Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hai Lua @ Bến Thành Night Market

Another post in 'my first thing in Saigon' series. Before coming to Vietnam, I read online about the Bến Thành food market and I really wanted to give it a try.

Hai Lua is an outdoor restaurant located on the right side of this famous place. It's plain and crowded, but the food we had was absolutely delicious. We ordered a seafood hot pot (lau hai san thai lan) and banh xeo, a glass of guava juice, one of sapodilla juice, and 6 beers. Our first dining experience in Saigon was going to be a proper feast :).

[caption id="attachment_1237" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The cooking spot @ Hai Lua"][/caption]

The seafood hot pot is a kind of do-it-yourself stew and a trully immersive cultural experience. The food was brought in a simmering metal pot of stock that was placed at the center of the dining table. The ingredients are initially raw, so you have to put them into the pot and cook them. So we did. We immersed the clams, octopus, squid, and shrimps in the simmering broth and cooked them for five minutes. The broth was really, but I mean really flavored, a mixture or garlic, lemongrass, cilantro, fish sauce (I guess), and probably some other spices I don't know.

[caption id="attachment_1238" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Raw."][/caption]

Everything is accompanied by a plate of rice noodles and various dipping sauces: fish, cilli sauce, and another one I could not identify. Once the seafood was cooked, we put some noodles in a smaller bowl and mixed it with some stock and seafood from the simmering pot. Amazing - highly recommended. Our dish was Thai, but they also have lau ca hong nau rieu (hot pot with sour spices) - whatever that is :).

[caption id="attachment_1239" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Cooked."][/caption]

Banh xeo is a rice crepe folded in half and filled with bean sprouts, onions, pork, and shrimps. It literally means sizzling cake and it's accompanied by a huge bunch of leafy greens and dipping fermented soy sauce. Outrageously good!

[caption id="attachment_1240" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Yum."][/caption]

How much everything was? Under 500,000 VND (roughly $24). Here are some prices: the hot pot - 285,000, VND green Saigon beer - 13,000 VND, red Saigon beer - 15,000 VND, banh xeo - 60,000 VND, guava juice - 10,000 VND.

We highly recommend Hai Lua for its fabulous food, with a special note that a similar place in another district would be much cheaper.  But given the location and the number of clients, this is reasonable.

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