Friday, June 22, 2012


Friday, November 16, 2007

Ban Xeo

Ban Xeo is a large crispy omelette with prawns, beansprouts and tonnes of oil. The golden crepe is accompanied with a fresh array of vegetables - the tart taste of basil, a savoury leaf (which they call the fish leaf), a large leaf that tastes like wasabi, and a range of others i have never seen before. Together the flavours fuse an incredible crispy, savoury, minty mix!

Step one : Break the Ban Xeo into smaller pieces. Use chopsticks and just jab these crispy pieces or else, just use your fingers.

Step two: Pick your favourite leaves, usually done deliberately and delicately spread them out so they serve as your base. Place a slice of the Ban Xeo inside, then roll everything together.

Step three : Dip it into the special sauce (a mix of fish-sauce and thinly sliced pickled carrots, turnip and other vegetables). Everyone has a bowl for their own serving of this dip.

Step four: Take a big bite... Yumm! Repeat...

This is how this popular dish is made

Step one : Sit very close to the ground as possible. Have several burners going at the same time. A flat, oily pan is required for each burner.

Step two: Begin the cooking by throwing in some juicy, plump prawns, and a dash of onions. Cook until fragrant.

Step three: Pour in the batter of flour and eggs and water and watnot. Slide it around so it forms a smooth base.

Step four: Sprinkle beansprouts on the top. Ladel in lots of oil until the batter and its ingredients sizzle. Turn up the fire

Step five: Put a lid on the pancake so its soft and creamy inside but crispy on the outside

Step six: When the time is right, fold it into half and its ready to serve.

All the pictures are taken from this famous Ban Xeo shop. If you're in Ho Chi Minh City, you can't give this a miss.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vietnamese waffles

The sweet scent of freshly cooked Vietnamese waffles tempt many a passer-by to make that quick purchase of this popular street-side food. The dish is always prepared as close to the dusty sidewalk as possible.

The creamy mix of milk, sugar and flour is poured carefully into the mould. There are various patterns - simple squares, flowers or hearts. Cooked over a charcoal fire until one side is done, then a quick flip of the iron moulds makes sure the other side is well-done too.

The final outcome is irresitible! -browned and crispy outside but soft and sweet inside.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Famous Wonton Noodles

Ho Chi Minh City has an array of incredible food but to taste the authentic cuisine, you've got to hit the streets. There is a no-name hole-in-the-wall noodle shop that sells the yummiest noodles in town. Ignore the fact that the plaster is peeling from the walls, the wheeled cart hasn't been wheeled out for years and the floor is shiny with grease and grime. A fresh sprig of spring onions can somehow freshen up the place. Do note however that there are only two tables during the day (at night they pull out a few more so you get the cool winds and pavement view). This means this popular place gets packed quickly unless you come early.

The noodles seem to be handmade so instead of the rubbery, plasticky texture we're used to, its soft yet firm and has a taste all of its own. But the highlights are the pork-filled wontons. These Chinese gnocchi are made of thin skins of rolled out flour filled with finely ground minced, flavoured with a tasty mix of spices. The secret is where these wontons are kept. In the drawers of the cart!

We caught the chef preparing the wontons one day. I suspect the musky drawers added to the flavour of these delightful wontons.

The wonderful wontons are plopped into prepared bowls and then given a nice toss in the broth. I have never seen them throw out the rich broth - what a waste that would be. Thus i suspect this broth has been boiling for.. er.. very long time! No wonder the flavour of the stock is smooth like fine wine.

These are the secrets to this deliciously handmade noodles, topped with drawer-stored wantons, cooked in a broth that has been boiling for years! (WARNING: Readers eat at their own risk. Usually only foreigners who have survived the standard bout of a week-long agonising diarrhoea can truly savour this dish!)

Going shopping on a bike

There are only a few large shopping centres in Ho Chi Minh City which have dedicated parking areas for the bikes. Here you see a double storey parking lot for bikes. You can make out the second level if you peer real closely in the centre of the pix. A ramp allows you to drive your bike up to the upper level. Stop at the main entrance to ensure the parking attendants take note of your license plate number and have your receipt stapled onto your handlebars.

For small stores - park at the open bike parking lots labelled "Giu Xe" (literally "Keep bike") or if they allow you, park right in front of the store. Most employees park their bike inside the stores (just like some residents park their bikes in their living room - usually the only room in their home!).

Once you're done with your shopping, stuff the goods in the boot... oops, i mean the seat of your bike... oops, so small ah!

Never mind you can also tie up the rest and place them on the hooks at the front of the bike. Make sure the goods are placed properly or else you might lose your balance.

Don't just zoom off. Pay for parking and make sure they check you've taken the right bike out. Fees for parking is between 2,000 VND (S$0.20)or 5,000 VND (S$0.50)(usually in town or expensive spots like the Hyatt) per entry. At the open lots, your bike is chalked with your ticket number.

The locals have their shopping balanced to a tee! They even manage to pack in a child or two ... !

Views from a bike

Things whizz by rather quickly when you're on a bike. But the colours and flavours of the city still make quite an impression. Here are views of the recent* Tet decorations with traditional red buntings lining the streets.

We even caught sight of Uncle Ho conducting the traffic like it was some sort of orchestra. What a riotous melody we made.
As its the year of the pig, naturally piggies had to line the streets. Just park your bike in front of a pig and get your shot done. Then hop on again. No worries - its the normal thing to do. Generally, at the parks, you can drive your bike right up to a comfortable seat, or just sit under the shade of a cool tree and relax (or make-out - as most young Vietnamese would be found doing in the evenings).

