Let me just throw this out there and see if anyone’s picking it up:
You’re a big fan of street level food and pop up restaurants, right? You find that eating on a sidewalk in the cool evening breeze, at a metal table and sitting on plastic stools, with the electric buzz of the city surrounding you, is the epitome of relaxing? And you love the Asian tradition of hot pot (fresh soup cooked at your table)? And you’re really, really into eating fish hot pot in District 1?
I’ve got the place for you – but you’ll have to fight over the fish eyeballs. Them’s the rules!
Head down Hai Ba Trung in District 1 toward the river, and on the southwestern corner of Le Thanh Ton you’ll come across Bac Hien (111, Hai Bà Trưng, Phường Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh), a grungy-looking affair that’s usually bustling with locals after 7 or 8pm.
There’s no parking spaces, as such, but pull up on the right side of the shop and the guys will take care of you. Use your fingers to tell them how many people you’ve got (i.e. 3 people = ‘ba nguoi‘) and a new seating area will come together instantly. I love watching that happen. Asking for a table like this might seem like a rude imposition on the storeowners if you’re new to Asia, but this flexibility is just one of the many interesting quirks of the pop-up restaurant, and they’re more than happy to have the business. Just go with the flow.
My favorites here are the fish hotpot (Ca Lau, any of them) and a bottle or two of rice wine (Ruou Gao, usually you can order it by miming shot glasses). There’s no English, and I’m sure that we don’t always get what we order, but it’s a fascinating experience and the broth, especially, is incredibly tasty.
I honestly don’t go for Lau (hot pot) very often, so I haven’t tried a wide range of fish, or any other variety, hot pot. I’m a super-sweaty dude and, frankly, the idea of starting a cooking fire in front of me, and then keeping it there for the whole meal of hot soup, is a bit much. But every so often you’ve got the urge for something completely different, or you’ve got that special someone with a particularly adventurous palette. I guarantee Bac Hien will shake things up for you.
And do yourself a favor, and DO use the fish sauce with your fish… one might say it’s made for it!
Here’s a visit in March with my friends Skye and Phuong (Ray not pictured, not sure why?).
In addition, this beautiful, swanky part of town is full of interesting things to see, eat, and buy. If you’re looking for an evening stroll or an after-dinner drink or show, you couldn’t really find a better locale. Within a few blocks there are many bars, including many western ones (Blue Gecko, The Refinery (AMAZING MARTINIS), Vasco’s, Bernie’s, Saigon Ranger, O’Brian’s, Blanchy’s Tash, and more).
There’s also the Opera House (featuring the fantastic AO Show), and the brand new, beautiful Promenade on Nguyen Hue, which features a wealth of shops and Vietnamese talent. It leads from the newly refurbished City Hall to the Saigon River and is a prime people-watching spot. There’s also a huge amount of high-end shopping if that’s your bag, including shops for virtually every major designer, as well as a plethora of galleries, tailors, and single-focus shops (check my custom map for more about the area).
All in all, a tasty swerve from the beaten Western path – swing by and try something new this evening!
Know a quality hotpot place? I can’t guarantee I’ll try soon (seriously, this is like a once-a-season craving for me), but let me know!