SU VAN HANH STREET
Sư Vạn Hạnh is a long, lively street in general, but the section between Ngô Gia Tự and Nguyễn Chí Thanh streets is partiuclarly frenetic and jam-packed with excellent street food. When I lived just up the road from here, my housemates and I referred to it as ‘The Ghetto’, because the area is dominated by several run-down, Soviet-style apartment blocks. Because there are so many people living so closely together in this neighbourhood (and because conditions are so cramped inside that people would rather spend their time outside), the area’s street-life is exceptionally vibrant. Food stalls, vendors, casual eateries, cafes and bars line the street, all in the shadow of the dilapidated apartment complex. Young and old, families and couples take their seats on plastic stools at metallic tables and tuck into the various street treats on offer. The contrast between the energy and colour of the street food scene and the grey, grim, concrete bleakness of the apartment buildings (some of which are now in a state of demolition) is extreme and compelling. This street’s speciality is bánh xèo (savoury crepes filled with pork and bean sprouts). Dozens of places serve small bánh xèo cooked on circular trays over flaming, coal-fired barbecues. My favourite is at 004 Lô H (literally ‘Block H’), where the family have been in the bánh xèo business on the same spot for 14 years. At the corner with Hòa Hảo Street there’s a good Chinese-style noodle outlet calledTai Phát. Try the mì vịt tiềm (egg noodles with duck in a deeply aromatic broth). The noodles are sold from a classic xe mì (noodle trolley) decorated with painted dragons and scenes from Chinese mythology. Right at the southern end of Block H (Lô H) there’s an outstanding Vietnamese dessert stall on the corner. This place is rammed with young Vietnamese who gather around the tiny tables in groups to enjoy any of the sixteen different kinds of dessert sold here. All of them are gooey, sweet, colourful and involve sticky rice, green bean or coconut milk in some form or another. The textures and flavours might be unfamiliar to most foreign palates but the sheer variety and youthful energy of this stall make it my favourite place on this street.