Remembering the taste of Vietnam at The Little Saigon

5 years ago, around this time of the year, I was entering Vietnam by train, at midnight, dead tired after spending the night before on a bench in Naning train station, after the hostel I booked oversold my bed. I remember arriving in Hanoi somewhere around 5am, and made my way towards the old town, crossing an old railway bridge over the Red river, which seemed infinite. I was stepping with caution on the wooden structure hoping that no train will pass by until I reached the other end.

Reaching the hostel, I was welcomed by a locked what seemed to be a garage door with the shutters down. I banged in the shutters and surprisingly, they opened and a sleepy Vietnamese received me inside. I stepped in, making my way through the narrow space between the couch and the motorbike parked in the middle of the room and was shown to my bed.

But as it happens, when you are very tired you can’t really sleep, so I went for a walk on the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake. I was surprised to find there many Vietnamese people, from 4-year-olds to 90-year-olds maybe, exercising, dancing, or practicing tai chi. At sunrise! And I think that was the moment when I irremediably fell in love with Vietnam.

Later that day I would have my first bowl of pho – the famous Vietnamese soup-, while sitting on a tiny chair on the sidewalk of a street, cooked by a woman right there behind me. I remember it being full of flavour, with big chunks of fried tofu and plenty of rice noodles inside. It was the perfect lunch, followed by a long afternoon nap, to recharge my batteries.

joanna having vietnamese food, pho, on the side of the street, in Hanoi - The World In My Pocket

Last Wednesday I visited my friend in London and I insisted we go to have dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant near her house. She told me she discovered it a while ago but didn’t go yet, and this was the perfect occasion. We tried going to a Vietnamese restaurant before, but we didn’t get to because we were “dragged” into a church and offered free food and drinks in order to listen to a half an hour talk. I have been craving for Vietnamese food from the first time she told me about this restaurant and I secretly hoped that it won’t disappoint me.

Little Saigon - Outside view - The World in My Pocket.jpg

From the outside, the restaurant doesn’t look anything special. It has a big name sign on top and 2 large red industrial doors, from which only one opens. Once inside thought you can immediately notice the beautiful paintings on the walls and the design touches, like the brand new Vietnamese rickshaw on the left hand side. We were greeted right away by a waiter and told we can choose any table we want as the restaurant was almost empty at the late hour we arrived. The menus followed straight away and I noticed in it many of the classic Vietnamese dishes I have tried in Vietnam. As we all know, a lot of restaurants adapt their traditional menus for the English taste, and I was happy to notice that Little Saigon didn’t.

Little Saigon - Interior design - The World in My Pocket.jpg

I had a hard time to decide what to order, but in the end I went for the Banh Xeo, a traditional crispy pancake filled with pork belly slices, tiger prawns, carrots, beansprouts and kohlrabi, served with an Asian salad and different herbs. My friend went for the lemongrass and chilly beef vermicelli noodles, served with iceberg salad, cucumber and herbs. After we ordered, we have been brought to the table a basket of prawn crackers.

While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I remembered my cooking class from Hoi An, where I have actually cooked the Banh Xeo. I laughed thinking how clumsy I was with flipping the pancake and how it took me about 3 attempts until I’ve managed to create an acceptable one.

Little Saigon - Joanna having Banh Xeo - The World in My Pocket.jpg

The food arrived not long after we ordered and the first thing I noticed was how big the portions were. Both meals were accompanied by a sweet chilly sauce which I poured over the filling of the pancake.

The meal was delicious and IĀ  found the combination between pork and shrimp to be interesting, the flavours complimenting each other very well. The bottom of the pancake got soggy from the sweet chilly sauce and gave a very nice texture to the raw vegetables. I was surprised of the simplicity of the salad, out of which I recognized the lettuce and the mint leaves, and how well it went with the crispy pancake.

Little Saigon - Banh Xeo, vietnamese crispy pancake filled with pork belly slices and tiger prawns- The World in My Pocket.jpg

My friends’ vermicelli noodles were also very good, with tender juicy beef cooked in a semi-sweet chilly and garlic sauce. Her entire plate was very fragrant due to the lemongrass marinade of the beef.

Little Saigon - Lemongrass infused beef with vermicelli noodles - The World in My Pocket

At the end of the meal we had a short chat with the friendly waiter and we found out that he was Vietnamese but born in England. His family came from near the Mekong Delta and it was a pleasure to talk to him about the floating markets there, from where I used to buy fresh pineapple, or the coconut candy factory from where I bought the most delicious sweets.

The only downside was that when we paid, because we used our cards and the meals were less than Ā£10, we had to pay a surcharge of 50p.

You can find the Little Saigon in Leytonstone, at 686 High Rd, E11 3AA. I recommend it for the tasty authentic food, the low prices and the friendliness of the staff.

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  1. Little Saigon looks like an amazing restaurant for Vietnamese cuisine though I’ve never tried Vietnamese food ever in my life! But after reading your post, I feel like giving it a try as your food looks so colorful and delicious!

  2. I also loved the food in Vietnam and you are so lucky to find a good restaurant where you can get to enjoy it. Your post has brought back so many wonderful memories for me.

  3. I love places that retain their authenticity – don’t adjust to Western tastes! Those are the best places. The food looks delicious!

  4. Little Saigon looks like a nice and simple place to visit! I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I’d love the idea that one day, I’ll be able to go there with my family. Just a wishful thinking for now, but who knows, maybe in the future, we’ll be able to visit this place too. šŸ˜€

  5. What a lovely place to get some Vietnamese food. I love restaurants that are owned by expats, they serve authentic food so you don’t have to go half way across the world to satisfy your craving for a specific cuisine. The price is so affordable, I would have a marvelous time here.

