However, I can at least try (over the next few decades of my anticipated Asia travel—assuming the world fails to end, Saigon does not slide inexorably into the sea, and we’re not all forced to subsist entirely on tofu and insects) to sample as many pork products as this fair city can offer me. I will call it “research.” *
The Vietnamese are extremely fond of com tam, a phrase I will artfully translate as “broken rice with stuff on top of it, usually of a meaty sort.” This is a very simple concept, but as “rice with stuff on it” is a rather yawningly enormous category, com tam stalls also vary to a mind-boggling extent, from sliced elderly sausage on crunchy rice (rare) to delectable local specialties served with love and kindness. (Much more common, this is Vietnam).
As some are awesome, it would befit you to peer into com tam stalls on a regular basis and see if anything fantastic is going on. Then you might discover dishes such as the Platonic Ideal Vietnamese Porkchop, served at Com Tam Ngyuen-Van-Cu, which is located at…167 Ngyuen Van Cu street in Saigon. Vietnamese restaurant names are delightfully uncomplicated.
The restaurant actually features full-sized tables, which is rather shockingly decadent. Your choices consist of: a pork-chop on rice, a pork-chop on rice with a fried egg on top, and a pork-chop on rice accompanied by a delicious clear beef soup. We chose the third option.
Unlike most Vietnamese pork-chops, wispy and rather small things, Com Tam Ngyuen Van Cu appears to source its meat from enormous mutant Southeast Asian pigs, which incidentally taste fantastic.
Marinated in what is doubtless some sort of secret concoction involving chili, sugar, fish sauce, and the tears of unicorns, the pork-chops are then grilled to perfection, allowing the marinade to caramelize slightly, and for the meat to drip with delicious juices.
These juices are soaked up by the delicate broken-rice—and once you’re done with that, you’re left with a hefty pork chop bone to chew upon. No one will judge you here.
This place isn’t open for dinner, but they do stay open for breakfast and lunch. Really best if you can time it for when they’re pulling them fresh off the grill, but you won’t object if they’ve been sitting for a minute or two. I promise.
I discovered aforementioned Platonic Porkchop due to a good friend of mine, who has been coming to Vietnam for upwards of 20 years and has a remarkable ability to sniff out good restaurants. I really enjoy traveling with her because I am relieved of my usual duties of figuring out where the hell to eat, and can instead happily follow along on a culinary adventure without feeling weirdly culpable for anyone’s food-borne unhappiness.
* One of the biggest advantages of being a journalist with a travel focus is that one can justify just about any pleasureable activity as “research,” including certain sexual favors depending on the nature of one’s paying publication.
Indeed, I have justified weird things from renting motorbikes to ride in deathly Vietnamese rush-hour traffic, to watching endless episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, to consuming large plates of dubiouc snails on the basis of “research”—and the most remarkable part is that one’s family and friends who are not journalists rarely question this basic assertion. Any-who, I’d best wrap this piece up, I’m doing some “research” on attractive CNN anchors reporting from the Middle East. Or wherever. I’ve got the sound off.