The first pin stuck in our map of Saigon finds us out in the hinterland of District 10 at a Com binh dan restaurant at 264 Hoa Hung street. This stall is two steps and a hop up the road from a large prison and around the corner from a soldier compound. Com binh dan is a 'type' of fast-food restaurant. It translates roughly as 'Food for workers'. These shacks are more plentiful than Mickey D's in Manhattan - not to mention healthier and cheaper. I've covered a similar spot in District 1 before and it's no surprise to find another offering near my number one pin. It's midday, and the two Pho restaurants along this street are closed, so it's a 'worker's lunch' for me. This joint doubles up as a Pho shack from 4pm onwards, but it's the standard rice, meat and veggies on offer from the glass cubicle shop front come lunchtime at number 264.
The Saigonese are early scoffers - 11am on the dot - and even though it's only midday, the selection is sparse. Fish, tofu, pork chops and sautéed beef. I plump for the caramelized pork chops and a slab of minced pork stuffed tofu, pickled greens, a bowl of cold pondweed soup called Canh rau bo ngot and a Nuoc Thit Kho dipping sauce which is a sweet chili fish sauce dipper. The earthy Canh (soup) gets its flavour from the bo ngot leaf. This set is as basic as it gets at these cozy-up-to-the-pavement-lean-to's. It won't win any gourmet competitions, but it's a quality fresh filler that'll see you through to the next scheduled stop, which without fail is at 7pm for Saigon's eight million-plus stomachs. As with other lunchtime lean to's the tucker at these kerbside truckstops is rustled up that morning. In the heat of Saigon, where fridges are still a luxury for many restaurateurs, freshness must come first. This lot'll set you back 8,000 dong or about 50 cents.