SPICEGASM.COM My travel tales and food hunting

March 23, 2012

Seafood orgy in the streets of Ho Chi Minh

Filed under: Food,Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 10:24 am

I am very pleased with my first trip to Vietnam after getting to eat seafood like the locals do. Now allow me to make you hungry by posting some really awesome pictures of my seafood orgy session. I’ve never seen so many variety of snails and shells being offered at one place. I’ve been to many parts of Sea East Asia where big variety of seafood is considered common. So far I think Vietnam is rank number 1 in my book when it comes to variety. Too bad that our stomach doesn’t allow us to order every damn thing in the menu.

This is the first seafood I patronized. It is located at Pham Ngu Lao area in District 1 and is near to a pub named 17 Saloon that features Filipino band. It is close to midnight and there were still many customers. I simply love the outdoor setting with those low tables and chairs. It some how felt more relax and chill.

I’ve so far been to 2 road side restaurant serving seafood. It is definitely a MUST DO when you come visit Ho Chi Minh. A party of 5-6 person would be the most ideal. The more people in your group, the more you get to order different types of food that are offered in the menu. Drinking the local beer like “333” ( known as in Ba Ba Ba in Vietnamese ) or Saigon beer while enjoying your dishes are highly recommended. When is time to pay, you will be surprise that it will be around USD7-8 per person for a meal fit for the kings!

I have no idea what the shell looks like in it’s original form but I am guessing it must be a big ass shell. The shell is most likely boiled and then the meat is cut to small pieces. Dried chili with oil are being sauteed with salt and probably some other type of seasoning, then poured  top of the boiled shell. Texture is rubbery like calamari and is not tough at all. Super tasty with those fried chili oil.

Some sort of shell that looks like bamboo. Pretty common seafood fare in South East Asia and normally stir fried with chili and minced garlic.

Super big giant cockles with peanuts. I have no idea how it was being prepared but it tasted really good.

Tasty scallops served with peanuts and thinly chopped chives.

Giant snails cooked with lemon grass. I’ve always love to eat food that is being cook and serve to you at the same time. Big flames from the stove heating up the plate of giant snails and getting the flavor from the lemon grass.

Clam soup with lemon grass in hot pot

Grill fish Vietnamese style. The dipping for most seafood in Vietnam is mixture of salt, pepper and lime. But for my own personal preference, dipping it with sambal belacan or Namprik Kapi would suit me better.

Fried chicken wings in fish sauce. A good dish to order to include some meaty texture in a seafood dinner. Those onion are super tasty and so is the deep fried chicken. Crispy on the outside, moist and juicy in the inside. Winning!

Stir fry pork intestine in some sweet and sour sauce.

Plain boiled vegetables that is super healthy if you just eat it by itself, but nobody is going to do that when you can dip into a special kind of dipping sauce which I think is uniquely Vietnamese.

Special dipping sauce that contains bits of crunchy fried pork lard, dried shrimp, fish sauce and some other stuff that I couldn’t figure out with my taste bud. Dipping those boil vegetables into this sauce will surely fire up your appetite for more food whacking obscenity.

Morning glory or kangkung got to be one of the most popular vegetable in South East Asia. Simple stir fry with garlic and no presence of chili and belacan, still tasted super good.

Vietnamese mango salad with dried/salted fish. Pretty close to Thai version of mango salad.

Vietnamese coconut salad. I have no idea which part of the coconut they using, but I know is definitely not from the coconut itself. I am suspecting it is from the branch or young coconut bark.

Lastly, a salted fish fried rice with crab meat to complete the whole seafood orgy outing.

The pictures of this post were taken from my 2 eating session. If you happen to come visit Ho Chi Minh, these are the 2 restaurant that I highly recommend you to go.

Phuc Oc ( Restaurant Name ) – 136, Nguyen Thai Hoc, Pham Ngu Lao


Vy Da ( Restaurant Name ), in the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Nguyen Trung Truc Street. You can never missed it as you will see many people dining in the open air.

I would suggest you download the pictures of the food in this post, that makes it easier for you to order your food if you do not speak or read Vietnamese.

March 20, 2012

I finally know what COM really means

Filed under: Bars & Resto,Food,Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 10:08 am

Everywhere I walk, the word COM is everywhere in Saigon. I see it on the food stalls and restaurants. Just outside of my hotel, there’s a non air conditioned restaurant bearing a big signboard with the word “COM” on it.  I am smart enough to know that it’s not Internet related though. I decided to eat lunch there as my “FOODAR” told me that this restaurant will be all right. I was eager to find out the meaning of COM once and for all too. For those of you who are wondering what FOODAR means, is just a word I made up. It stands for “Good Food Radar”. Is not an I-Phone aps but is something I developed over the years hunting down the best eating joint.

