Dinner With Locals in Saigon

Last week, thanks to Withlocals, I experienced an amazing Vietnamese banquet prepared by a former restauranteur. Withlocals is a great way to really experience the local culture when travelling overseas. One kind of experience that can be arranged via their website is to enjoy an authentic home-cooked meal in the home of a local family. When I made my booking, they had a special promotion connected with Jaimie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day and the meal was free of charge for both my wife and I – they gave away 200 free meals over the course of that week!

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We took a look at the Withlocals website and selected Bich from the list of local hosts in Ho Chi Minh City. Bich (pronounced kinda like “bik”) used to own a restaurant, so I figured she’d know her food, and as she’s not so young and is a Saigon local, I figured she’d have a wealth of experience and insight into what made this city tick and could share about its tumultuous history from personal experience.

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We arrived at the home right on 6:30 and were greeted by the smell of the beef Bich was barbecuing in the kitchen as we pulled up to the door. At first we were guided to a living area and served drinks by members of the family, but we soon wandered into the kitchen to get to know everyone and have a bit of a chat as Bich kept cooking. We were immediately struck by the friendliness of everyone and felt right at home instantly.

As Bich continued cooking various dishes, her son Tai, daughter Thien and nephew Nhan took them out one by one and before long the table was laden with traditional Vietnamese dishes.

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Barbecued beef

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Vietnamese shrimp sausage

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Only the freshest of herbs – mint, red perilla, scallions etc

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Fresh rice vermicelli

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Vietnamese pork sausage

Once she was done cooking, Bich came out and chatted with my wife and posed for a quick snapshot before we got down to business (the very important business of eating).

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As we ate we chatted, partly in English and partly in Vietnamese, since my wife is Vietnamese, and Bich spoke little English. I don’t think this would be a problem for regular visitors, as her family all had conversational level English (some more than others), and while the info on the website is in her name, really what you’re booking is a meal with a local family. You might think that my wife might not get as much out of the experience as a non-foreigner, but she did. Firstly, as they’re such warm, welcoming people, it was just a really nice time talking with them. Secondly, the food was amazing! Among the best Vietnamese food I’ve had in over a year in this country, and she really enjoyed it as well (especially when we thought about not having to wash the dishes)! Also, Jade got lots of advice from Bich about things like picking good mangoes and how best to cook beef (I’m not sexist, I’ll be trying out her advice too).

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My wife (in the pink top) and (clockwise from her) Bich, Nhan, Thien and Tai.

When the meal was done we moved to the living area and enjoyed some coconut jelly and a fruit platter (water plums and guava) for dessert and continued to chat.

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All in all, it was a really nice evening out, and I imagine that if I was just passing through, it’d be even cooler. I’d definitely recommend Bich and her family if you’re considering trying a Withlocals host in Saigon, but you can also read about a Withlocals meal with different hosts in this blog post.

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