Dig into Thien Thien’s many variations of sui cao, Chinese-style steamed wontons. By Dana Filek-Gibson. Photos by Vinh Dao.
These days, you’ll find a lot of downtown scenes that still typify what some would call ‘Old Saigon’: a cyclo driver peddling along, a woman slinging hot bun rieu from her makeshift bamboo-pole kitchen, a weathered streetside barbershop manned by an equally-weathered barber. But as this city careens head-first into the 21st century, images of Old Saigon are getting harder and harder to come by in District 1 and much of its surroundings. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the parts of Saigon that made us fall in love with this city to begin with.
For both its food and its quintessentially Saigonese atmosphere, Thien Thien, one top-notch sui cao restaurant among a street of many, is worth the field trip out to District 11. Wedged near the very centre of bustling Ha Ton Quyen, this small local outfit doles out sui cao (Chinese-style steamed wontons) in several variations, from early afternoon to late at night.
Be sure to get the address right; outside each and every storefront along this small road are touts hoping to bring you into their respective shops. Thien Thien has two locations on either side of the street and stands in the very middle, where its main storefront is framed by a large street cart. It’s from this spot that small but savoury, piping hot bowls of sui cao mi (VND 35,000), or egg noodle and wonton soup, are served. Portions are just the right size, filled to the brim with hearty pork-and-shrimp wontons and a handful of noodles.
Once you’ve had your fill of the soup, order a plate of sui cao chien, or fried wontons (VND 40,000). These hot, crispy morsels are fried to perfection and come with a mouthwatering plum sauce for dipping on the side. Wash it all down with a glass of ice-cold sweet tea – hong tra (VND 10,000) – and you’ve got yourself a perfect local feast.
Beyond Chinese-Vietnamese cuisine, dinner at Thien Thien provides the kind of fun, communal atmosphere and lively nightlife that highlights all the best facets of the street food experience. As you dig into your bowl of sui cao, vendors stroll by with egg tarts, ha cao (another variety of Chinese-style shrimp wonton) and other treats. Mobile music salesmen pedal past. Dozens of hungry locals congregate for an evening meal and you, amidst all this chaos, are blessed with another reminder of what makes Saigon so great.