Where to eat and drink: Sa Dec

Sa Dec: Where to eat and drink

You won’t go hungry in Sa Dec as there is plenty of great Vietnamese fare within easy walking distance of the downtown central market.

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Start you day with a steaming bowl of pho, hu tieu or bun mien ga (among many others!) at the open air food market which sits at the northern end of Cho Sa Dec. There are also plenty of coffee stalls and no shortage of bahn mi carts you will really struggle to go hungry around here.

This is how you do it. At Hu Tieu Binh Danh Ba Sam. : Stuart McDonald.
This is how you do it. At Hu Tieu Binh Danh Ba Sam. Photo: Stuart McDonald

About a ten minute walk north of the market on Tran Hung Dao, opposite a beautiful heritage house, sits hole in the wall Hu Tieu Ba Sam. Famous for its steaming bowls of hu tieu, the original owner started out decades ago in 1968 serving up cheap noodles for the homeless in and around Sa Dec. Today, having been passed through two generations, it remains a staple of Sa Dec’s food scene. Note that if you are not of Vietnamese proportions, the plastic tables and chairs here are absolutely minuscule—sit outside not in! While the portions are not huge, at 8,000 dong a bowl it is really hard to complain. If after a bowl at Ba Sam you’re still a bit peckish, walk up Tran Hung Dao to the intersection with Hoang Dieu, turn right and on your left you’ll see Hu Tieu Chay where you can pick up a better sized portion on hu tieu, though in this case a vegetarian take.

A few blocks south of here, south of the curving little canal, on Ly Thuong Kiet, between Tran Hung Dao and the river, you’ll find the hole in the wall Quan Bun Rieu Cua decked out with aluminium tables and stools and not much else. It delivers where it counts though and we enjoyed our bowl of the house staple with ample servings of congealed blood (it is better than perhaps it sounds), and all for a very reasonable 20,000 dong.

Duck me. At Cafe Giai Khat. : Stuart McDonald.
Duck me. At Cafe Giai Khat. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Back on Tran Hung Dao, between Ly Thuong Kiet and Phan Boi Chau, on the off-river side of the road, keep an eye out for Cafe Giai Khat, with a glass case out front reading Hu Tieu, Mi Vit Tiem, Hoang Thanh. We tried the middle option (the mi vit tiem—roast duck egg noodle soup) and the serving was a bit larger than we anticipated—the duck barely fit into the bowl—but it was good and decent value—ideally plan to walk about ten kilometres afterwards to work it off.

Sticking with noodles for one last dish, a block further west of here, on Hung Vuong, you’ll find Hu Tieu My Ngoc, which offers both hu tieu nam vang and hu tieu sa dec—two variations on the same dish, primarily distinguished by the type of noodle used. We went with the later (being in Sa Dec and all) and got it with white rice noodles. A friend from Sa Dec scoffed that we ate here, commenting they thought it was expensive for the standard, but we thought it was great and the fan on the back was certainly a welcome fringe benefit given the scalding heat of the day.

Crab, egg and pig brain soup at Mai. So good. : Stuart McDonald.
Crab, egg and pig brain soup at Mai. So good. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Moving away from noodle soups, a little further back off the river, on a corner with Tran Phu, is Mai, an open air place with plenty of low blue and green plastic chairs and tables. Well regarded for its ice cream we came instead for the crab soup, in fact more than just crab soup—we had the sup cua bach thao which included crab, shrimp, three types of egg and a delicious absolute melt in the mouth chunk of pig brain all wrapped up in a glutinous soup. While the dish had my mother screaming ”Noooo” it was absolutely delicious. As mentioned, Mai also does a roaring trade in ice cream, so once the soup is out of the way, try the ice cream.

Back in town, as the sun dips towards the horizon a host of small restaurants set up along the Sa Dec River, many are just drink stalls, doing fruit shakes, smoothies and so on, but there are more than just a few chicken wing and drumstick vendors and their fare is delicious! So pre (or post) real dinner, swing by for a few chunks of chicken and a fruit shake—especially at least light sitting right by the river here is very pleasant. Recommended.

Close out the day with chicken wings by the river. : Stuart McDonald.
Close out the day with chicken wings by the river. Photo: Stuart McDonald

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Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.