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THERE IS SUPPOSED TO BE A DEARTH OF GOOD THAI FOOD IN HO CHI MINH CITY. Which seems kind of strange of me, given the proximity of Thailand to the southern Vietnamese city (only an hour by plane, via Bangkok's bustling Suvarmabhumi Airport), and the very real interest in Thai cuisine amongst young Ho Chi Minhers. As Asia Rooms reports: "Thai cuisine is very popular here and while you are sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City, you will find several good quality Thai restaurants. If you want cost effectiveness and quality, then dine in Mali Thai Restaurant, 37 Dong Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. This is a good place in downtown Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. The décor is without much frills, but it is clean, hygienic and affordable, the qualities you are looking for." Asia Rooms goes on to write: "Thai cuisine has several layers. There is a concept of fundamental flavor in a dish. It can spicy or hot, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Thai cuisine varies very subtly according to the four main areas of Thailand, Northern, Northeastern, Central and Southern. The difference is very subtle like the northern regions often use turmeric and fresh coconut milk and the southern regions use lime juice..."

It is indeed true that Thai food is a balancing act between spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and sour flavours... every Thai buff ought to no that. That is yin and yang, Thai style. My gripe is that, in my very limited experience eating Thai food in Ho Chi Minh City (I have dined at one restaurant), the Thai food here seems to have plenty of stuff going for it in the sweet, salty, bitter and sour departments, but falls flat in the spicy. To put things blunt, it ain't hot enough for me. Not that I actually enjoy burning my mouth off eating all those meals I have scoffed in Bangkok, but it seemed at the time all that spiciness had a point to it. It was part of the mosiac, an indispnesible fraction of the whole. Take out the heat, and Thai food starts to taste rather trite, and pedestrian. It is meant to be challenging, that is the whole point...

Sawasdee: 102-104 Le Lai Street, District 1, HCM City. Tel: (08) 925 7777.

Two wannabe Thai salads at the Sawasdee restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City

This new restaurant overlooks the 23 September Park in the centre of Sai Gon, only 100m from Ben Thanh Market and 50m from the New World Hotel. Some other prominent buildings in the locality include the Zen Plaza, and the Duna Hotel. The restaurant occupies the whole building it is located in, with seating comfortably spread over a couple of floors. Beautiful Vietnamese girls wai you as move from floor to floor, something which impressed my Dad, when we visited in the dying days of the Fill In the Blanks vacation. We settled on the balcony on the top floor, where some white dude was on a date with a brown, brown Viet girl. We ordered a table of dishes, which was mostly bland, unexciting fare, big on visuals but sorely lacking on the heat factor. This is Thai food tempered for Vietnamese tastes, and somewhat pretentious to boot. I had to lecture my Auntie Heather not to eat the food with chopsticks, but how could I be so anal, when all the Viet's in the place were using chopsticks too? I was going to order the duck curry but thought I should add a bit of diversity to the table, and went for a spicy beef salad instead. I had memories of the scorching salads I had enjoyed one stoned, cloudy morning in Bangkok in August 2002, but this bland nisemono at Sawasdee HCMC didn't even come close. We all enjoyed the seafood curry in a coconut, but it eventually gave us the shits (well me, anyway.) Maybe it was from all that tuna.
The curry page from the menu at Sawasdee Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

As you can see, an extensive menu, with plenty of curry dishes on offer, all coming in roughly under 100,000 Dong a pop. I am still yet to devour a duck curry, which Thai's apparently go ape over. I don't think Vietnam is the place to do it though.
Coconut seafood curry at Sawasdee in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

The aforementioned seafood curry in a coconut, which seemed to feature a lot of tuna, and which I now blame, for giving me a dose of the runs, which lasted a few days.
Some kind of squid fixture with lots of those thin thin thin vermicilli noodles

Some kind of squid fixture with lots of those thin thin thin vermicilli noodles, but sorely lacking in the chilli punch...

The 300-seat Sawasdee is a twin to the Bangkok Ha Noi Restaurant at 52 Ly Thuong Kiet Street in Ha Noi, and a welcome addition to HCM City's growing number of Thai restaurants.