The Com Tam restaurant located near my hotel

I sat down, the friendly waitress came and gave me the menu. The menu has pictures and it’s in Vietnamese and English language. Sweet! I browsed the menu for a bit and I see the word “COM TAM” a lot. You have the choice of COM TAM with chicken, beef or pork BBQ. I noticed on the menu it has the translation for the word “COM TAM”. It is being described as Broken Rice. Sounds interesting! So I ordered Com Tam with chicken BBQ Vietnamese style.

A few customers enjoying their Com Tam. I love how Vietnam has all this low stools and tables. Just seem more relaxing and not so formal like normal size dining chairs and tables.

This is where your meat is being grilled.

While waiting for my food to arrive, I went to get some pictures of the restaurant and glancing quickly at other customers orders. I love to see what they eat. After I am satisfied with my pictures taking, I went back to my seat and ordered a soup dish, saw someone having having the some what yummy looking soup. From my quick glance, I am guessing the soup would be beef tendon with tomatoes and pickled cabbage soup. Am really excited to see how the rice is being prepared. How often you get to eat broken rice? I then start to guess how the rice will look like, the texture and so on. I was pretty convinced that my rice would come in the form of paste or rice cakes.

Just look at the lovely grilled chicken. After the meal, I read on wikipedia that the rice are broken during the process of cleaning. These broken rice are then separated from the good ones and sold at a lower price. Initially Com Tam is food meant for poor people but some how it became favorite food of many people in Vietnam.

When my Com Tam finally arrived, the rice look like normal rice to me. Nothing broken or beaten about it. Only when I start taking picture of my plate of Com Tam with chicken BBQ, I realized that every single grain of my rice is broken. This seems pretty odd as long grain rice fetch higher price as it always taste better. Along with my Com Tam, there’s a small bowl of dipping sauce that doesn’t look like the normal soya sauce or fish sauce that I am accustomed to. The color of the sauce looked like lemon juice but when I tasted it, it is no where near the taste of lemon juice. I just added finely chopped fresh chili into the sauce.

Tasty beef tendon with tomatoes and picked cabbage soup. Perfect pairing as Com Tam does not have much gravy.

I liked the taste of the chicken BBQ, which has a sweet taste to it. It goes really well with the sauce that I just added chili into it. Everybody will like this food at the first try. It is for sure comfort food for the Vietnamese I am guessing. The steamed broken rice was all right too. To my surprise, it didn’t lack the same texture as the expensive long grain rice like Basmathi or Jasmine. The soup came in a small bowl and tasted really good too. It has a little bit of beef tendon, the portion of the pickled cabbage was just right.

I always take pictures of menu so I can remember the name of the food I’ve eaten. Not really meant to post it in my blog but I guess this particular picture is clear enough for you to check out the prices.

Feeling satisfied after the meal, I asked the waitress what Com means? She told me Com means rice and Tam means broken. I am happy with the information as suddenly all the images of food stalls and restaurant bearing the word Com rushed to my mind. I know now that those stalls are definitely serving dishes that is rice based. I can now avoid looking like an idiot going to the Com food stall and confidently ordering “One Pho Please!”

March 19, 2012

Crossing the streets of Ho Chi Minh city is fun!

Filed under: Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 5:13 am

I’ve heard countless times that the traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is really crazy. Motorists just don’t seem to care about the traffic lights and road laws. When I am finally here, is not as bad as it seems. On the first day, I just tailgate the locals when crossing the road. On day two, I was pretty determined to do it by myself. I was successful on the first try and I felt really good. I suddenly had the urge to do it again. The feeling I felt was like doing a bungee jump. Do not think too much and just take the leap of faith and let it all go.

Early morning traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, near Ben Thanh market

I have to admit it wasn’t that dangerous at all. I would guess it is easier if you do sports, dancing and play certain musical instruments all the time. It just requires timing and coordination. So on my second attempt; I purposely waited for heavier traffic passing my way before I crossed the road. I timed myself, imagined that I am doing ballroom dancing ( not that I’ve done ballroom dancing before but watching Dancing With The Stars now seems to be quite rewarding ) and I made sure to look at the motorbike riders. This is to make sure that they are looking at you too. At times you are required to stop and the motorbikes will swerve past you. Is like playing the video game Frogger and you are the frog this time around, in real life.

