Sunday, April 28, 2013

Saigon Street Eats

While I was writing that last blog post, TJ was dodging rush-hour motorbikes on his way to every travel agent in our district. He visited at least eleven, and the answer was the same every time: "Full." He couldn't find a bus or train out of the city until Monday.

Finally, he found one option: a bus that left Saigon for Dalat at midnight - seven hours from now. He came back to the hotel to discuss it with me, and then we left to buy the tickets together. It meant giving up a paid night at our hotel. It meant packing wet clothes that we thought we would have an extra day to dry. It meant leaving the barely-familiar Saigon for another completely unknown city, with no time to research. But we know that we tend to like smaller cities better than large ones, and we knew that spending the weekend in Dalat would be cheaper than spending it in Saigon, so we jumped.

By the time we got to the travel agent, the "midnight" bus had strangely transformed into a 10:30 pm bus. That added the element of rushing through dinner and springing for a taxi to get us to the station on time, but we were already committed. I may have had a bit of buyer's remorse on our way back to the hotel, but TJ convinced me to either suck it up and make the best of it, or go back to the agent to cancel our tickets. I decided to trust in our ability to make it work. That, and we had ten minutes until dinner!

At 6:00, we were meeting Barbara and Vu from Saigon Street Eats for a Vietnamese family-style dinner. They specialize in street food tours, but with our lack of fondness for tentacles and our short time frame, we opted to go out to a real restaurant instead. I was especially looking forward to this experience because I already felt like I knew Barbara a bit. I've been reading her blog for the last few months as we've prepared for this trip, and it was so much fun to meet her in person!

Barbara and Vu met us in the lobby of our hotel and handed us helmets. More motorbikes! They whisked us off through the city, just in time to catch a beautiful view of the city from a bridge.

Dinner itself was phenomenal. TJ and I were game to try just about anything, so our hosts kept ordering. We ended up with plates of vegetables, chicken, meatballs, pork, and beef, and we tasted everything. TJ and I even tasted our first frog!

The most entertaining part of the evening was interacting with the waiters and waitresses. This particular restaurant had stellar service, by Vietnamese standards, and that meant the staff never stopped fussing over us! I watched them pluck a shrinking ice cube out of Barbara's glass with tongs so they could replace it with a giant ice cube. Every time they brought a dish to the table, they would rearrange all the dishes already present, including the ones you were eating off of. If they were ready to clear a plate that still had food on it, they would grab whichever pair of chopsticks was currently not in use and plop the food into your bowl, ready to eat. I loved it!

We ended dinner with a hot pot, a spicy soup heated over a flame at our table. They cooked the broth in the kitchen and then added seafood, vegetables, and herbs once it got to our table. We added some delicious noodles to our individual bowls and then ladled the soup on top. 

Time was running short if we were going to make our bus, so Barbara and Vu picked up some takeaway dessert for us to eat on the bus and dropped us off at our hotel. We've gotten our brush teeth-change clothes-pack bags routine down to seven minutes now, so we were in and out and on our way to the bus stop in no time.

Then, of course, we waited for an hour. During which we noticed all the fancy buses with fully-reclining seats and lots of room were lined up on the left side of the station:

And on the right side, all by itself, was our little bus:

But considering it was all that was available, it was good enough for us. Off to Dalat!

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