Missing out on decent cheeseburgers, hot dogs and strawberry Pop-Tarts never got to me. There’s enough Vietnamese food to keep you from craving American.
Shit, you can even find Budweiser easily. And boy is it strange to see Budweiser as a classy foreign export.
The cuisine I really miss…is Mexican. There isn’t a true Mexican restaurant in Saigon. I’ve tried a couple, but their execution falls flat.
You’re probably not going to find a burrito to write home about. No fajitas worth leaving a 5-star review on TripAdvisor. And no lengua tacos to put on Instagram. But what about tamales?
If a tamale was made of rice instead of corn…and it was wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks…and it was full of mushrooms and quail eggs…then yes, you can find good tamales in Vietnam.
Like I said—sort of.
But bánh giò (pronounced bon zaw) are still good. I promise.
Banh gio are steamed dumplings. They’re made from minced pork, wood ear mushrooms, onions, and (often) a couple quail eggs. The filling is layered on top of gelatinous rice ‘dough’ and wrapped inside a banana leaf shell in the shape of a pyramid.
You can find banh gio all over the city. They’re frequently sold alongside banh bao and other steamed food, stored in huge multi-tiered steamers to keep them hot and fresh.
In fact, the first time I tried banh gio was a mistake. I was looking for banh bao during my first week in Saigon, and the street vendor gave me banh gio by (my) accident. What a
terrible mistake spot of good luck.
Banh gio really come out of the woodwork at night, though. Sellers load up their bicycles with smaller steamers and ride around with a speaker announcing their precious cargo. There’s not a night that goes by where I don’t hear the familiar call of “banh gio, two eggs!” from the alley.
These dumplings (despite their unusual texture) have a satisfyingly simple taste. The savory meat, eggs and mushrooms are brightened up by the fruity, floral flavor of banana leaf that seeps into the rice exterior.
It’s easiest to partially unwrap the dumplings and eat them with your hands. But it’s also OK to be a barbarian and use a spoon like me.
Banh gio are pretty damn cheap, but they are definitely a hearty snack. One dumpling with two eggs will probably run you between 7,000 and 10,000 VND—not bad considering the effort that goes into making them.
Would you ever eat food described as “gelatinous, meaty and fruity?” Or should I go back to taking pictures of hot dogs? What do you think?