As the flower displays have sprung up around Ho Chi Minh City and the orchids have begun to bloom for Tet (the Lunar New Year festival,) we have continued to spend time with the children from Allambie. Cinema trips, the zoo, bowling and games in the park have all helped us to get to know this fantastic group, and for more information on the work done at Allambie, click here to have a look at our post from a couple of days ago.

For some of the older kids, working in tourism represents a great future, so we were more than happy to have them practice on us with a tour of the culinary variety from Nhi, Thiet and Sa as they showed us how to really do Vietnamese street food in Saigon (and have fun at the same time!)

The night nearly got off to a terrible start. We’d arranged to meet near where we are staying, in the tourist and backpacker-centred District 1 of the city. With the streets thronged almost to choking point with motorcycles, the arrival of our guides on pushbikes was soon followed by the sight of Nhi, floored in the middle of the road with her back wheel under a taxi. This resulted in panic from us at first, until she pulled herself free and shrugging, Sa told us, “It’s OK, it happens to us all the time.”

Road crossing traumas dealt with, and a wheel straightening later, it was time for us to mount up. This was not a straightforward process, as it involved each bike taking a pillion passenger on the rear luggage rack. Helen is small enough to make a feasible load, and so went on Nhi’s bike. Thiet had Yeti (another helper and friend of the orphanage) on the back. This left me with the prospect of perching behind Sa, a girl half my size, and expecting her to pedal. I did the chivalrous thing and offered to swap – I almost instantly regretted it. Being on the back of any vehicle in Saigon is a passive and fairly exciting event. Actually having to navigate, let alone pedal an overladen bike, through some of the most intense traffic I have ever experienced is something I’d rather never repeat. Normally I’m a fairly red-faced chap after physical exertion, but by the time we’d gone around a roundabout that makes the Arc Du Triomphe look like a quiet boating lake and found ourselves on the wrong side of the road a fee times, we arrived at our first food stop in District 3 with me in the previously unheard of post-exercise state of being quite pale. The arrival of the food soon changed that.

We had tried a fair bit of street food in our week in Saigon, but at our first stop on Vo Van Tan Street, well away from the other westerners in the city, we knew we had to rely on the kids to order. With threats of duckling foetus, chickens heads and other such delicacies being served up on Vietnamese streets, we were glad that we were in such capable hands.

First up were platefuls of spring and summer rolls. Some were fried (Bo Bia) others beautifully wrapped in thin transparent rice paper and filled with slivers of pork, juicy prawns and fragrant vegetables (Goi Cuon). As Sa ordered confidently, we tucked in.

Next were delicious dim sum-like parcels of pork (Ha Cao) which were intense in flavour and melt in the mouth in texture. True to the interactive nature of Vietnamese cuisine, Sa, Thiet and Nhi showed us how to mix up a soy and sweet chilli dip from the condiments on the table, which was then combined with the fresh herbs brought with the dish.

Finally for this stop were what turns out to be an Allambie family favourite: Bot Chien Trung. Combining what seem to be two of Vietnam’s best-loved ingredients, rice and egg, this is essentially a rice cake omelette. Whilst that might not sound too thrilling, imagine it smothered in soy and sweet chilli sauce (another two favourites here) and the way in which this become fast comfort food becomes clear.

The speed of the street food is another of it’s defining characteristics, and is made possible by the ladies (they usually are) who man the small portable kitchens. Whilst the room we ate in looked like a no-frills cafe, the part that was on the street was where these dishes were created, and as we waved goodbye to the vendors, Sa suggested it was time she drove. There were few arguments from me.

After a brief stop to see a large pagoda temple, our next food came on an incredibly busy street around District 10. Here, on tiny chairs on a busy pavement, as Sa got her breath back and I felt guilty, we ate Teie Nyt Lot Ga Nuong. Put simply, these are eggs cooked in their shells on a BBQ. At first, we were unsure about this, as the eggs seemed to have turned a grey-green colour inside, but logically this just seemed to be a result of the smoke permeating the porous shell. Once peeled and dipped in salt and chilli, they were pretty tasty, so next time you think of slapping a burger on your barbecue, maybe plonk a few eggs on for 20 minutes or so (maybe practice first though and make sure you do as they do here – put a small hole in the eggs first so they don’t explode!)

Poor old Sa was still insistent that I shouldn’t be let loose on the streets on her bike, so despite me being a bit heavier after all the food, She still somehow managed to pedal me around. So, after a few hair-raising crossroad incidences and a number of dodgy looks from locals, we arrived at our final culinary stop. Here, somewhere towards the north of the city, rice pancakes and juice were the order of the day. By now we were getting full and although the pancakes seemed to be a favourite of the kids, I found them hard going, with strong flavours of shrimp paste and chilli. Helen, Nhi, Thiet and Sa, on the other hand, scoffed theirs down…


Drinks came in the form of Taro juice, a tapioca base, flavoured with different fruits. As we drained the last of them, Nhi relieved Sa of my weight on the bike and we arrived back in District 1.

We have have to say an enormous thankyou to Sa, Thiet and Nhi for a fantastic evening. These guys have a brilliant attitude, great sense of humour and are genuinely some of the most kind and welcoming young people we’ve met. Suzanne has done an unbelievable job at Allambie and all the children are testament to this. Please take a look below to see how you might help Allambie, and if you’re ever in Vietnam, don’t be scared by the street food – even the green eggs are delicious – but maybe avoid the chicken heads…

We think Allambie is a fantastic project and we are proud to have helped out in a small way. Take a look at the video below (click here if you can’t see it) and click through to to find out more about how you can help. Alternatively, you can donate directly below.

Click here for information on how to donate quickly and safely by text message!


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