Time for some dim sum

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In the heart of the backpackers' area in Ho Chi Minh City, one stall serves quality Chinese dumplings at very cheap prices


Some of dishes sold at a dim sum stall in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

One would assume that the best place to get reasonably priced dim sum in Ho Chi Minh City is the Cho Lon (big market) area, Vietnam's biggest Chinatown that covers districts 5 and 6, or areas where many Chinese-Vietnamese live, like District 11.

That might be true, but there is good news for those living near or frequenting downtown HCMC. They can find bite-sized dumplings, steamed buns and other popular dim sum dishes at a stall right in District 1, in an area frequented by foreign backpackers.

What's more, the stall has a lot of fans who hail the quality of dishes served despite being priced quite cheap compared to many other sellers around the city.

Steamed dumplings like ha cao or har gow in Chinese (with shrimps), xiu mai or shaomai in Chinese (with pork and shrimp), and banh he or gao choi har gow in Chinese (with chives and shrimp) are sold for VND20,000 (US$0.94) a dozen. 

This means each dumpling costs just VND2,500.

The "skin" of the dumplings, made with rice and tapioca starch (except xiu mai, which is made with wheat flour) has desirable textures: smooth and tough. Their filling is chewy and slightly sweet thanks to the addition of some fish paste.


At the crossroad between Co Giang and De Tham streets, Cau Ong Lanh Ward, District 1

Open hours: 3:30 p.m. 10:30 p.m.

Prices: ha cao xiu mai banh he (VND20,000/12 dumplings you can order a dozen for one or all kinds), banh bao cade banh bao xa xiu (VND5,000/bun), xoi la sen (VND6,000/ball)

The dumplings are eaten with a homemade dipping sauce which is a mixture of soya sauce and red vinegar. You can mix the sauce with chili or sa-te (shacha) sauces, if you want it to be spicy.

For steamed buns, known as banh bao in Vietnamese, there is banh bao cade (or lai wang bao in Chinese) filled with sweet egg custard. Another one is banh bao xa xiu (char siu bao) filled with barbecue-flavored char siu pork.

The best of all dishes sold at the stall, located at the junction of Co Giang and De Tham streets, must be xoi la sen (or lo ma gai in Chinese) a dish rarely found in areas other than Chinatown, residential areas with many residents of Chinese ethnicity, and big Chinese restaurants.

A ball of sticky rice is filled with salted egg yolk, minced pork, char siu pork, and shiitake mushroom, and wrapped in a dried lotus leaf. The filling is well-balanced and the whole food has a light fragrance coming from the lotus leaf during the steaming process.

Since the stall has no place for customers to eat on site, they all order takeaways.

Following the style of people in Hong Kong, where dim sum is typically served with tea at restaurants, you can find a tea house and savor the dish at your pace.

And even if you cannot find a good tea shop nearby, the food makes for a delicious light meal before dinner or a satisfying supper snack before bed.

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