Silver Elephant Restaurant:17 Do Quang Dau Street, District 1, HCM City. Tel: (08) 920 5515.

Thai restaurant takes it wares to the people at a New Years festival in the September 23 Park in downtown Ho Chi Minh City

At the start of 2010 I stumbled upon on a multi-ethnic festival held near my hotel at the aforementioned 23 September Park, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. It seems the 23 September Park is the place to go for multi-ethnic festivals - it also plays host to the Taste of the World Festival every December. At the event I attended there were stupas from Cambodia, Vietnamese folk singers, and even a heavy metal band from America failing to whip up a crowd of mystified Saigonese. There was plenty of food as well representing much of Asia and beyond. Since I was in a halal mood, I spent most of my nights here at the Malaysian stalls. But I did note this stall manned by the Silver Elephant Restaurant. It is supposed to be one of the finest Thai restaurants in all Ho Chi Minh City.

Some other places you can check out include:
Coca Suki: 92 Hai Ba Trung, D1, Tel: 8233938.
Cothu Suki: 37 Dong Du, D1, Tel: 8293029.
Chao Thai: 16 Thai Van Lung St., D1, Tel: 8241457.
Malee Thai: 37 Dong Du. Tel: 829 3029.
Thai House: 7-Block B Huynh Huu Bac, Tel: 8476172.

He seemed doubted in what I said about BQ. But when he entered it, his eyes were caught by the beautiful landscapes, one after another, such as the green grass field, the waterfall, and so on. The heavy rain that day couldnot stop us enjoying the VNese southern traditional food buffet. You may stuff your stomach with plenty of things, but still like to eat more.hihi. My darling really likes the place, asking me to bring him there once again someday. And so I'm happy."

And Vietnamese pay homage to their ancestors by placing a tray of five fruits on an altar: pomegranates, pears, peaches, plums and finger citrons, though people often choose other foods according to the season, or the region in which they live. The particular varieties of fruit are less important than the beautiful appearance of the fruit tray, with its harmonious colors and balanced presentation. Nowadays, a bundle of green bananas is also a must. Like the Horn of Plenty, the tray of five traditional fruits symbolizes the wish for abundance. It is also the emblem of the five elements of Asian cosmology persimmon), the watermelon and the starfruit.

"The thi fruit is succulent, smooth and attractive. When ripe, it turns gentle yellow and gives off a subtle, sweet smell; it is often one of the five fruits placed on pagoda altars. Children are likely to hear of thi in the , Vietnam's Cinderella. The tale is based on the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. In the story, Tấm is killed by her stepmother and stepsister, but is reborn into a thi tree bearing only a single, beautiful fruit. An old woman, seeing the gorgeous fruit, takes it home, not to eat, but to cherish as a prized possession. Tấm is reborn from the fruit and becomes the woman's adopted daughter, after which she is reunited with her husband the King.

He cultivated the seeds for his crop and traded them for rice and necessary equipment with trading ships that came to the island. An Tiem's life quickly improved and eventually, through his hard work and intelligence, he became rich. On hearing of An Tiem's success, King Hung had him welcomed back to the royal palace.

"The succulent star fruit (carambola) with five sections, can be served raw in salad, or cooked in soup. It is also served as a dessert. There are two types of star fruit: the sweet and the sour, both kinds grown in out-of-the-way garden corners or by the ponds. There is a folk tale about the star fruit tree. Two brothers, when coming into their inheritance, received unequal portions. As was the custom, the elder brother took the majority, but contrary to custom, the elder brother failed to provide for his sibling, leaving his younger brother only a shabby cottage and a star fruit tree.

"When he saw how wealthy his younger brother had become, and hearing the story of the magical bird from his guileless brother, the elder brother persuaded the young man to trade the star fruit tree for all the elder brother's treasures. The next day the elder brother made the same bargain with the phoenix. Just as he expected, the bird came to eat the star fruit and made the same promise to the elder brother, who sewed the biggest bag he could to hold his gold. But when he got to his island, he was so greedy he fbag with so much gold that after flying a short way, the phoenix could carry him no longer and had to drop him into the sea, where he sank still clutching his treasure..."


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