Guide to eating at Ho Chi Minh City’s “Cambodian Market”


“What is this?”

A Vietnamese man’s poking his head underneath a stretched-out tarp as the Ho Chi Minh Metropolis rain steadily beats down. Some 20 metal bowls, splayed out in this again-alley industry stand, property a colourful blend of elements: cheese-like egg noodles the shade of cheddar, newborn tamarinds, mung beans, palm tree sap congealed into jelly bean-like jaggery, and one particular platter of a plump pumpkin flan.

“Cambodian che,” states the smiling female. Her household has operate Co Co, a stand that is been advertising Khmer-design sweet soups for around a fifty percent century.


The gentleman would seem astonished it is not the regular Vietnamese che, a well-known sweet soup, and sits for a late-early morning dessert.

The town of 9 million is effectively-identified for its road food stuff scene of crispy baguette banh mi, beef noodle pho and scorching banh xeo pancakes. What is astonishing to a lot of people (and a lot of locals far too) is the grip Khmer-encouraged cooking has on the neighborhood eating plan as effectively.

In the 1960s, Saigon fell for hu tieu Nam Vang, a delicious pork-and-prawn breakfast soup named for the neighborhood term for “Phnom Penh,” that is served with chewy tapioca-strip noodles. These days, it is Khmer roots are all but overlooked as the soup is nearly as ubiquitous as pho and identified throughout city from straightforward household-operate eateries and unmarked road stalls that provide incredibly hot bowls till they operate out (generally about 10 am).

And there is additional than hu tieu, starting with the town identify.

For the duration of the peak of the Khmer Empire, which flourished involving the ninth and 13th generations, current-working day Saigon was identified as Prey Nokor, a modest Khmer fishing village named “forest town.” Finally, the Vietnamese filtered in, equally christening it “Sai Gon,” indicating “twigs” and “bole” (or trunk) for the forest of cotton trees the Khmer planted.

Generations later on, for the duration of the Khmer Rouge routine, countless numbers of Cambodians and Vietnamese-Cambodians immigrated to southern Vietnam. The gentleman I witnessed dodging the rain at the che stand was in the coronary heart of the initial “Cambodian Saigon,” a pair miles west of the centre at District 10’s Le Hong Phong Marketplace.

Filling again alleys, the industry has a get bag of stands advertising fresh new fish and deliver, counterfeit designer clothes, pots and cups, corn, milk tea, espresso, heaps of fresh new bouquets and also a dozen stands serving reliable Khmer specialties. With a brief wander, I zeroed in on a thing else: rows of dried fish imported from Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap Lake. They are positioned beside a packed noodle store serving Khmer-design bowls of bun num bo choc, which I have arrive to try out for the initial time.

A heaping assisting of bun num bo choc — Image courtesy of Robert Reid

It is nine:30 am on a Tuesday and I have just skipped the day’s very last bowl from the most popular eatery, Tu Xe. But there are other well-known solutions, and I quit in at a close by location established up in the alley with a indicator looking through “bun ca Campuchia” (fish noodle Cambodia).

A pair of households sit on pink plastic stools at the two tables established underneath a tarp. The one particular-female procedure is operate with a lot of gusto by Ms Dieu, who wears black trousers and a black T-shirt that reads “Directed by David Lynch” in a stylized font. I purchase, then pause to view her readying a sequence of parts.

“Oh, you want to consume Cambodian food stuff?”

I switch to see a perky grey-haired gentleman ingesting at the desk smiling my way. He and the other diners are producing home for me to get absent from the rain’s splash off the pavement. Shortly Dieu sets down a bowl of noodles in entrance of me.

The broth is gold-brown from the turmeric, and manufactured of kaffir limes that give a sweet-bitter style. Blended in is Cambodian prahok fish paste, sautéed eco-friendly beans and chunks of juicy, boiled snakehead fish. And it is shipped with colourful extras on facet plates: prolonged, purplish stems of h2o lilies, and brilliant yellow sesban bouquets, which improve alongside the backwater shorelines of the Mekong Delta for the duration of wet period.

This ain’t pho.

It is undoubtedly tasty. When I’m midway by, Dieu seems to plop numerous additional parts of fish in my broth. (At 40,000 Vietnamese dong, about $one.75, this is a generous offer.)

As I consume, a younger English-talking daughter of a neighborhood household jots down neighborhood names of elements I did not know (sesban is dien-dien, h2o lily is bong sung), whilst a different female pulls a kaffir lime out of her bag, slices it, demonstrates me how to consume it with chili-salt, then fingers me a different lime to consider on the highway.

Later on, I enterprise again into the drizzle to chase my breakfast with a che sweet soup at Co Co. The decide on-and-stage menu has 20 solutions and I settle for the capture-all “Cambodia che” for VND20,000 (about 85 cents). A bowl before long will come crammed with crushed ice to chill a delicious blend of pumpkin, palm sugar, egg noodles, salted egg and durian sauce (the latter’s generally pungent style softened by the coconut milk).

And soon after two stops, my Khmer breakfast in Saigon is completed. I’m positively stuffed. Up coming time, I’m leaving home for a dried snakefish.

Street scenes from Ho Chi Minh City's Cambodian MarketRoad scenes from Ho Chi Minh City’s Cambodian Marketplace — Image courtesy of Robert Reid

Wherever to go:

In the coronary heart of the market’s alleys, Bun Num Bo Choc Tu Xe – established up by a Cambodian who immigrated in this article in the 1970s – is the most well-known spot for fish noodle soup, but get there early as they operate out by nine am or nine:30 am. It opens at six am.

For Khmer-design che, the close by Co Co is operate by a Vietnamese household who briefly relocated from Saigon to Cambodia for the duration of the Vietnam War. Everything’s manufactured fresh new day-to-day. It is open up from six am to about six pm.

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