Sometimes in Saigon you just can’t believe your eyes. Its why I chose to live here. Its why I extended my contract and its why I may continue to live here longer. You just can’t make this stuff up. Rainy season is usually pretty consistent in South East Asia. It rains at noon and then again at 5. They even have a name for it “mua lon” which means “big rain.”
This was the worst rain I’ve seen in Saigon since my arrival and by far the worst flooding ive seen in my life. It was complete madness. Draining systems backed up, riverbanks were overflowing, motorbikes stuck up to their handlebars and barefoot kids having a blast in it. As I write this I look out my window and you assume one could travel faster down the road if you had a rowboat
It took me an hour to travel about 3 miles. This included crossing road dividers, having 50% of my body splashed by a public bus, driving on sidewalks and ultimately parking in a different garage and walking home. Probably the best part about this is seeing the people gather on the sidewalk and observe the insanity. The ingenuity of the Vietnamese and their motorbikes make for an always exciting sight
This challenge is about doing something different everyday. It’s about how to stay out of that routine, escape your comfort zone, learn about your surroundings and see what’s actually out there. True, I could do most of these things back in New York. Doing it on a budget wouldn't be too difficult. I lived there on a budget for 24 years. However, I wouldn’t be at the quality of places I’ve been eating and drinking at and I certainly wouldn’t be doing it as frequently.
This brings me to my next point: the things I can have here I’d never be able to have in Western countries. This time I decided to hire a cook for the night. My friend and colleague, Expat Heather, who has 2 nannies (you read that correctly), put me in touch with her cook.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of girls cook for me in my day, but this was the first time I paid one to do it. It’s a much simpler process than going out or even making it myself. I came home, food was already made for me, sat down, watched NFL and took care of myself for a change. It’s important for our own sanity that work doesn’t consume every minute of our lives. Nothing is better after a longs day of work than decompressing on the couch with some quality food.
The dishes were out of this world. I’ve decided to hire her 2x, maybe 3 x a week. Did I mention she cleaned up? And did the food shopping? Curry chicken and potatoes with rice (2 meals), and Beef fried noodles with steamed veggies (2 meals). I wouldn't suggest eating the rice and pasta together, but I just had to have a bit of each. Cost of ingredients $11 dollars. Cost of 2 hours of service: $10, Total Cost $21. Being able to have someone cook and clean for you 3 times a week: Priceless
Soul Burger Restaurant.
I like to think of myself as a burger guy. I usually know when and where to order a burger. I thought I covered them all in Saigon, but these restaurants are trying to outdo the other right as we speak. My colleague Andrew mentioned to me a place called Soul Burger. I had to check it out because I never went there before. In the pouring rain I arrived on a Monday night, only to discover they are closed on Mondays. My burger buds were burning.
I cant stress enough that I am not in this blog thing for the accreditation as a foodie. Even if my mom and my sister are the only viewers of this blog, I’d still be happy. I would also never take a photo of a burger in the US. However, there is a certain joy I get in posting these photos to my Asian friends. This is the equivalent ordering an entire shrimp platter by yourself. And that would be photo worthy.
After checking the website and browsing the menu online I came back with vengeance. I knew I wanted the best burger on the menu and there it was: The James Brown Burger. Loaded with onion rings Cheddar cheese, bbq sauce and homemade coleslaw I knew I was in for a treat. I swallowed my fries with a big bear beer as some good tunes played in the background. Total cost one person: 15 USD.
I have to admit I've been here before. I thought it would qualify as a good entry because I grabbed some great photos. Its a banh mi (sandwich) place right outside my apartment. They are located all over the city. Anyone with a sidewalk can operate one of these. The bread is made fresh daily. They might get that skill from the French colonial era. I don’t know where it comes from, but I have seen a guy on a motorbike with thousands of rolls before #stuffonthebackofbikes.
The lady who operates this stand knows me pretty well by now. I don't like the tumultuous spicy peppers , but I do enjoy the spicy sauce. Add 3 fried eggs, tomato, cucumber basil and you’ve got yourself a great way to power through your day. This meal will fill you up for about 5 hours.
Total cost: $1
I love these noodles. Absolutely one of my favorite meals in Asia. These arms length, white strands of rice noodle are filling and delicious when mixed with some homemade sauce. Almost all the food on the street is home cooked. Usually it’s a small family operating the business serving the everyday “Nguyen.” I’m not a big fan of the cross section of pig leg being thrown into my noodle soup, but that’s my fault for not being clear. What might freak some of you out even more is that it’s mostly just the skin that is ate and you can usually see a few hair follicles on there. I did nibble at it, but it was more tiring to eat than rewarding in flavor. I put it on the side of my plate and the next bowl I got came loaded with shrimp. These street vendors know how to treat their customers. 3 bowls of ‘’Banh canh ghe/tom ‘’and 2 ‘’tra das” total cost: $6
Its places like this that fulfill my desire for something new and my appetite for…. my appetite. Watcha Café, one of the top rated cafes on foody.vn stands down a side street that more likely resembles an alley. This two story Japanese style café is no sight for sore eyes. Simple chairs and blank walls give make it seem abandoned. Except for the fact that the place is packed! I feel like I am back in Japan. You are only there for the goodness that they serve. Someone greets us in Japanese at the door and I am brought upstairs. Im comfortable because Im sitting right in front of the air conditioner. Does life get any better?
