It is rare to come across a native Saigonese who does not have fond memories of chasing down tau hu vendors to grab a bite of the delectable dessert.
Tau hu or tao pho (tofu pudding topped with sugar syrup), a Chinese sweet treat made from soy beans, packs a bold punch of flavors and a boatload of nutrients, including calcium, iron, and magnesium.
|A small bowl of 'tau hu' topped with tapioca pearls and ginger syrup. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
In Saigon, tau hu is most often eaten with hot ginger syrup, coconut milk, and handmade tapioca pearls.
Oftentimes, it is served over ice, making it the perfect way to cool down after a long, hot summer day.
Nearly all Saigonese have fond memories of chasing down tau hu vendors, many of whom walked local neighborhoods peddling the sweet dessert from twin baskets hung over shoulder poles.
These twin baskets typically include one side loaded with a tofu pot and the other stacked with small chairs for customers to sit and enjoy their dessert.
In the past, vendors would not only walk the streets, but also pedal across the city on bicycles with tofu pots on the back and jars of cane sugar, ginger syrup, and tapioca pearls in the front.
This method eventually died out due to the difficulty of carrying a large number of items on a bicycle. Nowadays, only shoulder-pole carrying tau hu vendors remain.
Below are some of the most popular tau hu vendors in Saigon:
'Tau hu tran chau Co Thuy' (Co Thuy’s tofu pudding with tapioca)
'Tau hu Co Thuy' has moved twice in its 30-year history but has always remained a popular tau hu spot thanks to its location near Ho Chi Minh City's Bui Vien 'backpacker strip.’
It is currently located at 12 Do Quang Dau Street in District 1.
|People queue in front of 'Tau hu tran chau Co Thuy' to buy sweet treats at 12 Do Quang Dau Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
The stall is now run by Thuy’s daughter, Dinh.
'Tau hu Co Thuy' is busiest at around 3:00 pm, when guests line up under the harsh sun to grab a bite of this tasty blend of tofu, coconut milk, white tapioca pearls, and ginger syrup.
Each serving costs between VND10,000-15,000 (US$0.43-0.64), depending on the size.
The only downside to 'Tau hu Co Thuy' is that the stall’s success has forced the business to switch from reusable bowls to plastic cups in order to keep up with the flow of customers – a change many long-time guests are not so happy about.
'Tau hu banh lot Co Suong' (Co Suong’s tofu with sweet rice pasta)
Suong's stall is located at 113 Bui Huu Nghia in District 5 and features only a few little plastic chairs on the sidewalk.
It opens from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm each day.
Suong has been selling tau hu and other sweet treats, such as che dau den (sweetened black beans) and che troi nuoc (sweet dessert soup with sticky rice balls and mung bean filling), for about two decades.
|A small bowl of 'tau hu' topped with tapioca pearls, ginger syrup, sweet rice pasta, and coconut milk. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
It has been her only source of income since her husband died ten years ago.
"I've never taken a day off. I'd be really upset if I had to go a day without working," Suong shared.
Many stalls raised their prices after the COVID-19 pandemic, but Suong has refused to follow suit.
She has also refused to switch to plastic cups despite the extra work involved in washing reusable bowls.
Suong's tau hu is not only distinguished by its large and chewy tapioca pearls, but also by its banh lot (sweet rice pasta), which, when combined with ginger syrup, creates a sweet, creamy taste.
A small bowl of tau hu from Suong’s stall costs VND8,000 ($0.34).
'Tau hu duong mat Co Hiep' (Co Hiep’s tofu with cane sugar)
'Tau hu Co Hiep,' nestled deep in famed street food alley 284 Le Van Sy, District 3 captivates those who enjoy natural sweetness.
|'Tau hu Co Hiep' in alley 284 Le Van Sy, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
From 6:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, Hiep’s stall sells traditional tau hu with moderate sweetness and a slightly pungent ginger flavor and chewy pearls.
Hiep has been selling tau hu for over 30 years and considers herself a master in cooking her treatto the perfect level of sweetness.
Thanks to its location in an alleyway, this stall offers respite from the busy city.