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This Saigon food stall sells porridge for less than ten US cents

Saturday, December 25, 2021, 10:00 GMT+7
This Saigon food stall sells porridge for less than ten US cents
A hot bowl of chao huyet topped with Chinese donut sticks, cooked blood pudding, and bean sprouts at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

As the rainy season comes to an end and the city begins to dry up, stomachs all over Ho Chi Minh City begin to growl for rice porridge – a local comfort food found in nearly every Saigon neighborhood.

Rice porridge, or chao, is a staple of the Vietnamese diet, beloved by many for its low price and wholesome flavor.

Chao huyet, or pork blood pudding porridge, is arguably one of Saigon’s most popular rice porridge variations.

Enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a late-night sidewalk snack, many agree that chao huyet is best served at sidewalk eateries with plastic stools alongside other diners eagerly slurping away at spoonfulls of the copper-colored porridge.

Customers wait for bowls of porridge at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Customers wait for bowls of porridge at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Chao huyet is cooked in a clear broth made from braised pig bones, ginger, spring onion, and pig organs. Unlike other versions of chao, the ingredient list for chao huyet isn’t particularly complicated.

Aside from rice and its rich broth, the only other ingredients are Chinese donut sticks and cooked blood pudding.

Among the countless chao huyet stalls scattered across Ho Chi Minh City, the 40-year-old chao huyet stall owned by Phan Thi Thu Hong on the corner of Nguyen Huu Hao Street in District 4 is a contender for the city’s cheapest bowl of porridge.

Customers enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Customers enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

The chao huyet at Hong's stall is served in an antique bowl with a traditional Asian soup spoon. To eat, diners need only pull up a tiny plastic stool to sit on and toss the blood pudding, bean sprouts, and Chinese donut sticks into the broth.

Phan Thi Thu Hong, 52, the owner of the stall, learned how to make chao huyet from her mother and claims her family has been selling porridge on Nguyen Huu Hao street for over 40 years.

Customers enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Customers enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

"I wake up at 2:00 am every day to start cooking and open my stall at 5:00 am. I usually sell out by 9 am.

"When I first started, we sold each bowl for a hundred Vietnam dong each, then we increased the price to VND1,000, then VND2,000, and now we sell it for VND5,000 [VND22,900=US$1].

"My customers include both children and adults.

"I am able to make a living without raising my price. I have a lot of customers with disabilities or who don’t make very much money, so I like that I can feed them a full meal for just VND5,000," Hong said.

Bowls of Chinese donut sticks at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Bowls of Chinese donut sticks at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Though many of Hong’s customers are local regulars, positive reviews on various websites have led to an increase in diners from all across the city at Hong’s stall.

"I first learned about [Hong’s chao huyet] from food review websites, so I decided to give it a try. Now, I’ve been one of her customers for a long time.

"The price is extremely low, but the quality is excellent. The porridge is sweet, and the atmosphere is nostalgic. It usually takes me several bowls of porridge to feel full," shared Nguyen Thi Thuy May, a resident of District 6.

A group of friends enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
A group of friends enjoy bowls of chao huyet at Phan Thi Thu Hong’s stall on Nguyen Huu Hao Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

"I bring my kids to eat here once a week. The price is low, but the flavor is rich and quite different from other stalls. I usually eat four to five bowls by myself.

"There have been many times where I’ve got her a bit late and Hong has already sold out. Yesterday, I got lucky because there were exactly four bowls left for my family," said Vu Thuan Trieu, a resident of District 8.

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