I went for a walk this evening and after about an hour's walking I came across a very unusual sight in HCM. It was a Bun Cha restaurant! In Hanoi Bun Cha was my favourite food, so how could I not go in? In Hanoi Bun Cha restaurants are the dirtiest in town because it is barbecued pork in a soup with rice noodles and a big bowl of herbs and salad. So the charcoal gets everywhere and Hanoi people throw all their rubbish on the floor and then it gets swept up at the end of mealtime, which makes the places look a bit messy, but, of course doesn't affect the taste of the food. They are not only the most delicious places but also one of the cheapest. Bun Cha generally costs 10,000 Dong, or 60 cents US, 30p Brit. If you have a couple of equally delicious but very filling Nem or spring rolls then it may be 15,000 VND altogether.
This place had shiny silver tables, no sign whatsoever of charcoal dust or rubbish strewn floor. It had waitresses in uniforms and everything was sparkling clean and spotless.
So in I go "Bun Cha va Hai Nem" (bun cha and two spring rolls) I say. They were amazed at my perfect Hanoian accent... (well they didn't laugh too loud, anyway). It arrived at the table fairly quickly and I put in some garlic, a little chilli and looked through the herbs for the coriander/cilantro, but none there, only the normal herbs you get in HCM food, which was disappointing. Bun Cha needs coriander. I began eating, but the chilli, even though I only put two small pieces in, was extremely fiery, and I began coughing. "Mot Chai Coca." (a bottle of Coke) I said and waited for it to arrive. After a few minutes and asking where it was, I got a glass of iced tea and was told in English, your coffee is coming soon. Oh well, so much for my perfect Vietnamese accent! I don't think I have ever managed to ask for Coke and got them to understand. I need to do more work on my pronunciation... But at least it was better than a few days ago at a different restaurant when I asked for "mot chai bia" (bottle of beer) and was brought a spoon, which made everyone in the restaurant piss themselves when I took her over to the beer and showed her what I wanted. The bill for a coffee, the Bun Cha and two spring rolls? 48,000!
It never pays to eat in a clean restaurant, always look for the grubbier ones, it's always easier on your wallet.
It is another week til I get my first wage paid into my bank account, which took three weeks to open, endless form filling and lots of patience. My passport was needed for each of the six visits, even though they photocopied it several times on the first visit, but it's now ready to accept the money and I have an ATM card all ready to go...