In Saigon, a mobile kitchen, some plastic tables, stools, and a few waiters sprinting around are all a street food stall requires to get going. They have no name, no signboard, no advertising, yet thousands of street food stalls survive and even thrive based solely on word of mouth.
Whether or not you have a sweet tooth, these five che stalls, which seasoned foodie travellers and food bloggers rave about, are well worth checking out.
Chinatown’s che stall
Located on Tran Hung Dao B Street in District 5, home to the largest Chinese-Vietnamese community in HCMC, this place is also known as the electric pylon che stall because it is not a restaurant, just a stall located near some power poles.
The stall has Chinese-style sweet soups to cater to the Chinese-Vietnamese community in District 5. Photo acquired by VnExpress.
Run by Ly Thanh Ha, a Chinese-Vietnamese woman who inherited the business from her family, the stall is a small, old rented house whose faded indigo walls have somehow survived the construction boom of the last two decades.
It has been running for more than 70 years in a place where tables and chairs extend along the sidewalk for a block. Inside the old house, a bunch of women aged from the early twenties to the late seventies run the show.
Under the rotting wooden rafters, there is what can only be described as a che laboratory: pots, pans, jars, bowls, and cups all filled with mysterious and fragrant potions. The menu is written in both Vietnamese and Chinese.
Su Van Hanh Alley’s che on stray
One bowl of che not enough for you? Don’t worry, in Alley 25 on Su Van Hanh Street in District 10, a unique che stall that serves 16 bowls of different sweet soups on a tray. If you and your friends are afraid you cannot finish such a huge portion, you can order separately.
The price is very reasonable, at just VND88,000 ($3.8) for a tray with 16 bowls of che and around VND5,000 ($0.2) for a single bowl.
A tray of 16 bowls of che. Photo acquired by VnExpress
The trick is to go there as a group of five or more, but if you are by yourself, order one bowl at a time.
Mrs. Loc’s che
Bui Thi Loc, a native of the central province of Quang Ngai, moved to Saigon at 19 and has been running a mobile che stall at the corner of Dinh Tien Hoang and Nguyen Dinh Chieu in District 1 for nearly 40 years.
Bui Thi Loc wraps up a plastic bag of che for a take-away customer. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh.
No space, no tables, only a few plastic chairs. The 60-year-old woman has been serving takeaways everyday, with more than 23 varieties of colorful che wrapped in plastic bags to choose from.
Stop your motorbike, pick up your favorite bags of sweet soup and pay just VND5,000 or VND10,000 ($0.4) for each.
Loc’s che stall has been popular with students and office workers for many years, and many top food bloggers have discovered it recently.
Loc’s trolley is filled with more than 23 varieties of colorful che wrapped in plastic bags. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh.
For many years, Loc’s che stall has been popular with students and office workers, and many top food bloggers have discovered it.
Oil lamp sweet soup
Nguyen Thi Tu fills a plastic bag with sweet soup. Photo acquired by VnExpress.
This stall in Alley 504, Nguyen Kiem Street, opens only in the night, around 8 p.m, and remains open as long as there are customers, which means the couple that run it work sometimes until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. But they usually run out very early.
Nguyen Thi Tu and her husband set up the stall in 1976. The stall consists of a wooden plank used as a table and some plastic chairs for customers. Despite the small space, the couple sell their sweet soups to large crowds of people every night. The peak time is around midnight, when regulars flock here.
Despite its popularity, the price of each serving is kept at a very low VND5,000 ($0.2).
Mrs. Co’s Angkor twist
A stall selling various kinds of che with an Angkor twist has been attracting thousands of Saigoneers for more than 40 years.
The stall is virtually hidden in a small and quiet alley (No.374) on Le Hong Phong Street in Saigon, which many people refer to as the “Cambodian market.” Most of the street hawkers here have lived and worked in Cambodia, or are Vietnamese of Cambodian origin.
Co’s che stall sells Cambodian-style sweet soups with a unique flavor that she brought over from her homeland.
It’s not easy to find this place even with instructions from locals.
The owner of the che stall is Mrs. Co, who lived in Cambodia for a long time before returning to Vietnam in 1970 to open her business.
It is open from 6 a.m. until sunset, providing customers with Cambodian-style sweet soups like the steamed pumpkin sweet soup, a sweet soup mixture served with durian, an egg sweet soup, and sticky rice made with durian and coconut milk called xoi xiem. Prices start from VND20,000 ($0.9) a serving.
Co says she follows her mother’s recipes for the Cambodian che that she sells.