Tag Archives: street food

Snapshot Story: Breakfast on the Saigon Streets

The streets of Saigon have already come to life just after the sun makes its appearance over the ragged, urban cityscape. Motos zoom by with passengers on the back, cyclo drivers push and pull their bandy legs on their vehicle’s pedals and the coffee vendors expertly funnel the rich, black, liquid caffeine from a silver, dented pot to glass mugs with bottoms full of cloyingly sweet condensed milk.

From a corner adjacent to my hostel in Saigon’s backpacker district comes a mingling of smells that is impossible to resist. There is the salty smell of frying eggs, the juicy aroma of sizzling meats and an overpowering and romantic fragrance of just-baked, crunchy baguettes. The street stall is run by a sturdy Vietnamese woman who doesn’t smile, she just concentrates on cooking her eggs to perfection.

I order a bánh mì trung with the works for breakfast. The sandwich, which I think is one of the more perfect breakfast foods in Asia, is a version of the famous bánh mì made with an added omelette. The woman hands me a steaming mug of coffee that looks like tar and tastes like heaven before she sets about making my Saigon street breakfast. With two swift cracks she breaks the eggs into the pan, moving the skillet about with the hands of an expert. A serrated bread knife cuts through the crunchy outside of the baguette to reveal a soft and puffy inside: the perfect loaf of bread, a legacy left by the French. The surly woman slices off pieces of páte and stuffs them into the baguette’s fissure. With chopsticks, she adds fresh herbs and vegetables: green onions, a few sprigs of cilantro, cucumber and shredded carrot.

In just a few minutes the sandwich is finished. The woman, with the corners of her mouth turned down, wraps the stuffed baguette in a piece of yesterday’s newspaper and snaps it shut with a thin rubber band. She hands it over, I pay and then unwrap the sandwich, feeling like it’s Christmas on the hot and sticky morning streets of Saigon. At that moment, sitting on the street corner eating my bánh mì trung off an old piece of newspaper and already starting to sweat from the southern Vietnamese heat, I am absolutely certain that there is nowhere in the entire world I would rather be.

Thai Street Food: Papaya Salad

A recent (and very unscientific) survey taken via Twitter by Epic Asia Travel asked subscribers: What is your favorite Thai street food?  A seemingly simple questions, but in actuality, this query is very, very difficult to answer.  Why?  Because there are so many kinds of street food in Thailand that you could probably eat a different dish everyday for the rest of your life and still never have tried everything.  There’s an abundance of street meats on a stick, fruits, hot and spicy soups, fried vegetables, glutinous sweets and tangy juice drinks.  One of the greatest pleasures about traveling in Thailand is the street food, which is why this questions is really not so easy to answer.

Despite the depth of possible answers to this query, the overwhelming answer to the best street food in Thailand was: Som Tam, also known as spicy green papaya salad.  Respondents to this question sure do know what they’re talking about because spicy green papaya salad is truly fresh and incredibly delicious.  Vendors usually charge anywhere between 20-40 Baht for a heaping pile of freshly shredded green papaya pounded with spices, palm sugar, chilis, lime juice, shrimp and a number of other zesty ingredients.

Som Tam can be eaten alone for a quick and healthy snack on the go, or it can accompany a larger meal.  Traditionally (especially in the Isan

A Thai street vendor crushes the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle to make Som Tam. (Photo Credit: Ans)

region), Som Tam is eaten with sticky rice, BBQ chicken and some spicy chili sauce.  When ordered from a street-side cart, the vendor whips it up fresh on the spot.  The green papaya is shredded and all the ingredients go into a large mortar.  With the pestle the vendor pounds the many flavors together until it forms one delicious mound of papaya salad.  After the dish is plated, the vendor usually sprinkles the Som Tam with a heavy dose of crushed peanuts to add extra flavor and texture.

All street vendors who sell Som Tam in Thailand have their own recipe and they all differ slightly from one another.  Despite their differences, most have several of the same key ingredients including: shredded green papaya, cut cherry tomatoes, fresh green beans, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, dried

Some of the indredients for spicy papaya salad. (Photo Credit: WordRidden).

shrimp, whole chilis, shrimp paste and garlic.  Some papaya salad vendors add dried shrimp and some add whole crabs (shells and all) to add flavor and texture to the mix.

Check out this video below to see a Som Tam vendor in action: