Craving for a really good plate of Penang Char Koay Teow (CKT)? You can find CKT in almost any hawker place (street stalls) in Penang but this place has the best CKT and is a must-go, if you are a CKT fan. The location is quite hidden and more commonly known to only the local residents. This uncle has been operating his CKT stall in the same spot for the last 20+ years, and is still using a charcoal stove and frying in small portion at a time to ensure that the Koay Teows (flat noodles) are properly fried. His CKT is always served on a banana leaf which enhances the aroma. The wait can sometimes take a while but his CKT is worth waiting for.
A “family-run” dim-sum restaurant that is worth a visit. The first thing that struck me when I walked into the restaurant was the cleanliness of the place which is a rarity in such kind of set-up.
According to the owner, Mr. Ooi, the dim-sums are handmade by his son. My favourites were the eggplant, “ha-kaw”and deep fried yam fritter. Although the dim-sum selection was not extraordinary, the taste and texture of the dough, dumpling skin and filling were pretty well done and tasted good. They have the original dim sum taste👍🏻. I would definitely have to go back to check out the other selections, and I recommend that you too give this place a try.
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Most foodies enjoy travelling. Food and travel seem to come hand in hand. This correlation does not come as a surprise for most of us since a good holiday is often accompanied by amazing food. Travelling and food also share other similarities like the excitement of trying something new!
Today I will share some of the things I have tried on my last trip to Ho Chi Minh city. The locations are also listed for adventurous travellers who want to experience it for themselves.
My list is not exhaustive and does not reflect the best of Vietnamese cuisine. I was in Vietnam for a very short period so I am only able to cover what I have tried. Some of them were a hit and miss but overall it was a great experience.
For those of you who have yet to try Vietnamese cuisine, I highly recommend it! It is quite difficult to find authentic Vietnamese food in Malaysia although Thai food is abundant. Even though both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine utilises similar ingredients, I find that the flavours are rather different.
For more than half a century, the French occupied and colonised Vietnam. As a result, Vietnam has a lot of French influence. Like the French cuisine, Vietnamese food is more subtle in flavour. The flavours of the main ingredient tends to play an important role in determining the taste of the dish. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find very few ingredients in your bowl.
Banh mi lady.
Banh mi store at Phạm Ngũ Lão.
Location: One of the streets, Backpacker Street, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
The first thing to try is bánh mì which is basically bread stuffed with luncheon meat, ham and vegetables. You will literally find at least one store selling this on every street that you walk on. For illustration, I have included one of the stores that I visited at Phạm Ngũ Lão otherwise known as the Backpacker’s District.
What makes this bread so special? Vietnam has inherited the French recipe for baguettes. Although they have adapted the recipe by incorporating rice flour, the texture of bánh mì is generally good. It is normally crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside which is how baguettes are classically supposed to taste. There are some stores that sell better bánh mì than others but I have yet to try one that I absolutely hate. I would advice you to at least pick up a couple on your trip there. The best bánh mì stores will have long queues in the morning because that is when the bread is fresh. A bánh mì normally costs around RM3-5 and it will look like a 6″ Subway sandwich.
We drank so quickly. It was too hot outside!
Vietnam’s version of Starbucks.
The brave boyfriend that nearly died from the heat. “Hi, my name is Joan!”
Location: Quán Ăn 5 Muội, p. 6, ベトナム, 5 Lê Quý Đôn, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
The next thing that you should try is the Vietnamese coffee. There are a lot of famous brands in Vietnam like Trung Nguyen or Highland’s Coffee but they are seriously overrated. Think of these as the Vietnam equivalent of Starbucks. I tried the coffee at a few of the local coffee stores for about half the price and they tasted about the same. The Vietnamese coffee is made using a drip or phin in Vietnamese which is very similar to the French press.
First and foremost, I am not a coffee drinker. Given a choice, I always opt for tea. I normally dislike the aftertaste of coffee which always reminds me of licking charcoal. No, I have never licked charcoal but if I did, I imagine this is how it would taste. However, I have heard about how good Vietnamese coffee is and I made it my personal mission to try the coffee at several places.
Indeed, the Vietnamese coffee deserves its praise. Based on the picture, you can see that Vietnamese iced coffee is thick. I would describe their coffee as very strong and fragrant. The best part is that their coffee does not leave a lasting aftertaste! It saved me the trouble of having to soak my tongue in water to rinse out the charcoal-ie aftertaste! They do make their coffee with sweetened condensed milk so if you are like me and you prefer your drinks less sweet, you will have to remind them to reduce the amount of milk.
Vietnamese spring rolls are quite popular. We ordered a couple of different ones at Wrap & Roll, a Vietnamese casual dining restaurant. Although they had a good variety, I was quite disappointed by the quality of their spring rolls. The rice paper was not well soaked. A large part of it felt like chewing on uncooked vermicelli noodles. The pricing is also quite expensive and it was not worth the money.
The noodle finished as quickly as it came because my hungry boyfriend could wait no longer, so there is no picture. The taste of the noodle was good but I had equally great noodles elsewhere for about a third of the price. The service here was not satisfactory either. When we were there, the manager spent a lot of time talking to half of the staff, therefore, there was almost no one waiting on us. The restaurant was quite vacant but they seated us upstairs, in a corner, where no one could see us.
I would advice that you get your spring rolls elsewhere. There were a couple old ladies selling them on sidewalks and the spring rolls are made on the spot! I did not get the opportunity to eat any of them. We were too full. We also did not come across many stalls selling spring rolls in Ho Chi Minh but I will be sure to get them on my next trip to Vietnam.
Bún bò huế.
Bún bò huế stall.
Many hawker stalls operate this way.
First time trying bún bò huế!
Location: Off the corner of the street near 177 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
Joan and I lucked out because the bún bò huế that was situated one or two streets away from our hotel was really good! The lady was also very friendly. As you can see, she gave us a generous amount of meat.
Another famous dish is the phở. There are so many variations of these that I do not know where to begin. I do not have any pictures to document the different ones that we tried but most of them were tasty. A couple had overcooked noodles which made it less enjoyable but the broth was always amazing! In my experience, the street stalls or hawkers always sell better products that anything you can get in a restaurant. Unless you are extremely picky about the source and cleanliness of your food, try the hawkers.
Location: Somewhere between Vincom and Saigon Shopping Centre, one of the intersections.
This was a unique snack. I could not find it anywhere else. At night, this lady sets up her stall at one of the major intersections near Rex Hotel or Vincom Centre. On the surface, it looks very plain but it has an interesting mix of flavours. If you love junk food, you should try this.
First, she heats up the rice paper on a mini-grill. Then, she cracks a quail egg onto it. After that, she adds some minced pork and condiments before rolling it up. I thought it was rather pricey at RM4.50 each but it was worth it. In fact, I loved it so much that I roamed the streets and hunted her down the next night for another one.
A variety of snacks.
Various condiments to choose from.
Location: Near the War Museum.
This was a random encounter while we were walking to some of the attractions. I saw a lady ordering a bunch of snacks and it reminded me of ‘lor bak’. I asked a passerby to help me order a couple to try. These skewered snacks taste very much like ‘lor bak’. It is basically deep-fried fish, meats, chicken and dried shrimp wrapped in various ways. The only difference lies in the condiments. Most of the sauces were spicy and those that weren’t tasted like seafood. They did not taste great but they were fairly inexpensive. I ordered about 4-5 skewers and the damage was about RM8.
Bến Thành night market food stalls.
Location: Đường Lê Lợi, Cửa Nam Chợ Bến Thành, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
Bến Thành market sells various things in the morning and is a tourist hotspot so beware of the sellers. Everything there is overpriced and I would suggest that you buy your goods elsewhere. The sellers are constantly harassing tourists to buy things. Just turn a blind eye and keep walking. If they grab your hand, run away. That was my survival tactic. If it persisted, I might have gone with kung fu.
At night, it turns into an outdoor night market. Stalls are set up outside the original marketplace. The food stalls sell various types of grilled seafood and they are all well-patronised. It was impossible for us to find a seat so we did not eat there. Nevertheless, the smell of food coming from the grill was excellent. I do not know the pricing but you can expect to pay quite a hefty sum at Bến Thành market.
If you decide to visit Ho Chi Minh, be prepared to cross the road blindfolded. The traffic never stops and it’s like crossing the road with a herd of buffaloes charging. Whether the traffic light is green, yellow or red, you can expect the bikers to continue coming. The really crazy thing about it is that they know how to swerve away from you so you just have to have faith in their judgment and walk. Joan was truly brave, he guided me across nearly everywhere. I literally crossed roads while closing my eyes because I was too afraid to face the oncoming traffic!
Be very wary of anyone offering to polish shoes, sell you coconut drinks and most peddlers in general. Do not buy anything unless you know the exact price. Be extra careful of the sellers who can speak English.
Honest sellers tend to be those who cannot haggle with you so they speak zero English but they are normally very happy to serve customers. If you ask them for the price, they will write it down or punch it in a calculator without any hesitation!
There are various convenience stores available along every street. I saw a lot of Circle-K stores which I visited quite frequently to get drinks and other items. Most of their drinks are around RM1-2 which is fairly reasonable when it feels like an oven outside and you have walked 2km.
Good luck in your travels and I wish you all the best!
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A hawker favourite that can taste quite different depending on which stall you end up with in Penang. In my opinion, this stall serves one of the better ones, if you like the thick starch and five-spice aroma. A common breakfast choice for the local Penang-ites, this place is well patronized during its operating hours from 7am till 4.30pm (closed on Thursdays). The recipe is owned by a Mr Lim who operates his stall in this very same area since two decades ago. With his expanding business, especially in the take-out orders, Mr Lim added 10 hired help to ensure speed and customer satisfaction . Apart from the basic “Lor Mee” order than can come in different bowl sizes, customers can ask for other add-ons at an increased price. The order is usually served quite speedily.
As the restaurant name suggests, this place serves a wide selection of fresh seafood that you get to pick and choose. This is where I got to taste one of the best and freshest Lobster at a fraction of the price that I and most people would typically pay in other cities in Malaysia, regardless of whether it is in a Chinese or a Western restaurant.
This place can be be found hidden in a fishing village that is about a 1.5 hours drive from Johor Bahru. The footprint of the restaurant is awesomely big and although I did not do a count on the number of tables it could fit, I imagine it could probably fit a hundred tables, or close to that number. The place appears to be filled with a lot of Singaporean tourists. The menu offers Chinese cuisine with many choices of cooking style. I happily went along with the restaurant’s recommendations which were actually the standard recipe that I had tried umpteenth times in other seafood restaurants. I did that so that I could have a good comparison with the others I had elsewhere, and regardless of the name on the menu, there is always some difference in the style and taste and they never come out exactly the same. I wasn’t disappointed!!! The freshness was awesome and taste the cooks gave to the dishes was really good. So, the next time you are in Johor Bahru and you have a craving for seafood, take a ‘road trip’ to this place. You won’t be disappointed. Oh!, be early because the place is packed during dinner, especially over the weekends.
油炸鬼 or “Yaw Char Kwai”, the traditional Cantonese name for this snack literally means oil-fried ghost. Perhaps the name is associated to how sinful you will feel after consuming this tasty snack that is often dripping in oil.
The origin of the recipe has never been determined but various versions exist throughout the Chinese culture. In China, it is referred to as “You Tiao”. In Taiwan and in Penang where the Minnan or Hokkien community is predominant, it is referred to as “Yu Char Koay” which loosely translates to oil-fried pastry.
There is no question that the Malaysian “improved” version deserves its own respect although some may argue over the authenticity of its taste. As foodies and consumers, most of us are only concerned about the quality and taste of the final product. When it comes to food, Penang-ites are spoilt for choice so I will be sharing one of my selected stalls in this post.
This food stall is operated by two brothers who learned the trade from their father. From here on, we will refer to their father as Mr. Oily Ghost. 20 years ago Mr. Oily Ghost worked as an apprentice to a local hawker in Taiping, where he learned the recipe. I am uncertain if adaptations have been made to the recipe since then, but I can tell that the stall is a hit with locals. Every morning, long lines of customers can be seen crowding the store for fresh “Yu Char Koay”. The second-generation Oily Ghost brothers are from Bukit Mertajam. Their well-patronized stall is located at Perai and opens at 6am every day (closed only on public holidays).
Malaysians love variety and we can see that being reflected in our language, culture and most importantly, FOOD. The “Yu Char Koay” traditionally shaped into long strips has evolved and taken on creative shapes with a combination of fillings to appeal to the locals.
A quick word with the brothers revealed that they are happy with how well their business is doing but they have no desire to expand their business. What a heartwarming feeling to hear how contented they are! Of course I was also happy to learn that this means I will be able to continue to get my traditional twin-strip “Yu Char Koay” without worrying too much about paying for “branding”. My family and I happen to think that this stall has the better recipe, better dough texture and taste compared to many others we have tried. The plain strip “Yu Char Koay” goes well with either Porridge/Congee or over a hot cup of local black coffee.
A good selection of street food can be found here. The seating overflowed to the streets and people were waiting patiently for a table. My first thought was “the food must be pretty decent to have such a crowd”.
I had the chance to taste the claypot chicken rice and fried koay teow (fried flat noodle) which were pretty good. The M Chef Western stall appeared to be a popular choice with the crowd from my observation. There were a couple of other stalls that attracted my attention, in particular the 表哥chicken rice, but those would have to wait until I return the next time.