Traffic is building up but I am waiting for heavier traffic before I cross the road

This flow of traffic is perfect for beginners. TIPS : Take a deep breath, clench your butt and walk at a timely speed. Important : NEVER RUN

So if you are going to Ho Chi Minh for your holidays, this is one activity that I highly recommend you to do. Is FREE and has the elements of courage building, extreme sports and even a little bit of spiritual. I feel like Superman, Moses or even Jesus Christ when I crossed the street of Ho Chi Minh. Below are some really cool videos that I found from YouTube. See the videos and you will understand what I mean.

This is how you will feel like if you are crossing the roads of Ho Chi Minh for the first time.

Look how easy it is if you time yourself.

March 18, 2012

My first breakfast in Ho Chi Minh City

Filed under: Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 1:26 pm

Nguyen Thai Binh open air market just right outside of the alley of my hotel

Before coming to Vietnam, one of my goals was to have breakfast on the road side just like most Saigonese do every morning. I want to drink Vietnamese coffee and eat whatever they are serving, as long as it’s on the road side. And it has to be a road side stall with exceptionally low stools and tables. This image has been stuck in my mind for many years after watching some travel documentaries on TV. I find it really cool and it’s almost like an art, to be able to sit on those low stools on the road side, watching all the heavy morning traffic passing you by while enjoying your Vietnamese coffee. I hope I can blend in like those old Vietnamese folk and contain my excitement. You need to have that cool look that is almost like you don’t @#$% care what is going around you. Is not the Fonzy cool or the hip Japanese actor Joe Odagiri cool. It has to be “Vietnamese old man drinking coffee on the road side cool

Restaurant serving the famous Vietnamese beef noodles, Pho. Not ready for Pho yet as I’ve eaten it countless of times in Vietnamese restaurant all over the world.

So I woke up at 6.0o am and my first step is to look for the coolest looking road side stall that serves coffee. I walked to the main road and the open air market right outside the alley of hotel was already doing business at full swing. I walked along Pham Ngu Lao Street and headed towards the direction of Ben Thanh market. Since I am staying in the backpackers’ area, I can see a lot of decent looking restaurant serving Pho and Western breakfast. I walked past all that as I am very determined to have my first breakfast in Vietnam the “cool” way.

Look how cool those guys are. I continued searching for another stall as I was afraid I couldn’t blend in.

This was the stall I really wanted to try but was afraid that I might not be able to order the right kind of noodles I wanted. But before I proceed to look for a better joint, I stole a shot while the customers’ back was facing my camera, NOT COOL Alex!

During the first 1o minutes of my walk, I saw a lot of road side stalls serving coffee but it just doesn’t seem right. I am in the area where there’s too many tourist walking around, hotels and tour agencies. I want to look for a stall that is away from all that and it is operating right outside of an old building. I kept walking and I saw some really nice ones but it was too crowded. I was worried also that I might not be able to order the stuff that I wanted. But I think the main reason is I was feeling a little bit nervous. I am like the new student going to my new school and the cool kids might not accept me as one of the cool guys. I just took some pictures and continue to walk more to find nicer coffee stalls and to build courage as well.

Finally settled for this stall. That’s the one and only table she has and is available at that time.

After one hour of walking and I am getting really hungry. I saw a lady selling Banh Mi and there’s only one table, and it is available. No cool old dudes drinking coffee there and I just decided to eat here instead. So I am sad to say that my mission of blending with the cool Saigonese folks today is a total disaster. I just told myself that I will be here for quite a while and lets just settle for this at the moment. I sat down and ordered my Banh Mi ( 15,000 VND ) and ice coffee. She told me she doesn’t sell coffee but she can order from the shop opposite of her stall. I did feel a little bit defeated when she said she does not sell coffee but I still insisted on having one from the shop opposite of her stall. She just shouted to the lady across the road in Vietnamese and minutes later my coffee arrived. Paid 9000 VND for my coffee and I bite into my Banh Mi. After the first bite, it did make me feel better. As I was chomping down my Banh Mi, I vowed to myself that I will drink coffee among the cool old men of Ho Chi Minh city before I leave Vietnam.

The vendor is seen busy preparing the Banh Mi that I ordered.

My Vietnamese Ice Coffee on it’s way from the opposite side of the road – efficient delivery!

