Food File: A Chow Down with Historic Links
The bright lights of Ho Chi Minh City’s, like those of big cities everywhere, draws people from around the country. They come seeking fame and fortune. But mostly fortune.
When they embark on their big city adventure, they bring with them an innate knowledge of the special dishes of their home town. This food knowledge is a kind of genetic memory for Vietnamese people.
And so in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s most populous city, it’s possible to try regional dishes from all over the country.
As a mother of a newborn, eating dishes from other regions seems the best way to scratch my itchy feet while I work on Darling Man’s reluctance to travel with a baby and an energetic four-year-old.
And that’s how we came to be chowing down on cháo lươn, eel porridge, a dish from from Nghe An, the home province of Ho Chi Minh.
Uncle Ho, as he’s affectionately known, is regarded as the father of modern Vietnam, even though he died six years before the end of the Vietnam War when the Communist victors “unified” North and South Vietnam.
Nghe An Province in Vietnam’s north is considered a rough area. Or at least that’s what another diner at our local eel porridge place told us the last time we settled in for an eel feast.
Darling Man first mentioned this place when I was pregnant. The mentions came early in the day, that queasy time when the thought of eel just didn’t sit well. But eventually I decided to give it a go.
On our first visit, the owner Quan was so excited by our excitement over the dishes that he served us one of everything on the menu. Quan opened Chao Luon Xu Nghe a year ago, 13 years after he moved to Ho Chi Minh City seeking a better life.
Quan, a lawyer and journalist by day, serves five dishes at his tiny eating place in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2. As well as cháo lươn, there’s miến lươn (eel soup with glass noodles), súp lươn (eel soup), lươn quay (roasted eel) and lươn cuốn lá lốt (eel wrapped in betel leaves).
The eel in all the dishes is soft and mild. There’s nothing challenging about the dishes from a flavour point of view. They are all very tasty.
Even the difficult-to-please Miss M enjoyed the food … once we told her the golden strands of vermicelli were actually “princess noodles”.
This is street food at its unpretentious finest. Limited menu, fresh ingredients and a totally unfussy approach to cooking – no fancy ovens, gadgets or clothes.
Chao Luon Xu Nghe, 187 Tran Nao, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
2017 edit: unfortunately this place has closed down.
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