Offering steamed buns and fresh oysters, Taipei meets Vegas meets Ho Chi Minh City at this standout stall in District 1’s Street Food Market. Words and photos by Simon Stanley.
If you’ve so far been avoiding the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, you’re seriously missing out.
Opened in late 2015, not only does it look to be the model for the future of the city’s street food scene (featuring clean toilets, hand-wash stations and strict rules on food and hygiene standards), it’s a long way from the backpacker money trap many of us were expecting.
Out of a smorgasbord of roughly two dozen unique dining options – from Japanese and Turkish, to Italian, Mexican and, of course, Vietnamese – it’s the steamed bao and oyster bar known as Got Bun? that has taken Saigon’s first modern hawker centre to a whole new level.
“People think this market is just a tourist spot,” says Daniel Phan, head chef and owner, “but the food is really good and the prices are low.”
Having trained in Nevada, USA, Phan honed his skills in the kitchens of Las Vegas before landing a head chef position in Macau.
Upon returning to his homeland, he launched Got Bun? in September 2016.
“I just love pork belly buns,” he adds. “They’re originally from Taiwan but are really popular in the States. It’s like the Asian version of a taco. I wanted to do something a little different so I combined that with an oyster bar.”
Phan’s five-spiced pork belly bun is his signature dish (VND60,000). “In Taiwan they use pickled mustard greens,” he says, “but ours have pickled carrot and daikon, similar to a banh mi.”
The pork arrives tender and juicy, having been carefully marinated in a homemade blend of fresh herbs and spices, while the thick steamed bun adds a fluffy lightness to balance the meal.
Fried chicken and fried tofu versions are also available for the same price.
The final bun on offer bridges the gap between Got Bun?’s specialities.
At VND80,000, the enormous fried oyster bao is unmissable. Is it Asian? Is it American? Who cares?
Shipped in fresh each day from Long Son Island, Phan’s oyster collection takes pride of place up front, nestled in ice beside a selection of white and sparkling wines (from VND95,000 a glass).
Costing a mere VND25,000 per half shell and served with a range of free sauces, get them grilled to perfection or simply knock ‘em back raw like a pro.
A selection of home-cooked smaller bites reveal a little more of Phan’s international culinary portfolio while providing for anyone feeling particularly ravenous.
There’s the thick, crispy corn fritters (VND50,000 for five), the soy and garlic chicken wings (VND70,000), a Vietnamese take on Mexican carnitas (VND70,000), a pumpkin soup (VND80,000) and an oyster chowder (VND90,000).
Without the usual trimmings of a full-blown restaurant, like many of the hawkers at this lively downtown spot, Got Bun? is all about the food and nothing else. It has to be.
Leave your snobbery at home. The street is where it’s at.