VAN KIEP STREET
Even in the light drizzle of a cool rainy season evening Van Kiep Street is a thrilling exhibition of Vietnamese street food. Showcasing dozens of different dishes all in the space of a couple hundred metres, Vạn Kiếp Street straddles the border of two of Saigon’s most vibrant districts, Phu Nhuan and Binh Thanh. Neon signs prick the night, illuminating the slanting rain as they announce the specialities of each food and drink outlet: phở, bánh canh cua, bánh mì, bánh xèo, bún mắm, bún bò Huế, bún chả, nem nướng, chè - there must be at least fifty different dishes available on this street, and over a hundred eateries to choose from. The street is packed with young Vietnamese – I rarely see any customers over the age of 30 – all clustered around small plastic tables, hunched over on small plastic stools, talking, eating, gesticulating, laughing.
Quán 104 (230 Van Kiep) is a small, trendy place specializing in grilled octopus (bạch tuộc nướng), which is very popular with Saigon youth at the moment. The spicy, marinated octopus is grilled over a coal barbecue on the sidewalk; the scented smoke wafts into the street, enticing all who pass to stop and eat, like a vaporous Siren. Van Kiep has more than its fair share of bánh canh cua outlets – a stodgy, slippery, fishy, noodley southern classic: try it at 63 Van Kiep. Near the intersection with Phan Xich Long Street there are a couple of good bún mắm stalls. This is a potent seafood noodle soup which is crammed full of wholesome ingredients.