A boel of cháo mực (squid porridge) sold at a restaurant on Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTOS: GIANG VU
The downpours that so often put a pause on city life in Vietnam are always a good excuse for Saigon residents to find something hot to eat on the street, especially on the colder of the wet afternoons.
Ask any Saigonese what he or she wants to eat on a rainy day, and you’ll likely hear bánh xèo (fried savory crepe with shrimp and pork), to snacks like bắp nướng (grilled corn), and even ice-cream.
After a few months of soaking rains, one particularly chilly Saigon shower sent me searching for a bowl of hot cháo mực (rice porridge with squid) at a small restaurant on Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1.
Priced at just VND15,000 a bowl, the rice porridge featured slices of dried squid, pork blood pudding chunks, shredded spring onion, and stripes of ginger.
The hotness of spring onion and ginger is enough to warm one up on a chilly day. But many diners still love to add some chili powder to increase the hot tone, and also to get rid of the fishiness of squid, if there is any.
Like many other restaurants that sell cháo mực in Saigon, the Pho Duc Chinh shop uses dried squid, although the food can be cooked with fresh squid meat as well.
For the dried squid version, the dry meat is soaked in water mixed with rice wine to have its strong smell removed. Then it is washed clean, cut into pieces, and stir-fried with sugar and fish sauce.
CHÁO MỰC PHÓ ĐỨC CHÍNH
10 Pho Duc Chinh Street, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1
Open hour: 6:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Prices: cháo mực (VND15,000/bowl), hoành thánh gà (VND28,000/bowl), chân gà luộc (VND14,000/pair), hột vịt bắc thảo (VND11,000/egg)
Cháo mực, like other kinds of cháo - like cháo lòng (with pork innards) and cháo gà (with chicken) - is often served with deep-fried strips of Chinese cruller called giò cháo quẩy, or simply quẩy in Vietnamese, and yu char kway or youtiao in Chinese.
It is the same at the Pho Duc Chinh restaurant. However, besides the traditional accompaniment, the restaurant offers other foods that can be eaten with the porridge, or separately as side dishes: chân gà luộc (steamed chicken legs) and hột vịt bắc thảo (century egg or pidan).
Together with cháo mực these foods have helped the street-side restaurant become and remain popular among Saigonese who come for something that can fill their empty stomach after a working day, but not make them too full so they can have dinner at home later.
If one day you do not feel like eating cháo mực, visit the restaurant for another snack on its menu: hoành thánh lá (no-filling wontons soup) that can be eaten with squid or chicken swings.
They are worth trying even on a dry day.
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