front of the park, or she has people going around the park with pre-prepared plates. If I were you, seek her out. We were there around 5PM and things were in full swing. It has some awful beef jerky, fresh papaya and lots of crunchy textures and flavors.
- No trip to Vietnam is complete without a Banh Mi. So now, we're here at the very famous Banh Mi Huynh Hoa, Banh Mi place.
- Bang my twat?
- Can you just take... If you can see, there's so many people lining up and everyone here is a local, we're the only foreigners here and what's special about this place, is that they put seven different types of ingredients in the Banh Mi, right?
- Different kinds of meat, cold cuts, pates.
- There's pork cheek, pork belly, some sort of ham, there's pork floss, cucumbers.
- This is, what it's called?
- Then you have a pork pate, then she put some margarine in there and then these are the little spring onions.
- And the bread, right?
- Flaky bread. They actually toast their breads, so it's nice and warm and flaky.
- They toast it a La Minute. Sorry.
- You just wanted to say that.
- I'm not doing that.
- We forgot to mention awhile ago, that the good people bringing us around today, with the private van are the people from Back of the Bike Tours, right here. We'll put up their links and everything, awesome tours. They can actually bring you wherever you want to go and whatever you want to try, just let them know, and they'll modify it for you, which is pretty cool. Go home, take a shower and be awakened by how the city just changes at night. If you're tired at eating out on the street and at places with no air-conditioning, I personally don't see how that could be, but some other more upscale options would be, Mad House, Secret Garden Restaurant, Refinery, Quan Bi for some local cuisine, Trois Gourmand or Saigon Lookout. So, finally our resident grandfather has come out of his slumber. You feel better?
- He woke up and he basically said, I want to go to Bar Street. So, we're here at Bui Vien, he wants to get a snack and drinks. We're just here to drink beer, so people are sitting all over the place and just drinking really cheap beer. About 50 cents per beer, it's pretty crazy.
- 50 cents of a dollar per beer. So it's usually the place where people start off, if you want something chill, this is where you need to be. If like us, you've had your fill of food and just want a nice stiff drink, Saigon has multiple watering holes to offer. From upbeat bars like Blanchy's, Bromo Bar and the Pasteur St. Brewing company for some nice craft beer, to hip and happening party set ups at Chill Bar, Glow or Lush. If your night stretches out to the wee hours, you can always count on the Underground Observatory for a down, artsy beat of the city, or the always confusing, Apocalypse Now. There are just so many options, but we just decided to ask some people who lived here, what they like to do in the city.
- I think I will first time, start with The Common Room Project, because it's a place where you can be creative, you can meet people, you can play games, you can have some drinks. I think I will take them to Broma Bar, in the center. I guess I will go to Lush, because it's the discotheque in the area. I will talk about Outkast, I really like this place. It's a place in District Two and it's a bit underground, there is some empty wall to draw on it. It's free entry for artists and stuff, if they want to do something there. I will talk about Hum, a Vegetarian Restaurant, it's on Vo Van Tan street in District Three. Yeah, it's quite good vegetarian food, tried it many times. A big fan.
- I've been in Saigon for one year and eight months now, a lot of people don't know that, when they hear Saigon, they think Vietnamese people, Vietnamese food, but Saigon is actually a very international city with thousands and thousands of Expats. There's this place, some people know about it, it's called the Lunch Lady and she is located in District One, by the river. She has a menu which consists of different soups every day, traditional Vietnamese soups. She got very famous through Anthony Bourdain.
- [Erwan] Sunday morning, if you have a whole day in front of you, I would highly recommend taking a day tour of the Mekong River. Or diving into the underground of the Cu Chi Tunnels, used during the war. You can also have a look at the Jade Emperor Pagoda or the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. District Two is a little bit more laid back and spaced out than the districts surrounding the center. It's a good peek on how the Expats live and if you ever decide on moving here, it'll give you a good indication of what to expect. It's filled with loads of good coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques, that can actually call for a full day of discovery.
- Alright, so we're here at District Two. Erwan took us to the posh side of Ho Chi Minh. This is where all the Expats live, it's very refreshing to be here after all the street food that we've been eating. You guys stayed, I left early because I was a little bit sick. I ended up having a bowl of Pho with my motorcycle driver, Yong.
- I'm so jealous that you got to do that.
- And it was so cool, because literally, it was by the street, so random. I go, "hey, let's have Pho." And he goes, "Massage?" and I go, "no, Pho."
- Maybe he thought you meant prostitute, that's why. Did you say Foh or Fuh?
- I kept saying Fuh .
- Okay, for people that don't know, Foh, means prostitute and Fuh, means the soup, right?
- But anyway, it was a good meal, we bonded in some ways. We didn't really talk, but yeah, we just looked at each other and kept saying, "good, good, good."
- [Erwan] We had one last stop to make, we tried to go back to that Banh Mi place, just because we wanted to horde a bunch of sandwiches to bring back to our friends in Manila. Unfortunately, just like many street vendors and street side restaurants in Saigon, it only opened after 3PM in the afternoon. So, we set out on the Bourdain path, and paid a visit to his favorite Lunch Lady. Even though it wasn't on the same day that he tried it, so we didn't get the same dish. Every good stop in Saigon, you cannot come to the city without trying the Lunch Lady. Made popular, of course, by Anthony Bourdain. As we've been seeing, there are a lot of different Lunch Ladies in these kind of shops, where people just pop up here and there. So yeah, every day, the menu changes, we're here on a Sunday, it seems to have some sort of egg noodle, like Mamee noodle, some pork as well, so it looks really good, really flavorful, all these nice condiments. Everyone is really lovely and really nice.
- I'm super starstruck again, that I was able to sit down with Thanh, the Lunch Lady. I'm a big Anthony Bourdain fan and I've seen this online and I can't believe that I'm here, thank you Erwan, for taking me here.
- Each time I leave Vietnam, my hunger pangs are satisfied. But I get hit with such sadness, knowing that I will not encounter that level of food, until I come back again. Saigon is in my opinion, a beautifully crazy Asian city that finds itself in the full upswing of development. With a rise of consumership, the erection of tall buildings and the expectations of a nation's promise. The Vietnamese people are working hard at becoming a strong economic and cultural player in the region. Each time I come back, I experience something new, yet I feel like nothing's changed. A certain magic touch of combining both the unexpected with the wonderfully familiar. I will be back because I always come back. Make sure to stay tuned for our next episode, we rent out a pimping apartment in Kuala Lumpur, explored the city's different cultures and eat probably one of the spiciest meals of my life. Sweat and tears, but it's all worth it. Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat for updates and behind the scenes pictures and videos. Also, don't forget to subscribe to my channel. As you know, when you come to an airport, you can expect a lot of lines. But people are usually quite lazy, so it's really easy to just look for the shortest line, by going to the place that is furthest away from you. The more distance you have to walk, the less you need to line up.
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