A kaleidoscopic world of luminous colours, shifting shapes, unfamiliar textures, esoteric ingredients, and rich flavours, chè is a fascinating sub-category of Vietnamese cuisine.
Chè can be translated as ‘dessert’, but in reality it’s so filling, so nutritious, that chè is a meal in itself. The sheer variety of chè and innovative use of ingredients is, I think, unrivalled in any other area of Vietnamese cooking. Tropical fruits, nuts, beans, grains, seeds, flowers, roots, and vegetables all play their part. But the central component is sugar: chè is sweet. As such it appeals chiefly to Vietnam’s burgeoning youth; nowhere more so than in Saigon, where the humid tropical nights make a sweet, iced dessert that much more appealing. In a city where everyone seems to be a teenager, I spent two weeks on a sugar-high, scouting out 9 of the best chè joints in town.
Variety and diversity: chè is a mysterious world of sweet things
9 PLACES FOR CHÈ IN SAIGON:
Below are 9 great places to eat chè in Saigon, all of which are open in the afternoon and evening. Click on any name from the list to read more about it. These places have been servingchè for many years, and they are masters of their trade. The variety of chè is bewildering: menus commonly list over 30 kinds. I ordered two different chè at each place I visited, but I still barely scratched the surface. To get familiar withchè varieties, see this excellent rundown onWikipedia. Of all the aspects of Vietnamese cuisine, chè is the one most overlooked by foreign travellers and expats. Why? A big reason is texture: unctuous, gooey, sloppy, soggy, slimy – chè reminds most people of school dinners. But get past this and you’ll peel back another layer of Vietnamese food culture. Chè is fun food: fun ingredients, fun creations, fun names: fun times. During my research, I fell for it.
[View my chè map of Saigon HERE]