Although Saigon is changing more quickly than ever, one area that remains relatively constant is Cho Lon (which literally translates as ‘big market’). Stretching across parts of Districts 5, 6 and 11, this lively neighbourhood takes its name from the massive Binh Tay market on Thap Muoi Street in District 6, a famous local landmark and one of the busiest trading centres in the city.
While downtown Saigon rushes ahead into the future, cruise the busy streets of Cho Lon and you’ll find that little has changed. On every street corner and in every shop, you can really see, smell and taste the history, from the remaining Indochina-style buildings to the local people, street hawkers and herbal medicine shops.
At the intersection of Cao Van Lau and Le Quang Sung Streets in District 6, you will find a modest family street cart and a couple metal curbside tables that have been making banh he (fried chive dumpling), banh khoai mon (fried taro dumplings) and banh cu san (fried jicama dumplings) since the 1950s.
Dumplings are often made with the traditional translucent white dough used by dim sum restaurants but these are actually pan-fried instead of steamed. Pan-fried dumplings with a fried egg mixed in really set these apart from the others.
Old Man Dumplings, as locals know the cart’s owner, inherited the recipes from his mother when she first started making them for the Tet holiday. They were quite popular and she couldn’t make enough to meet demand, so the family decided to start making as many as they could and sell them on a daily basis. The dumplings are so popular the family fries them non-stop from 2pm to 4pm.
Dumplings may be as old as the 17th century and you can find a version of the dish in pretty much every world cuisine, such as ravioli, gnocchi, wonton and Yorkshire pudding. Every once in a while I find a modest place like this, which makes me feel really special to be part of Cho Lon’s history.
If you happen to be around this neighborhood and want a snack be sure to pay Old Man Dumplings a visit between 2pm and 4pm.
Tristan Ngo is the Chef Patron and Owner of Skewers Restaurant and The Elbow Room.