We ordered two delicious looking drink. A blueberry matcha smoothie and another and matcha ice cream tea. Green tea ice cream is very much an "Asian thing." Though traditional teas are more sought after in China and Japan, there is no shortage of variations for the rest of us. Its the equivalent of our vanilla bean. These were great, but what really got my attention was the dish sitting at the table next to me. ”Chung ta muon Hai cai gia” I think I said we want two of that. Large sugar coated bread, melted with cheese, topped with ice cream and honey. This was to die for! The other, a chocolate covered bread cake with vanil…ahh just look at the photo. Drinks and dessert for 2: $12
I didn’t have a whole lot of time to go searching for a cafe today. The good thing is that there are hidden gems on every corner of this massive city. Plastic chairs and smoothie shops line the busy streets, but if you step down an alley or into some shrubbery, you might find yourself in a place like An cafe off of Thao Dien in district 2. It looks like a parking lot for construction workers from the outside, but inside are large plants, wooden tables, old window shutters and traditional Vietnamese flute playing in the background. It just feels nice to be here.
I needed a quick pick me up and I couldn't resist the deliciousness of a freshly blended coconut smoothie with coffee. I like to think I invented this magnificent combination. Add a banana cake with vanilla ice cream and wow! I hope heaven is this good.
To make things better, I got struck here as it started raining. Its quite the tantric place for a drizzle, but there is no such thing as drizzle in Vietnam. As the trickle of rain on the bamboo leafed ceiling began to grow heavy, I quickly moved my belongings inside and ordered some more food. This storm wasn’t gonna end anytime soon. Puddles of water began to collect nearby and my electronics lay vulnerable at my own expense. You can't hold a restaurant accountable here when something goes wrong. I kind of like it that way.
Lemongrass wrapped with beef and spicy peanut sauce. Total cost for the evening: $9
As my friends and family know, I find it very hard to sit still. I am constantly searching for a new challenge or adventure. I’ve learned that life is too short to become an expert in everything, however, I managed to become pretty good at what I’ve tried (I failed miserably at piano and gave up Kung Fu). In summary, I like to try new things, so I am creating this lifestyle blog. I’ll talks about the challenges I pursue, the jobs I do, adventures I take on, the food I eat and every great thing along the way.
Some people who have really inspired me are Timothy Ferris, Rolf Potts and Tony Robbins. It’s from a combination of their books and my background, that lead me to become a teacher overseas. I am currently on my third year in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I also taught in Beijing, China and one year as a Special Education Aide in New York.
It wasn’t until my recent position as an IT Integrationist at my school, did I find enough motivation to make this blog. I’ve done so much in the past 5 years: obtained a masters degree, earned a special education certification, grew a massive vegetable garden at my childhood home, coached lacrosse and intramural sports, learned Vietnamese and Chinese, learned to drive a motorcycle, taught myself video editing, got my advanced scuba diving certification, significantly improved at surfing and snowboarding, completed a large number of other people’s bucket list activities and traveled across 22+ countries. There is definitely a lot of posts to make up for, so I better get started!
I once tried to eat at a different cafe or restaurant everyday for a month. This was inspired by Timothy Ferriss’ 30 day challenge. I made it about 28 of those 30 days, but often settled for something quick and easy, or something just next door to a place I’ve already been. I bent the rules a little, but it was a very rewarding experience as I got to see more of the city.
I wanted to give this another try. This time really broadening my taste buds and thirst for something new. This might sound easy when travelling, but when you live somewhere it’s even easier to stay in your comfort zone.
For this challenge I’m going to focus on visiting a different place, somewhere I’ve never been before, for 30 days. I have lived in Saigon for 2 years now, so I’ve been to most of the popular places. I probably will continue to eat at these places, but if I do, I won’t count that as a new place. I’ll have to go somewhere else that day. I’m already writing this blog 3 days into when I started this challenge, so let me begin.
In pursuit of great street food (an vat) I came across a write up in AsiaLife Magazine. I was looking for Com binh dan (local rice). When I arrived at the location I realized I already ate there 3 days earlier(I’ll include this post at a later time). I drove a bit further and found some local Vietnamese really enjoying their meal on the side of the busy intersection of Ton That Tong and Bui thi Xuan in District 1. I pulled over and had not one, but two bowls of Bun Bo (beef noodle soup).