By Gene Gonzalez
During our recent visit to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, we discovered several eateries and restaurants with noteworthy menu items. One of them is Bep Me In, an eatery whose theme is like the local Mama’s Kitchen in Iloilo. It has pretty good ratings on certain travel sites.
Since we were a sizable group, we decided to check it out. With an old scooter parked by the entrance and a tuktuk as a bar, the eatery exuded a residential or neighborhood vibe. Judging that it took us a while to get a vacant table, this “hidden” place must have its merits.
We had Vietnamese pizza, which was a fried rice cracker topped with sesame seeds, grilled pork, peanuts, chopped chives, and quail eggs. This was served with a shrimp paste sauce or mam tom. I have recently developed a fondness for the super umami-filled mam tom, the Vietnamese answer to fermented shrimp paste. Some of its versions seem to have grown on me.
We also had some wraps with lettuce and fresh perilla leaves served with beef skewers, and nuoc mam cham or fish sauce dip. This menu item was washed down with some Saigon special beer in the green bottle or the drier Lager version.
Afterward, our clay pot courses arrived, simmering on the table. One was a serving of tasty shrimp cooked in onions and fresh tamarind sauce. Another was a hot, bubbling pot of filleted snakehead with fresh green peppercorns. These went well with our fried rice infused with coconut, shrimp, and egg.
Another dish worth the rave was the grilled chicken with lemongrass and lotus nuts, all wrapped in lotus leaf. The strong lemongrass flavor blended well with the caramelized sauce and the tender lotus nuts. Aside from the meat’s juiciness, this chicken dish got its complex flavor from the marination process with the drops of lotus tea used.
On another visit, we sampled some of the noodle dishes. One was pho noodles with stir-fried beef and vegetables, topped with a heap of gravy. The other dish was a sizable noodle salad of fresh vermicelli topped with fresh herbs, vegetables, and crisp-fried spring rolls or cha gio. I carefully poured the nuoc mam cham dressing around the fried cha gio, so the spring rolls would stay crisp up to the last mouthful. This was also served with a side dish of fried tofu coated with black sesame seeds, which put a homey touch to the dish. It came with two dipping sauces, spicy mayonnaise and herb oil.
Wraps with lettuce, fresh perilla leaves, and beef skewers
Overall, Bep Me In became part of my go-to places in Saigon. It is ideal to be a group of four people based on the size of the servings. The dishes were a breath of fresh air from the stereotypical musttry noodle soups recommended by travel blogs.
There is a stall I go to on warm, humid afternoons. Be Che has been around since 1960, a popular shortstop for locals and tourists alike. I get the crushed iced dessert topped with agar chunks, miniature root jelly balls, and fresh longans. This time, I ordered my usual combination, but with fresh durian puree since I was with members of our Davao school office. We savored our dessert on stools. Complimentary glasses of iced green tea were served after we had our fill.
Grilled Pork Banh Mi
There is a cart along Le Than Thon that sets up shop from late afternoon to evening. The vendor fills the air with the delicious char-broiled aroma of juicy pork patties. The smell was so enticing that, on the third day, I stopped by and spent ₫30,000 (₱60). The lady served me a couple of patties, topped with herbs, pickled vegetables, pork skin strings, soya paste, chili sauce, and fish sauce. It was fresh, hot, and tasty. I can say it was one of the better banh mi sandwiches I’ve had!
Fried rice infused with coconut, shrimp, and egg
I also stopped by one of the several branches of Mr. 8 Coffee. I frequent the one along Ho Kinh Doan in front of the rotunda where one sees the busy scooters and cars circling. Of course, I’ve had a taste of the cafe’s egg coffee. This sabayon was freshly whipped and infused with an espresso shot. Also worth mentioning is the cold brew mixed with longan syrup and longan fruit.
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