Chuc mung nam moi everyone and happy Tet to you and your loved ones. I hope you all had a nice holiday to welcome the year of the dog and are well rested to start the new year.
I don’t know about everyone else but the Tet holiday is one of my favorite holidays, where my family and I get to do absolutely nothing, except for occasionally handing out red envelopes, seeing a couple of lion dances, swimming, eating and hibernating like bears.
Tet in Ho Chi Minh City is so quiet and that’s why I love to stay in the city during this period. There is absolutely no one here apart from the real Saigonese. The majority of the city’s residents are either in their home towns for family reunions or vacationing at a resort somewhere (you can compare it to Thanksgiving in the US, but a week long instead of just a weekend). Most expats have packed up and headed home, or to the beach, the mountains or somewhere that does not celebrate lunar new year because most shops, restaurants and businesses are closed.
We have roughly around 10 to 12 million people living in Ho Chi Minh City at any given time and I can safely say there are only about a million people who are from Saigon that remain in the city during the week-long Tet holiday. There’s barely any cars, buses, or motorbikes on the road and getting from A to B takes five minutes instead of 30. Despite many businesses being closed, there are still plenty of eateries open during the Tet holiday, especially in and around Cholon (Chinatown) so you won’t go hungry.
I have written about many traditional and popular Tet foods in the past but decided to write about something completely different this year — bo bia.
What is bo bia? Bo bia are spring rolls and one of my favorite snack foods. It’s kind of like the Vietnam version of the Chinese roll popiah (thin wafer). Popiah originated from the Fujian province of China and is commonly found in country such as Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. It found its way to Vietnam many years ago. Despite its origin and similar pronunciation, there are few differences between the popiah and bo bia.
The popiah wrapper is commonly made from wheat flour, filled with bean sprouts, green beans, grated carrot, lettuce, fried tofu, fried shallots, omelette and chopped peanuts. Popiah has variations; it’s stir-fried in Taiwan; and hot and spicy in Malaysia.
The Vietnamese bo bia is a fresh type of spring roll, filled with steamed grated jicama, grated carrot, Thai basil, thinly-sliced Chinese sausage, shredded omelette and dried shrimp. It’s wrapped in rice paper and I personally prefer Vietnam’s bo bia because it is smaller in size, so easier to eat, and I like the taste of the steamed jicama.
One of the most important components of bo bia is the dipping sauce. Like the broth in a good noodle soup, the dipping sauce can make or break a good bo bia. The dipping sauce should be made with hoisin sauce, plum sauce, minced garlic, crushed roasted peanuts, chilli paste, sugar, water and vegetable oil. It’s very simple to make. Just heat the minced garlic in a pan with vegetable oil until slightly brown. Mix the hoisin and plum sauces with water and sugar, add to the pan and heat until just boiling. Remove the sauce and pour it into a dipping bowl with crush roasted peanuts and chilli paste and you’re done.
1. Classic street hawker since 1993
This a gem if you’re happen to be in District 11 , 6 and Cholon (Chinatown) area. An awesome husband and wife team have a few tables operating from 3pm to early evening. Costs around VND6,000 per roll.
258-260 Han Hai Nguyen Street, Ward 9, District 11
2. Quan Nuoc Mia 93 (Sugarcane Juice Shop 93)
A classic street cart has been running within this eatery for the past 30 years. Known for their bo bia, nuoc mia (fresh sugarcane drink), goi du du (green papaya salad with beef jerky) and bun rieu (crab based vermicelli noodle soup).
93 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, District 1
Open 7 days a week from 8am to 10:30pm.