Delicious tasting Banh Mi, French loaf with meat, pickled carrots and thick slice of cucumber that is cut vertically. Some chili sauce and maybe mayonaise ( not sure ) or some special sauce. The combination of crunchiness ( cucumber and pickled carrot ), fluffiness ( french loaf ) and meatiness ( meat ) is to perfection when you take a big bite out of the Banh Mi. Don’t need to eat Subway when you can have this Banh Mi for 0.70 USD.

Learning more about Vietnamese food – Hue Cuisine

Filed under: Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 2:18 am

I met an online friend and we decided to meet up for dinner. She is a 3rd year university student majoring in English and she aspires to be a translator. She suggested that we meet at the entrance of the famous Ben Thanh market at 6.30 pm. My hotel receptionist told me is very near to walk to Ben Thanh market. I was determined to not get lost this time and walk to Ben Thanh market to make up for my earlier disaster.

As you have suspected, I got lost again and have to resort to the motorbike taxi dude to bring me to Ben Thanh. I was 30 minutes late and my Vietnamese friend ( her name is Tien ) was graceful and did not feel a bit irritated. Tien brought another of her fellow classmate as well. We shook hands, did the customary short introduction and she then proceed to ask me what I would like to eat. I told her some street food would be cool but she suggested that the street food in Ben Thanh market is kinda pricey. Not surprise there as it is a tourist area. So she suggested a Hue restaurant instead. I like the sound of it as I have no idea what “Hue” is and this gives me a chance to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine.

My tasty rice noodles with fried spring rolls with crab stuffing

It is just walking distance from Ben Thanh market to the Hue Restaurant. The restaurant is air conditioned and looks pretty trendy. So, street food gotta take the back seat for today and I like the idea of eating dinner at a fancy Vietnamese restaurant for the first time. We decided to sit upstairs and the seating is more traditional where we sat on the floor. There’s a low table and is not a problem for me at all as I can sit comfortably while folding my legs. We went through the menu and I let Tien pick a dish for me. I asked them to order whatever they like and dinner is on me, since I’m late and she is a student.

This how my noodles looks like when it was mixed with chili oil and the sauce. My mouth watered while uploading this picture.

They told me that they have already eaten and I insisted that order some kind of food that is not that heavy. Those transparent spring rolls with lots of vegetables stuffed in it looks pretty light, I said. She gave in and ordered the spring rolls and a bowl of noodles for me. While waiting for the food, she explained to me about Hue cuisine. According to her, Hue cuisine is the locals favorite. I am guessing is how Isaan food in Thailand is the favorite of Thai people and Hue food is to Vietnamese folks.

When the food finally arrived, the food looks pretty. Hue cuisine is famous for this, as the chefs are required to make the food tasty and visually appealing. Looks like Tien order a rice noodles dish for me with some fried spring rolls with crab meat in it. It has a bowl of sauce where I am supposed to drench it on my noodles. It is not a soupy dish and it tasted kinda like some sort of special salad to me. I asked her how can I make the noodles spicy and she suggested that I put some chili oil. I mixed the noodles with chili oil and the sauce and took my first bite. I like it and when I took a bite on those tiny fried spring rolls, YUMMY!

The waiter sitting there waiting to serve us when he is required

I am guessing that the spring rolls are coated with a little bit of sugar that’s caramelized together with some sesame seed. The stuffing of the crab meat is very tasty too. Since I am very hungry, I finished my noodles pretty fast. My first meal in a fancy Vietnamese restaurant and Tien did a good job by ordering that particular noodle for me. Oh and I was offered the last piece of the transparent looking spring roll and it is good too. I like how the wrapping is thin and not thick like the ones I had before in Vietnamese restaurant that is not in Vietnam. I thanked Tien for bringing me to this restaurant.

Took the entrance of the restaurant when we were leaving

Chilling in the park opposite of Ben Thanh market with the locals

My food guide for the night, Tien and her friend.

I paid the bill which I can’t remember the exact price but I do know it was not expensive at all. Maybe not more than 10 USD, pretty cheap for a fancy looking restaurant. After dinner, Tien suggested that we go to a park opposite of Ben Thanh market to chill and chit chat. According to her this is a favorite past time among low and middle income Vietnamese. I love the idea of doing the same thing as the locals of the countries that I’ve visited and going to visit. We sat down and chit chat about everything and anything that comes to mind. Sometimes we paused to observed the people in the park. There are young couples on a date, families with their kids playing soccer, some sporty couples playing badminton and also group of Vietnamese just hanging out and chit chat. I can’t help but to feel really satisfied and happy deep inside. I just sat there amongst the locals and absorbing the atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh at night time.

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