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May 17, 2018

A LITTLE GREEN IN HO CHI MINH

If you have visited Ho Chi Minh City, your memory may be clouded with motorcycles, traffic and the absence of sidewalks. Yes, the sidewalks have become parking areas for a few of the city’s 8 million motorbikes and the roads are crowded with 600,000 cars. But there’s a green side to Ho Chi Minh City, too.In the center of District 1, you will find parks and greenbelts. There still are towering trees despite the rise of new buildings and malls. There still are parks where children can play and adults can stroll. Somehow these patches of green sort of cool the very warm climes especially in the summer.

And the Vietnamese also eat a lot of vegetables—a cultural habit borne out of sheer necessity during the times of war when there was not enough food for all. Parents would try every leaf to see if it was edible for their kids and so the cuisine developed into what it is now—lots of side dishes of fresh leaves of mint, betel nut, and other greens you may not be familiar with. But all taste good with Vietnamese favorites like Chaca La Vong (turmeric fish cooked with dill and green onions), shrimp on sugarcane sticks, Ban Xiao (a crepe filled with bean sprouts, shrimps and some pork) eaten with big leaves of lettuce, Pho, Bo Bun Hue, and other soups which are served with almost a whole tray of veggies.

We were happy to also find a vegetarian restaurant called HUM, and beside it was a flower shop called The Bloom (both concepts owned by same group). The place was full at lunch and you can imagine how many vegetarians there are now in this city. And the vegetarian choices are many. I particularly like the Banana Blossom Salad (puso ng saging) and the three kinds of mushroom served in a light curry sauce and served inside a coconut (with thick coconut meat on the sides too). That goes so well with steamed Vietnamese rice.I would go back to try the hotpot but probably at dinner, when the weather is slightly cooler.

What is refreshing to see in Ho Chi Minh are the tall trees surrounding the tall buildings in the Central Business District. They have kept the parks and greenbelts to provide the residents and tourists a respite from the concrete jungle and the traffic. In the parks you can see families enjoying a picnic or children playing on the grass. What a relief from the hot weather to see patches of green, some even near their monuments and palaces.

When you do come to Ho Chi Minh, enjoy the green in many of their tree-lined streets while strolling to your next food destination. Yes, there are many vegetarian restaurants now and if you like the Viet flavor, order a Veggie Pho or a salad at SH Garden, a rooftop restaurant on Nguyen Hue. It’s best to come for dinner as the place is not air-conditioned and relies on the natural breeze and misters and fans.

Yes, though the city is humming with bikes and cars, there is a little green to make your stay a refreshing one, too. Vegetarian choices, tree-lined streets, and big public parks are there to stay.

 

 

Photos by Chit Juan

 

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