Breakfast in Sài Gòn

Sài Gòn is by far the craziest place I’ve ever seen. Having only travelled to the U.S. and Mexico, that isn’t saying much. But based on what I’ve seen the past couple of days, I can’t imagine a more amped-up, wild and woolly, free-for-all street scene. Thousands upon thousands of motorbikes and scooters drive by blithely flaunting virtually every traffic rule…sidewalks are expressways if your lane gets too clogged. An hour ago my taxi driver pulled a u-turn amidst several dozen bikers. No screaming, a bit of tooting…no big deal. It’s all very surreal. From afar it appears like utter chaos. When you’re in the midst of it (at least from the backseat of a chilly taxi) it’s almost serene.

The worst thing here, aside from the heat, the sheer amount of traffic and noise that comes with it, is the humidity. Being a rather big lad doesn’t help a bit (I’m on my third shirt and it’s not quite noon!). Just opening my hotel room door invites in a hot, muggy wave of moist air. The rooms, lobby and even the elevator are air-conditioned, just not the hallways. There is no respite at any time of day. On Day One I figured on an early start to beat the humidity. I took this shot of a street vendor’s brazier just before dawn. It’s not out of focus – just severely humidified.

My mission that morning was to have Op La at Hoa Ma Quan. I first read about this Vietnamese take on bacon & eggs at Eating Asia. A somewhat fortunate coincidence, they’re located only three blocks from my hotel. I’ll take that as a good sign. As I was up and about way too early and breakfast wasn’t quite ready to be served. Luckily a few street vendors were already in action. I needed me some coffee and on the next block a kind lady was serving up cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk).

About a quad of rich Vietnamese espresso infused with a big, thick glob of super-sweet condensed milk. Coffee so strong it’s almost chocolately. Hot water is served alongside to diffuse things a bit. For me, the best way to start the day. Time for breakfast!

Op La comes from the French for Oeuf la Plat. A couple of sunnyside-up eggs, fried gluten, some Vietnamese ham and bacon with fried onions and scallions. Served alongside are tomato, cilantro, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrot and a toasty baguette that was pulled out of the oven 30 minutes ago. Ask for a side of pâté and some rich mayonaisse and get to work. Rip off a chunk of bread, slather it with pâté & mayo, cram it full off veggies, pork, a big, runny yolk, fold, dive in. Best. Breakfast. Ever.

Coffee: 5,000VND = $0.25

Breakfast: 28,000VND = $1.50

If you ever happen to be wandering round Sài Gòn in search of a great, dirt-cheap brekkie, be sure to pay the friendly folk at Hoa Ma Quan a visit.

Hoa Ma Quan, 53 Cao Thang, District 3

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9 responses

  1. lucky you for this awesome experience!

    You’re making me incredibly jealous. Love the story and the descriptors of frothingly busy Saigon.

    Just had us a iced coffee / condensed milk yesterday morning at pho japolo, but it is nothing compared your breakfast! …M was trying to twist the waitress’ arm for the coffee bean contact. ;p

    Looking forward to other Vietnam posts.

    September 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

    • Karl

      Hi Jessica! Yup, the iced coffee is a savior with the killer humidity. I already miss being able to stumble outside and grab one right there on the sidewalk!

      September 18, 2010 at 11:00 am

  2. Love these kinds of breakfasts when traveling. Nothing helps one get over jetlag that a great meal to start the day. Look forward to more reports from your trip Karl…

    September 12, 2010 at 11:48 am

    • Karl

      Hey Shokutsu! Are they serving up Op La anywhere around here? That would be a find!

      I’m just getting over the jetlag now…took about two days or so. Almost feeling normal…whatever that is.

      September 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

  3. Nice! Similar to what have been mentioned already, would love to see reports of other local dishes! Like banh mi for $0.50?! 😛

    September 13, 2010 at 7:00 am

    • Karl

      Hi Kim! Ran into some intestinal issues along with heat exhaustion. Kind of put a damper on my food intake. Still, ate enough for a few good posts. Stay tuned!!

      September 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

    • LotusRapper

      Yeah he probably already got ripped off paying the tourist price, lol.

      September 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

  4. LotusRapper

    You made it, Karl ! Great report. $1.25 brekkie …. knocks off Bon’s off Broadway by $1.70 [wink]. I had no idea their brekkies are so “western/French”. Look forward to more meals from Sài Gòn.

    LR

    September 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    • Karl

      Hey LR! I think Op La is about it for Western/French. Everybody seems to be swilling soup first thing in the morning. I have a feeling the 28,000 VND I was charged may be the “tourist” rate. Nothing I was about to argue over however!

      September 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

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