The festive season however transforms "normal" traffic to a mad snarl. Actually, these riders are trying to find a parking space so they can catch a glimpse of the Tet evening sights. To get a real feel of riding during a festive season, check out this video. (The video's of us trying to navigate the Christmas traffic 2006. There was slightly more street decorations than Christmas 2005 but besides this, there really wasn't any great sights on the streets. We wondered why so many families were out on their bikes that night! Maybe it's just a sense of having fun. Watching Vietnamese traffic is really like having a non-stop movie pan out right in front of your eyes! - if only it was sans fumes and sound...although i guess that's part of the entertainment)

*Ok so this is a late post - at least i got it out whilst its still the year of the pig!

Sunday, April 08, 2007


In hot, rainy, dusty Ho Chi Minh City, a bike needs a regular good wash. Your options are
(a) street cafes that double up as motorbike cleaning agencies. The bikes are handcleaned whilst you sip a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Some can even do minor fixes.
(b) or drive-in superwash

Here's option (b) in detail.

STEP 1: Get to the motorbike drive-in. You can spot these by the number of tyres hanging from the ceiling and the really wet floor. Of course there should be evidence of clean bikes around.

STEP 2: Dismount. Some of us used to driving cars may forget and may get rather wet.

STEP 3: The bike is jacked up and shown in all its elegance. Basically it also helps to get to the grotty bits especially under the wheels.

STEP 4: A superjet flushes out dust, dirt, pebbles, chewing gum and dead rats stuck to parts of the bike.

STEP 5: Professional foam soap spurts around the bike. This is no cheap bike wash ok! It costs at least 8,000 VND (about S$0.80 plus tips it'll come up to S$1)

STEP 6: A good rub down is given with some kind of gucky rag. Somehow, the guckier the rag, the shinier the bike. Maybe the gucky rag has this ability in picking up dirt and never leaving anything behind. Only in Vietnam is this possible.

Meanwhile, bikeowners can still have coffee (ordered from conveniently located cafes nearby), watch the latest Korean/Chinese/HBO movies in Vietnamese, or read the latest Tre Troi (Vietnamese Newspapers)

STEP 7: Finally, the bike is dried out usually by the street (so it can catch more dust). Everything should be fine and dandy unless you suddenly remembered that you forgot to take your precious electronic gadgets out of your now rather wet seat storage!

STEP 8: The bike's so clean you can do what every regular Vietnamese loves doing after lunch. Have a siesta on your bike!

PS: Apologies for not updating this blog for so many months. I didn't realise people were reading it until i saw the last blog's comments. Of course i also have problems with other strange visitors and i somehow can't erase those comments. Thanks anyway for keeping me motivated! More bike stories are on the way

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Going on a bike ride isn't as simple as it seems.

(1) The first step begins with the driver steadying himself. Potential passengers have to also ready themselves - pack the bag, carry other heavy "luggage" into proper position etc.

(2) The second step is preparing to sit on the back seat - or whatever is left of it after all necessary luggage is balanced appropriately.

(3) The final outcome is a picture of perfection - notice the streamlined look of the passenger, the "luggage" duly squeezed in the centre and the anxious face of the driver. Of course, the mother's face is actually more anxious than the driver's but the final picture shows that everyone arrived safe and sound. The luggage did not return as normal however - it was a little mishapen after the rather bumpy and nervy ride, due partly to the weight of the back seat passenger

Credits: Chien, Pauline, and Dylon! (and of course, Ben, the xe om driver)(Meredith was saved from this harrowing event as she was left at home)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The best way to travel around Saigon

Travelling by Bus

A typical tai-tai will have her husband's driver ferry her around town. However, our daily commute to the city began on the humble public bus service. These cost 2,000 VND a ride into town (about S$0.20) but recently increased by 50% (3,000 VND). However, perks included aircondition sure to keep you "cool", a conductor who'll help you up the moving bus and down, the still moving bus so that motorbikes don't cut you down whilst you alight, and the bus driver's personal television set playing favourite Korean soaps in full Vietnamese monologue. Otherwise entertainment was a simple news broadcast or the top 10 Vietnam hits played in the background. More often though, the chit-chat of friendly commuters transformed strangers to long time friends on the eventful bus journeys. Old ladies and small children always had seats - the conductor would make sure you gave up your seat for them. On the bigger buses, vendors would board the bus and begin their sales pitch then lay out their wares (usually nice long-sleeved men's shirt) on the head of each seat for passengers to consider a possible purchase.

Travelling by Bike
Recently we have upgraded to our very own two-wheeler - the Yamaha Nouvo! Hey, its the same brand as the one Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rode on when they surreptitiously visited Ho Chi Minh City. Ok so we don't exactly look like that handsome couple but, hey, we still got a striking electric blue that you surely cannot miss! Zippety-do-da - we're finally free to roam about town! For a pillion-rider's viewpoint of a ride on Ben's bike, check this video

A good sense of balance is required when riding the bike especially through flooded streets, traffic (which moves organically without rules), and multiple loads. Check out this group of party goers - count them - four on a single bike along with a big bag of balloons and a stool for an extra seat on the bike(?)

In Vietnam, the red light means you can continue going as long as you don't see a policeman at the junction. The green light means, continue going but make sure you look left and right incase those beating the red light happen to cross your path and there are no orange lights! Every street is a two-way street including the pavement and those which are labeled "One Way"

A biker must be appropriately dressed when travelling about town. Firstly, to prevent the dust and grime of Saigon's street from affecting one's breathing passage - remember to put a on a mask. There are many varieties to choose from - the kids have cartoon versions, babies have a netting and adults can choose from all styles including the all encompassing veiled look that covers your hair too! Women make sure their arms are covered with either a jacket or long gloves. Dark glasses keep the sun and dust out but googles do the same for the night. Finally a cap or hat to make sure the look is complete.

Incase you've forgotten something - no worries. Stalls along the street offer everything from caps to side mirrors.