HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, March 21, 2013


There is a street in District 11 that is home to a couple of great restaurants which I visit fairly regularly with a couple of friends. The street is home to a roving band of elderly, disabled lottery ticket sellers and young children selling gum or flowers. We have become rather attached to one of the little girls who wanders around clutching a basket full of chewing gum packets. She recognizes the three of us.
She is rather shy, but the other night I was able to draw her out of her shell a bit while we ate sui cao. For some reason her hair had been dyed dirty blonde since we had last seen her. Her name is Yen (pronounced something like Ian), and though she claims she is 13 years old she looks like she could be 7 or 8. She is clearly malnourished, and deeply tan from roaming the streets. We were dining with two German visitors, and we asked Yen (this is all in Vietnamese) if she had heard of Germany. She didn't know what we were talking about. I imagine Yen gets some sort of education, but she clearly hasn't gotten to the stage where students learn major countries.

I asked Yen how much a pack of gum costs, and she said 10,000 dong (50 U.S. cents). I joked that this was too expensive; that I only had 6,000 on me. She clearly didn't believe that. I asked why her hair was yellow, and she simply said that it was dyed. No reason beyond that. Eventually I gave in and bought some gum - it was the first item I've ever purchased from a street kid. I've written before about how shady operators work behind the scenes, controlling these children and the money they earn. I have no idea where that 10,000 dong bill will end up.

We then decided to make a more meaningful contribution and asked Yen what she wanted to eat. She got a bowl of sui cao with squid and a glass of iced tea, which we paid for. We were all drinking beer, and a few times Yen picked one up and said, "DZO!" (pronounced 'yo'), 'cheers' in Vietnamese. She didn't drink any (we wouldn't have let her), but this illustrated what sort of crowds she spends time around. Eat at nearly any Vietnamese restaurant and you'll hear a group of drunken men raucously shouting "DZO!" over and over again as they pound beers. It's not something a (supposedly) 13 year old should be saying.

Yen finished her meal, said she was full and that it was very delicious, and said goodbye with a shy smile. Hopefully that wasn't the only food she had eaten all day.


  1. That bowl is making me hungry looking at it lol. Is this the type of soup that you can also eat dry with the broth separate? How much in VND does a bowl like that cost?

    1. Not sure about having the broth separate, though I'm sure you could ask. It's around 50,000 for a bowl.

    2. It's actually around 35,000 a bowl. We just always get other stuff too. Such piggies we are.

  2. There're a lot of children who have situations like Yen in Saigon. It has been happening for many years. These children are controlled by those who are called "Protectors". Many solutions have been used to end this but nothing changed. So sad!

  3. Thank you for showing compassion to this poor child!