A late afternoon or a pre-dinner snack, bot chien is a staple street food. It is fried rice-flour cake with egg and usually topped with chives. This dish is popular among the locals, but only a few expats and tourists are familiar with it. The recipe isn’t complicated, but the texture and flavour are distinctive.
The texture of the rice-flour cake and the taste of the soy sauce make the difference in this rather simple dish. The shapes of the rice-flour cake also differ. Some places offer it in thick strips, while others have it in cubes. One common ingredient is the fried egg, which keeps the cakes together. Bot chien is often topped with chives for more colour and taste. It is also served with a side of papaya strips and a dipping bowl filled with soy sauce.
Bot chien literally translates to fried dough. It is often likened to popular dishes from nearby Asian countries like the chai tow kway of Singapore or char koay kak of Penang, Malaysia.
Places that offer this light dish are scattered around Saigon. I visited one in District 5 and another in District 3. Both eateries offer the same meal, but come with different stories and tastes. The locations of these places are quite interesting as they are the odd ones out in their area. One is along a strip of accessories and decoration shops, while the other is between several clothing stores.
Bot Chien Dat Thanh
277 Vo Van Tan, Q3, HCMC
A family business that started on the sidewalk is now one of the most prominent go-to places in Saigon for bot chien. Weekend afternoons to evenings see this eatery packed with locals and travellers. Unlike most restaurants, this place has the kitchen at the front. With this setup, passers-by end up having a plate of their bot chien unplanned as the smell of the fried rice cake and egg fills the air along Vo Van Tan.
A plate of bot chien is priced at VND26,000. The rice-flour cakes are fried until they turn golden brown, which makes them crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside. It is served with a side plate of shredded papaya, a small bowl of their sauce, and is topped with green onions. Add VND4,000 if you want an extra egg.
According to Khanh, the granddaughter of the owner of the restaurant, bot chien is best eaten as your pre-dinner meal. She suggests that it should be mixed with the papaya shreds and tossed together with the soy sauce. When asked about what makes their bot chien different from the others, she says that it’s the sauce. True to her word, the dip that went with my order tasted lighter and sweeter than the usual soy sauce bought at supermarkets or convenience stores.
No need to worry about ordering as they hand out laminated menus with pictures once seated. Bot Chien Dat Thanh is open every day from 2pm to 11pm.
Bot Chien 190
190 Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Q5
You know you’re in for both a struggle and a treat when you search for a place and there isn’t a name for you to look for, just the address. A good thing then that this bot chien stand is right next to a roundabout, which helps in finding this streetfood gem of a place. There is no menu for you to choose from, but it is not a problem as they only serve one dish. This establishment has been selling bot chien for over 30 years. The recipe comes from the owner’s Chinese husband, and her neighbours help her run the business.
Unlike most bot chien restaurants that serve the cakes in cubes, here the cakes are cut into thick strips before being cooked on a flat skillet over a charcoal grill. Owner Nguyen Thi Anh Loan then uses oil from pork fat as the egg, garlic with salt, and spring onions are added. A plate of bot chien here is priced at VND27,000.
The outside of the rice-flour cakes are a bit crispy. It also has a faint meaty taste coming from the oil. The sauce they provide is also distinctive; chilli is already added to the mix. While a takeaway portion is served on a banana leaf inside a foam food container with an extra bag of shredded papaya, for those who want to indulge in the complete experience, this is all about choosing an outdoor spot on the plastic red tables and chairs that overlook the roundabout.
They are open Monday to Saturday from 4pm, and from 2pm on Sundays.
PHOTOS BY BAO ZOAN