At the turn of the season in Saigon, when soft winds breeze through the city under the crisp sun, stomachs throughout the southern city start rumbling for porridge – a local comfort food that can be found on nearly any street throughout the metropolis.
Porridge is considered a staple of Vietnamese street food, beloved for its low price and great taste.
In Saigon, chao long is among the most popular varieties of rice porridge, commonly eaten for breakfast, dinner, or a late night snack at sidewalk eateries where plastic stools are preferred over cushioned chairs and table manners are a rare commodity amongst the crowds of foodies slurping away at spoonfuls of the porridge.
|Homemade ingredients are a staple at Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
Chao long, or intestine porridge, is cooked in a brown broth made from braising pig bones, pig heads, and innards.
It is served with pieces of tongue, heart, liver, chitterlings, and cooked blood pudding. The dish is topped with chopped onions and black pepper alongside a a small bowl of chili fish sauce.
Most diners agree that the highlight of chao long is doi, a sausage-like casing normally filled with cooked blood pudding, peanuts and herbs.
|A hot bowl of chao long topped with fried garlic, chopped onions, ground pepper and chili pepper at Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
Among countless chao long stalls scattered across Ho Chi Minh City, 85-year-old Chao Long Ba Ut is easily a contender for the city’s most well-known bowl of porridge.
Launched in 1935 by Le Thi Ut, the family-run chao long stall was originally a street cart near Ong Lanh Bridge Market, District 1, before becoming a permanent fixture on Co Giang Street, District 1.
Each portion served up at Chao Long Ba Ut consists pig heart, liver, tongue, cooked blood pudding, doi, small intestines, and mung bean sprouts.
|A portion of porridge at Chao Long Ba Ut comes with homemade dipping sauces and a bowl of vegetables. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
Chao Long Ba Ut also provides each customer with Chinese donut sticks and a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, garlic, and chili pepper.
The stall opens from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm each day and is often full.
According to Le Thi Hong Ngoc, the current owner of Chao Long Ba Ut, the family recipe has not been modified in the three generations since its start, guaranteeing customers a consistent, old school flavor.
|A close-up of the one of a kind pot of Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
“This chao long stall has been operated by my family for more than 80 years. It used to be run by my grandmother. Then my father inherited it for a short time and passed it on to my aunt. Now the responsibility is in my hands," Ngoc shared.
"I began helping my aunt cook here when I was a little kid. Now I’m 47 years old and have been selling porridge for more than 40 years."
The rice used to make porridge at Chao Long Ba Ut must be top-tier quality. Before it is boiled, it is roasted to ensure a better fragrance. Roasting the rice also keeps it from becoming too mushy.
Though Ngoc was willing to share how the porridge is made, she refused to share her family’s secret recipes for the toppings.
|Le Thi Hong Ngoc, the current owner of the chao long stall, serves food at Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
“I cannot reveal how I make the fried blood sausage, but the soup stock has its luscious flavor from bones, boiled-intestines stock, and blood pudding,” she shared.
“We’ve used this kind of pot since my grandmother first opened the stall. It’s basically just two basins pierced at the bottom and welded together. When it wears out, we just make a new one. There are always 5 or 6 more backups in the house,” Ngoc said.
The pot used to cook the porridge is exclusive as well. It is a combination of two bowls with the tops facing each other. The special inox pot was designed by the stall’s first owner, Le Thi Ut, to store the porridge and concentrated blood at the perfect temperature.
|Chao Long Ba Ut attracts a lot of regular customer. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
For the last 80 years, after going through ups and downs, Chao Long Ba Ut and its loyal fanbase are a living ode to Ho Chi Minh Cit’s love for chao long.
According to Ngoc, the two most important factors in keeping the stall running to this day are the fresh ingredients and consistent flavors.
“My mom first began taking me here back when Ms. Ut was the owner. I can feel the juiciness of the meat in my mouth when I eat the fried blood sausage.The seasoning is very flavorful and savory,” said Mai Van Hieu, a regular customer at the chao long stall.
|Chinese donut sticks are made-in-house at Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
“I wake up at 2:00 am to receive daily orders from Vissan to ensure the freshness of the food. We don’t freeze anything. I begin cooking and start selling at 6:00 am to around 6:00-7:00 pm. All of the ingredients are homemade, even the concentrated blood because the pre-made ones at the market do not meet our quality requirements,” Ngoc said.
In order to keep attracting the customers and promote the brand, the family recipe of Chao Long Ba Ut is well-preserved. For Ngoc, being involved in the food business means doing her best to please each and every customer.
“We’ve had to relocate more than five times to different locations on Co Giang Street. It hasn’t hurt our business because we have such a great reputation already,” she said.
|Fried blood sausage, the signature dish of Chao Long Ba Ut. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre
|Homemade fried garlic adds fragrance to a bowl of chao long at Chao Long Ba Ut on Co Giang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nam Vuong / Tuoi Tre