Santa Cafe – Ho Chi Minh City

Mmmmmmm I’m day-dreaming of the banana pancake smothered in chocolate sauce as I write this. Traveling through Vietnam, Santa Cafe ended up being Louis & my favourite breakfast joint when we got bored of our home-cooked egg breakfasts in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. Imagine: a thin crepe (they called it a pancake, but it was more the thickness of a crepe), folded over an entire chopped up fresh banana, with a side dish of creamy chocolate sauce. Now pour that chocolate sauce all over the banana crepe goodness, and consume! But slowly, savour every bite. Mmmm…

We indulged in a few of their meals, them all being relatively cheap and tasty. Their veggies and tofu in sauce with a side of rice is delectable, healthy (a backpackers diet isn’t always veggie-filled), and cheap. With the average 12,000VND for a Saigon Green, Santa Cafe is the best choice if you’re looking for some munchies with your beer all at a great price. This is coming from cheap backpackers who are budgeting for a year…
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If you’re planning on indulging in more than the one beer, I’d suggest opting for the large Tiger bottle, as it’s twice the size of the Saigon Green, and only 22,000VND. Vietnamese Rhum on ice is 16,000VND for a “shot” (it’s pretty much a double shot…they fill that little measuring glass right up to the brim). And boy do I ever recommend the rhum. It’s like a spiced rum with hints of caramel. If you’re a non-drinker, their shakes are to die for. I can personally recommend both the strawberry and the banana.

During the morning, lunchtime, and night, there will always be at least one older expat gentleman that includes Santa Cafe in their daily routine. Oftentimes, there will be a gathering of them, chatting and/or bellowing away. Some of them are very friendly and have some great Vietnam tips.

Santa Cafe has a second floor with a balcony overlooking the street which is neat if you want to get off the main floor, but we always enjoyed the street level seats more. The staff is all very pleasant. If you joke around with them they love it and totally play along and joke right back.

Santa Cafe is on Bui Vien, part of the backpackers district, so expect to be asked to buy a bunch of nonsensical and unnecessary items. Shoe-shiner boys are ever-present. This is nothing new to wandering around Ho Chi Minh City, so try to let it slide off your back. Eye contact, a smile, shake of the head, and firm “No thank you”, usually does the trick. I noticed the same few vendor ladies always smiling and being respectful of our personal space, so when I decided I DID want to buy a few bracelets or a book, I waited until I saw them again and bought from them.
Santa Cafe Saigon

The one thing I didn’t particularly love was the Ca Phe Da at Santa Cafe. It got the job done, but didn’t have the same bursting flavour as many of the other cafe’s.

Santa Cafe has reliable WiFi and a decent bathroom WITH toilet paper (if there isn’t any, just ask staff, they’ll grab you a roll from the nook in the stairs). Overall, it was a great place to go for a quick, tasty breakfast, a leisurely lunch sandwich, or a late night snack, brewski, and some card playing.

Santa Cafe gets the Twisted Footsteps stamp of approval ;) So please, check out the Santa Cafe at the corner of Bui Vien and Do Quang Dau in District 1!

Have you been to Santa Cafe? What were your thoughts on it? Where is your favourite spot along Bui Vien, if any?

Pho-king Delicious

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on July 23rd, figured out a taxi to take us to where we were staying – an apartment in the Manor 2 with Louis’ friend from Korea (Pam)’s boyfriend Haider, snuck in around midnight, and crashed in the spare bedroom. Setting out on the first day of our adventure after a relatively long and unbroken sleep, we had no idea where to go or what to see first. We were Vietnam virgins in the purest sense, with not even a map as a guide. We left the Manor 2 in which we thought was District 7, with the sole purpose of exploration. We quickly got lost, but can one REALLY be lost if one has no specific destination, and one is never really “found” to begin with?

Our first order of business was breakfast. It was after 11AM, past Vietnamese breakfast time, but that wouldn’t stop us. The airplane and airport food of the past two days had left a lot to be desired. We kept seeing little plastic tables and little plastic stools set up all over the sidewalks with people of all ages stooped and slurping. Alright…so how does this work?? Should we just sit down and see what happens? Not speaking the language…this really was our only option.

So that’s what we did! We sat at a metal table on the sidewalk, lined on both sides with tiny plastic stools and covered in containers holding chopsticks, spoons, toilet-paper-cum-napkins, diced limes, various spices, and a number of things we couldn’t put a name to. A middle-aged woman smiled at us sweetly and got to putting together two bowls for us. How did she know what we wanted?? She didn’t. Didn’t we have some sort of menu or choice? We didn’t.
Travel Vietam Pho KT

This sweet lady brought over two bowls of Pho. Just like the pho restaurants at home, there was a plate full of fresh herbs in the middle to mix in with our noodle soup. One “herb” looked quite strange, and when I asked Louis about it he stated very matter-of-factly, “It’s not octopus”. With a shrug, I threw it all in my bowl, squirted lime like the lady was insisting, and slurped away, no more questions asked. And…it was great! Very much like the pho we have at home, but much better…assumingly because everything was the freshest of fresh, and maybe because we were starving. And also because we really couldn’t be sure what was involved in the making of the pho.

We dove head first into the food culture and were not disappointed. At a whopping 50,000VND (about $2.50CAD) for 2 meals, we’d say we got a great bang for our buck. At Pho Dau Bo in Hamilton, which is my favourite pho place back home, the same setup and meal for two people would have cost $14. All this, plus a little Vietnamese boy and his mother offered lively entertainment, wanting to take pictures and laugh with us. The boys mother informed us that the “not octopus” part was, indeed, dried squid. Whoops! Whodathunk the girl who gags at the thought of eating an olive would be munching squid on her first day in Vietnam? The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to eat, although Louis did give it a go, was something femur bone-looking, with the texture of tofu. I’m still unsure what it was, but my money is on something sausage related.

Travel Vietnam Lou