Markets, Massage bliss, pancakes, Cuc Guan Quan – Saigon


My massage ladies

We learned our lesson yesterday and today took taxis frequently, given the heat and distances and price ($4-8 a ride). On a Sunday morning, we wandered around two more local markets where we seemed to be the only westerners, which is the way we like it. (The morning market at 287 Nguyen Dinh Chieu; Cho Tan Dinh market, 1 Nguyen Huu Cau St.)

It is astonishing to see how much commerce and activity there is here. On a Sunday, no less. Never seems to stop, except for a few holidays. Leo, our Vespa guide in Hoi An, works 28 days a month. With a few holidays. And despite taxes, people don’t get much help paying for kids education or health care, apparently.

I asked our taxi driver where everyone is going on their motorbikes, on a Sunday, no less, and he said with a laugh “I don’t know!” (Once we let him know that we were not Trump fans, he shared our disdain. He talked about how Trump went to Hanoi, in and out. Obama came to Saigon and explored, eating at various restaurants.)

After the markets, we went to an outdoor Vietnamese pancake restaurant (46 Dinh Cong Trang) down a little street near the famous Barbie-pink Catholic Church that our hotel owner Mr. Ha suggested. The Vietnamese pancakes look like a huge, lighter, crispier omelet, folded over and packed inside with sprouts and shrimp, served hot off the charcoal fire, with lettuce for wrapping and dipping sauce. We also had fantastic hot off the griddle fried soft shell crab. With a beer and water, it cost $14.

We wandered through a nearby park and sat on a park bench watching two groups of teenagers, boys and girls, practicing dance routines. They were pretty good. Not sure if this was exercise or practice for a performance. this music was sort of Vietnamese hip hop but at our hotel in Siem Reap, the playlist included our favorites like Regina Spector and an Afro pop song I have on my playlist.

Back to L’Usine for a refreshing coffee slush and then to a few shops nearby on Dong Khoi Street, where we bought more gifts – embroidered purses, t-shirts, a $5 silk tie for Dirck (how is that even possible?) and bracelets made from water buffalo horns. Things are crazy cheap. I’ve bought enough gifts for several holidays and birthdays.

Back at Ma Maison, our host arranged for me to have what turned out to be the best massage I’ve ever had. I had two women working on me for an hour, pretty much covered all the body parts except the private ones. Even were massaging my ears. Cost $12. I gave a tip although I gather it’s not expected. They seemed surprised.

Dinner was at Cuc Gach Quan, one of Saigon’s finest (Mr. Ha was impressed that I’d reserved a table there), in a relatively quiet and high-rent bit of District 3. It’s in a beautiful old home that the architect owner has transformed into a culinary oasis. You walk through an opening in a wall into a lush courtyard garden and into a country rustic building with contemporary art, old wood, an interior atrium with a tiled pond with a few koi swimming around. There are little dining areas on various levels and you have to bend your head to walk through the opening into some of them (one poor waiter forget to do this.) The food is based on the country fare of the architect owner’s grandmother. Standouts were homemade tofu sauteed in a chili and lemongrass sauce served with shreds of something (onion?) on top and fish stewed in a heavy clay pot. It was so moist and flavorful, a rare treat with fish. We tried the traditional sour soup but it was a bit too strange. Sorry to report that we have not eaten Pho during our trip, despite ample opportunity (our hotels serve it for breakfast). We just find it too hot and humid to have soup. (Vietnamese disagree.)

One thing that has struck me is that we’ve seen a lot of Asian 20- and 30-somethings at the more expensive, more cutting edge cuisine restaurants…lots of young foodies. Last night, I watched two 20-something Asian guys eat at Cuc Gach Quan and spend much of the meal looking at their respective cell phones. Cell phone use is ubiquitous — we’ve seen monks on their cell phones, motorbike riders, a rural villager with water buffalo and cell phone, an elderly woman on the bus. They also start their conversation with “hello.”

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