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Traditional Chinese dessert a long-standing sweet treat in Saigon

Saturday, December 19, 2020, 15:00 GMT+7
Traditional Chinese dessert a long-standing sweet treat in Saigon
Homemade ingredients neatly organized at the stall. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Cho Lon, home to Ho Chi Minh City’s largest Chinese community, is the place to be if you’re looking for Chinese cuisine’s many sweet soups, including tea, egg, and gingko sweet soup, luc tau xa (sweet soup with crushed green beans with tangerine peels), and chi ma phu (black sesame sweet soup).

Chinese sweet soups are prepared using a variety of ingredients, including different types of beans, tubers, seeds, fruits, and more.

Among Cho Lon’s dozens of popular street stalls is Che Chau Giang on Tran Hung Dao B Street, a tiny, 80-year-old establishment that’s long been popular amongst the city’s dessert aficionados who can be seen crowding around the stall’s 5 small tables each evening. 

A serving of Chinese tea egg sweet soup from Chau Giang sweet dessert stall, Tran Hung Dao B Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre
A serving of Chinese tea egg sweet soup from Chau Giang sweet dessert stall, Tran Hung Dao B Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

Though the official name of the stall is Che Chau Giang, locals have bestowed two nicknames upon the famous dessert haunt – Che Cot Dien (lamppost sweet soup) thanks to its location next to a transformer and Che Ma (ghost sweet soup) due to the fact that it’s open late into the night.

Launched in 1938 by Phung Hanh Phan, an immigrant from Guangdong Province, China, Che Chau Giang first operated on Chau Van Liem Street. 

Back then, Phan's stall was just two pots of che dau xanh (green bean sweet soups) she carried from home each day using a bamboo pole.

As her food grew in popularity, she expanded from pots to a pushcart and began adding more dishes to her menu.

Guests at Chau Giang sweet dessert stall, Tran Hung Dao B Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Guests at Chau Giang sweet dessert stall, Tran Hung Dao B Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre News

According to Ly Thanh Ha, the fourth-generation owner of the stall, Phung Hanh Phan had no children so she adopted Ha’s grandmother and named her Ly Ai Quynh.

“The stall was run and managed by my great-grandmother. When she passed away, the stall was passed on to my grandmother and then to my mom. Now, my sisters and I carry on the family tradition,” Ha said.  

Popular dishes of the stall are seen in the photo. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre
Popular dishes of the stall are seen in the photo. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

Over the years, the stall menu has evolved to satisfy customer demand, yet still retains its traditional taste. The menu now includes over 20 items, all cooked and served hot for just VND15,000 (US$0.65) to VND30,000 (US$1.30).

It’s most famous dish is che hot ga tra (tea and egg sweet soup), which involves hard-boiling eggs in tea for two hours and allowing the mixture to simmer all night. According to Ha, che hot ga tra is good for the lungs, kidneys, and for sleep.

While Chinese desserts have only recently become popular in foodie circles, they’ve been a staple of Chinese cuisine for generations, with each serving a particular medical purpose, such as helping cool body heat, increasing vitality, and curing constipation.

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Linh To / Tuoi Tre News

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