Vietnamese cuisine changes with latitude, and the south is a wonderland of long-forgotten specialities and new tastes for this new Hanoian. But with only a fleeting moment in Ho Chi Minh City, this trip became an extended grazing session.
When I first moved to Hanoi a friend from Ho Chi Minh City gave me a list of things to eat if I were to ever visit her hometown. High on that list was Bot Chien, a popular after-school snack. When mid-afternoon hunger struck and with no destination pre-researched, I google maps searched ‘bot chien’ and headed to the closest location.
I’m often confused about how to eat a new meal, especially with language barriers and cultural misunderstanding. So on an initial visit, I take cues from other tables. Sometimes servers will intervene, showing their preferred way to mix a dipping sauce, or flavour a bowl of noodles. Other times, like with bot chien, it’s anything goes.
At Bot Chien Dat Thanh, the situation was confusing. There was a plate piled high with shredded green papaya and carrot. A soy based dipping sauce. Three little pots of chillies, raw, dark oily chilli sauce, and a smooth fluorescent red condiment. A plate of crisped rice-flour-cake fried with egg, steaming hot fresh from the skillet. A quick scan of the room, mostly single male eaters, showed myriad eating styles. Pile the salad on the rice cakes and drench the whole thing in sauce with added chilli. Or dip alternating mouthfuls of the bot chien and salad into your chilli spiked soy sauce. Or a mix of the two.
Whichever method you choose you’ll get a mix of crunchy rice cake edges and chewy centres, mild and steadfast, held together with unremarkable egg and just enough grease. The crunchy, fresh salad and rice cake are enlivened by a dip in the outstanding sauce. Mainly soy, with a touch of sour and sweet, unexpected in this land of fish sauce. Alternate mouthfuls of cool, salty, crunchy salad and hot, spicy, chewy rice cake were my eating choice. And it worked, we ordered another serve before the first was complete.
After this meal I started spotting bot chien stalls everywhere, and it turns out it’s a popular late night snack as well. With good reason. Next time I’m in Ho Chi Minh City, bot chien, whichever way you eat it, is on the list.
Bột chiên Đạt Thành
277 Võ Văn Tần- Quận 3
Bot Chien 18,000 dong (~82 AUCents)
Also, fresh spring rolls and papaya salad with dried beef.