Saigon living: Japonaiserie.

ramen with all the toppings.

Never watch cooking shows while you're making dinner, or else you start craving what's being made on the screen and lose taste for what you're actually cooking. This happened to me last night while watching Samurai Gourmet while making a Thai hot and sour fish soup.

Of course the soup was really good, and I did eat it. But I was really craving ramen like nobody's business after watching “The Demoness's Ramen” (episode 2), so this morning I was first in line for my favorite little ramen joint way back in the 15B Le Thanh Ton hem in Saigon’s Little Tokyo. They open at 11:30 am, and I was shopping beforehand but arrived too early. No matter. I stood out front and mooched wifi off the izakaya across the way, and was soon joined in line by a Japanese fellow who had a cross body bag made out of car seatbelts. Pretty soon afterwards he and I were perched on two of the 8 stools with steaming bowls of ramen in front of us. Bliss. By 11:42 all 8 seats were taken, and a line had formed outside.

A buddy of mine says there's another excellent ramen joint somewhere in that set of hems that I need to try out, but every time I walk around in there I get lost and can't find it. I even get lost trying to find my dry cleaners, which has a teeny tiny shopfront somewhere back there.

you too can have a grilled salmon head for a little over $4 USD.

The izakaya hole-in-the-wall across the way from the ramen place is only open at night, and it's delightful. I've never sat downstairs; the first time we went we were ushered upstairs where I guess the overflow counter seating is, and the place does fill up. A couple of tables for larger groups (4 to 6 people) are also up there since the downstairs can't accommodate them. When I say it's delightful, I truly mean it. There’s a TV blaring Japanese commercials from the 1980's, so on occasion you'll see Gregory Hines, or Gene Hackman with a cranium full of hair hawking beer. One time when I was up there, an older Japanese gentleman kept sending shots of Jack Daniels down my way. Unwilling to be rude, especially since he kept grinning at me (my top heaviness probably had something to do with it), of course I drank them - never mind that brown liquor and I broke up ages ago and any attempt at reconciliation has ended with unhappy results despite my praying to all the porcelain gods. He eventually fell off his stool and was gently picked up and walked home. But that's the kind of place this is: grilled innards and salmon heads, Sapporo on tap, walls lined with customer-owned bottles ranging from sake to bourbon, and a friendly arm to guide you home should you need it.

Seems kind of funny that I move to Saigon only to fall in love with Japanese culture, but I'm okay with that.

Today: 91° Mostly Cloudy
Đường Chu Mạnh Trinh 14/11C, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


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