As my travel partner and I walked through the streets of district 1 on our fist night in Saigon, in search of street food, we laughed at the street food sushi cart. Sushi, raw fish, prepared on the street? “That’s a whole other level of brave”, we laughingly dismissed it. By the second night, we were amongst the brave ones trying it. We were back for a full dinner the third night.
Sushi may not be traditional Vietnamese food by any means. But it fit into the vibe of Saigon so beautifully and perfectly. Saigon has a special vibe, a special balance. It’s crazy but calm at the same time.
Amidst all the traffic chaos and noise, you’ll see a guy taking a nap on his motorbike (Vietnamese men seem to have perfected that sleeping position. .. any normal person would fall off their bike instantly), and a group of people meditating or taking tango classes in the park. In between hundreds of motorcycles precariously navigating an intersection, beeping their horns more often than not, you’ll see an old woman crossing the street without even flinching, without seeming to ever even look whether there is a car or motorcycle approaching (She knows that if she’s predictable, they’ll avoid her.). It’s this strange balance of extreme opposites that I love about Saigon.
The Sushi street cart was a similar example. It was a group of kids in their early twenties who took the age old traditions of street food and applied them to a trendy food, sushi. Every evening, they showed up at a popular street food corner amongst all the soup stands, bringing with them the usual tiny plastic tables setup, but also cooler boxes full of ready made sushi rice, fresh fish and sea food. They all had matching t shirts and their little cooking station looked immaculate. Their professionalism was great marketing in and of itself, and their sushi sold like hot cakes. Their sense of entrepreneurialism was something I love, and I saw this all over Saigon.
Saigon was also full of friendly people who smiled at me, the obvious foreigner, and made an effort to talk to me and help me. When I was waiting at a red light, students would come and chat just to practice their English and say hello. When I was ogling the food at a soup stand but had no clue what to order and there was no menu (or at least none that would be of any help to me in my first week in Vietnam if I wanted to try anything other than Pho Bo, the only dish I knew), someone would get up and show me the different things people were eating and help me order what looked most appealing to me. Even though Saigon was a different world from what I was used to as someone who had never been to Asia before, I felt at home very quickly. Maybe it’s because of this that we actually ended up doing very little sight seeing in our week in Saigon and spent most of our time just going for street food, (ice) tea or coffee, and watching the world go by. It never gets boring in Saigon. I’ll be back for sure, and next time hopefully for longer.