Ca phe sua da is a Vietnamese staple. There are variations on the drink, but at it's root is ca phe nong; hot coffee made using a pour-over technique. The slow extraction allows the ground beans to give up most of their essence. "Da" means ice and "sua" indicates the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese-Americans introduced chicory to the coffee, a version that has since been popularized in New York at pho and banh mi restaurants citywide.
Banh cuon is a popular breakfast dish in Vietnam made from rice batter. The batter composition is similar to that of banh xeo, but the cooking technique is entirely different. Banh cuon batter may sometimes be fermented, but it is always steamed.
When we got in the van at 8:30am to head out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we started asking our guide about banh xeo, the sizzling cake made from rice batter that's popular throughout Vietnam. The "xeo" part of the name refers to the sound the cakes make when they're seared in a scorching wok. Banh xeo take seconds to make, but the technique takes hours of practice. On the way back from our trip, the driver dropped us off in front of Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn. It was close to where we were staying, and just so happened to be his favorite place to get banh xeo.
In the 1960s, the Viet Cong dug an immense labyrinth of tunnels in the Cu Chi District of Saigon so VC guerrillas could hide from the enemy during daylight hours. Covering over 200km, the tunnel system is located about halfway between Saigon and the Cambodian border. The tunnels have since been preserved by the Vietnamese government and are now a popular tourist destination. On our way out to explore the underground network (and shoot assault rifles), we stopped for lunch at a pink, rather polished looking building. Inside, a group of fluorescently clad tourists was already having lunch. We kindly informed the guide we were looking for something different, something maybe he would want to have for lunch. He smilked and took us to Quán Cơm Rạng Đông a kilometer down the street.
Banh kep vendors setup shop on nearly every street, selling a pastry made from rice flour, water, coconut milk, vanilla, sugar, oil, and egg. Similar to Italian pizzelli or cannoli shells, one form of banh kep is thin and crisp. The second is a lighter and fluffier version, triangular shaped and donut-like. Both variations are cooked in small cast iron skillets over charcoal. The edges are especially crispy from batter that oozes out during cooking. Smoke from the charcoal gives them a slightly smoky flavor that contrasts the sweet. Catch one fresh from the skillet and it'll have a soft chew before it's completely set. Vendors carry bags of banh kep they made earlier in the day, a bag of either kind is between $1 and $1.50.