May 10 2012
As an avid fan of Saigon’s street food scene, I try to encourage everyone who visits the city to try at least one dish on the streets; but I’m not kidding myself, street food can be a little scary. Before most people come to the country one of their friends or someone on a travel forum will tell them to watch out for street food. And even though a Western chef may tell you that street food is just as safe as food in restaurants, even the bravest of souls might not be the first to grab some hot vit lon. To initiate yourself into HCMC’s street food culture I recommend trying a simpler dish, like mi xao (pronounced mee sao).
Mi xao looks about as simple as a dish can look. It starts with an instant ramen-type noodle that is pan-fried on a wok or a large skillet. As the noodles cook they are mixed with some vegetables, morning glory and onions being popular choices, that soften in the heat. On top of the veggies you will get a choice of meat and/or egg that will be mixed into the noodles.
Every vendor of mi xao seems to have his or her own recipe and preferred cooking method. Some cook slippery, soft noodles while others fry them to crispiness. The way toppings are added is also different. Sometimes the egg is scrambled into the noodles; sometimes an unbroken, fried egg will be placed on top of the finished dish. In a restaurant you may have all the meat and seafood options you can think of but on the street you’re usually limited to mi xao bo, or noodles with beef.
If ramen noodles aren’t your favourite, most street carts will give you the option to replace them with large macaroni noodles, called nui xao, which is a thicker, heartier noodle. Upon delivery your dish will most likely be topped with a healthy shake of pepper and chilli sauce if you’re into spicy food.
Mi xao carts are by no means rare; any place where street carts congregate will probably have a resident mi xao vendor. The cart will stand out, if unmarked, as they are one of the few to carry a wok or large cooking surface. Mi xao is an all-day dish, but I seem to have better luck at night. A plate will cost between 15,000 and 30,000 VND depending on topping and luck. Extras, like the fried egg on top, usually cost an additional 5,000 VND.
There isn’t anything too scary about a plate of noodles, meat and a few veggies and that’s why I think if you’re trying to introduce yourself to Saigon’s street food it’s a good place to start. Just remember to not fall in love with it too much because you’ll be coming back to the street for more and you need to try other things, such as this for starters!
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.