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Lost amidst Chinese dessert heaven in Saigon

Saturday, June 29, 2019, 09:05 GMT+7
Lost amidst Chinese dessert heaven in Saigon
Guests are seen at a Chinese sweet soup shop in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Bustling across dozens of streets in Ho Chi Minh City’s Districts 5, 6 and 11 lies Cho Lon, home to a large Chinese community and a food paradise where visitors often find themselves lost among the neighborhoods’ exotic assortment of sweet soups.

Cho Lon is the place to be if you’re looking for one of Chinese cuisine’s many sweet soups, such as 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).

But in a city known globally for its street food culture and dozens of tasty options, what makes these soups a top choice amongst the city’s foodies?

Tea egg and more

Lotus seed, black bean, and green bean sweet soups tend to be the most common choice amongst Vietnamese looking for something quick and simple in Cho Lon, but a true standout on any sweet soup menu is tea egg -  a sweet soup made with egg known for its tedious preparation process.

Tran Quy Street in District 11 is one of the city’s most popular spots to try out tea egg. A stall owner on the street explains that the dessert is cooked with eggs, various Chinese herbs, a little tea, and sugar, contradicting the common misconception that the dessert is mostly made from tea.

The process of making tea egg can be complicated compared to other sweet soups, with vendors ensuring that that the strong herbs infuse an unforgettable taste into the soup without producing any strong, unpleasant smell.

A serving of Chinese tea egg sweet soup is seen in this photo taken in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre
A serving of Chinese tea egg sweet soup is seen in this photo taken in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre

Nha Den on Tran Hung Dao B Street and Ha Ky on Chau Van Liem Street, both in District 5, are also known for their teg egg sweet soups and are considered “must-visits” during a wander through Cho Lon. 

Visitors to Ha Ky can also try the diner’s strawberry sweet soup, a refreshing broth known for its sweet and sour taste.

Other customer favorites also include the almond tofu sweet soup, as well as the peanut, ginkgo, and ginseng sweet soups.

A serving of almond tofu sweet soup is seen in this photo taken in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre
A serving of almond tofu sweet soup is seen in this photo taken in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre

Eat sweet to stay healthy

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.

The secret to beautiful clear skin, according to Chinese culture, lies in che du du tiem, a refreshing ripe papaya sweet soup garnished with snow fungus.

Meanwhile, the ginseng sweet soup served at Nha Den is said to strengthen kidneys, work as a sedative, or serve as cardiac tonic.

At Lam Thanh Stall on Tran Hung Dao B Street, District 5, other common sweet soups such as lotus seed, red bean, green bean, or black sesame soup, are available.

Guests are seen at a Chinese sweet soup shop in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
Guests are seen at a Chinese sweet soup shop in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

One particular stand-out sweet soup is black sesame sweet soup. The dessert well known in Hoi An Ancient Town in central Vietnam can also be found in Cho Lon.

And there’s no better place to try it that at 49 Phung Hung Street, District 5, where the black bean soup has just the right amount of fattiness and isn’t too sweet or too heavy.

Why do the Chinese have such a wide variety of sweet soups? Well, the answer is very simple: they love sweet!

Chinese sweet soups are cooked from all sorts of ingredients, including different types of beans (green beans, red beans, black beans…), tubers (sweet potatoes, taro, radish), seeds (lotus seeds), fruits (jujube, longan fruit, lychee fruit, papaya), and animals (chicken eggs, turtle shell).

In the past, sweet soup was eaten hot but in modern times is commonly served on ice.

If you want to try all of the sweet soups in Cho Lon, it would probably take a full month!

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