  6. Indeed BIG servings. I also like it when restaurants serve that authentic taste and does not reinvent the dish. We sometimes long for that true flavor once in awhile especially if we are feeling nostalgic and wants to reminisce sweet memories.

  7. Vietnam! One of the places in my bucket list.. I heard a lot of cool stories from a friend about this place. And they said that food in vietnam is one of the yummiest they have ever tried especially those in hawker type eateries. Flavorful indeed. What you ordered was huge! I cannot finish that if i were to eat..

  8. I love Pho! I actually discovered pho in Laos, made by Vietnamese immigrants there. The flavor of that soup is unsurmountable. I have tried it in other places, and vietnamese restaurant like the Little Saigon you visited but it has never been the same. I am glad your vietnamese food experience was a good one and it was a tasty meal!

  9. Lovely restaurant! I love restaurants that serve authentic cuisines because it gives you the chance to taste their dishes without booking a ticket to the country itself. It’s nice that you had a great time dining there!

  10. That’s cool that you had your first bowl of pho in Vietnam. If I had my choice, I would have preferred to arrive by train. Instead i flew into Saigon before taking a bus to Cambodia.

  11. The only Vietnamese we have here are either the fast food types or expensive ones. Looking at your dish, oh my Lord… those look like generous portions indeed and while I am not much of a fan of Vietnamese noodles (as I prefer Chinese and Japanese), I still think Vietnamese noodles are good. Great experience for you too sitting on those small stools that if it were me, might have broken. LOL!

  12. In our country, the only way you could taste another country’s cuisine is to spend a lot of money in an expensive restaurant. Those noodles are so jaw-dropping. I wish I could grab those through my laptop and eat it. Haven’t tried any Vietnamese food yet and reading this made me want to try!

  13. Vermicelli is a tasty food which I tried in Thailand (never been to Vietnam yet), and though we don’t have the same like in London – The Little Saigon to a place where I’m from, I still think this is a good way to introduce vietnam food to everyone.

  14. Another country we’d really love to visit. Thanks for tagging me along your trip thru this post. I enjoyed it except for the food. haha Vietnamese food is really rich in veggies, which I really don’t like. haha But if ever I’ll be in this country, I’ll surely try it out just for experience. šŸ™‚

  15. Wow, less than 10 pounds, that sounds like a really good deal. I have never tried Vietnamese food, but the pictures are too good to pass. Definitely worth a try!

  16. I’m a picking eater so while this isn’t something I would try….it looks good visually. I’ve never been to Vietnam and it’s not on my list of places I’d like to go, but the rickshaw is cute.

  17. The simplicity and the using of a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables make Vietnamese food so special. I love Vietnamese food, and hope someday I visit the country. It’s great that you found this restaurant, and ease your craving for Vietnamese food.

  18. I have never got a chance to try the authentic Vietnamese food. To be frank I have only heard about Chinese and Japanese. Your description of the food sounds delicious and would love to try them some day.

  19. Your arrival to Vietnam seems very much like my own and I can remember well wandering around Hanoi drinking the place in. It is such a vibrant city with so much to love although I concur, the food is superb. Even after leaving the country over a year ago I’ve always tried to find good Vietnamese food wherever I go although honestly, I’ve never been able to recreate it. Glad to hear that Little Saigon takes a good stab at it although I imagine it’s a little more expensive that back in Vietnam!

  20. I really love it when you find a restaurant else where in the world which cooks it food just like how it is done in their country rather than adapting it to local taste. I love Vietnam and its food. Thanks for sharing your find šŸ™‚

  21. It’s not really easy to find Vietnamese restaurants, at least here in Italy. I tried one last year, the food was good, but the experience overall no, I’m not going there again, I hope I can find another one to try it again!

  22. OMG I loved reading your memories of Vietnam, it was such a step back in time! Sounds so much like my experience with hostels. Turning up to locked doors or to be told there’s no bed for you, feeling frustrated then seeing something that charms you. Unfortunately I hardly got to try any authentic Vietnamese food because my travel buddy got really sick so we didn’t eat much. I really regret not just leaving her in bed and going out on my own now. If I’m ever in the area I’m gonna try this restaurant, looks cool!

  23. The food looks awesome! I love Vietnamese food and over the past ten years or so I’ve noticed that there are more and more good Vietnamese restaurants opening by where I live, which is awesome!!

  24. I have never tried Vietnamese food, but now I’m curious. I need to try it out in the future. These photos are very nice memories – I can only imagine… šŸ™‚ Thanks for posting!

  25. Oooh! This brings back memories of Vietnam for me. I spent about four months there recently, and the food is my FAVOURITE in Asia. I’m glad you found a way to recreate the memories so far from the country.

  26. There is one in my end of the city, I am now tempted to see and taste the spread they have. The wrap looks like dosa we get in South India. You have ignited my hunger pangs with this post. šŸ™‚

  27. It is cool that you ordered one of our top 10 favorite dishes in Vietnam. We are about to publish and article with those foods and our recipes on our blog today. My favorite food is Mi Quang. We loved Hanoi and stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the old town food market.

  28. Hey Joanna, that food looks yummy! I’m excited to visit Vietnam too, and experience local living šŸ˜€ I think I will survive, hahaaha

  29. I love the nostalgic post šŸ™‚ sounds like you had a real adventure in Vietnam! Sometimes it’s the unexpected experiences that make the trip special. I’m sure sleeping at the train station was uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, you have a great story to share and a more authentic experience šŸ™‚ It’s good to know that they are active so early in the morning, I’ll be visiting in the next few months and I’ll make sure to join them for the early rise šŸ˜€

  30. It’s amazing how food can trigger all of these memories: what you did that day you tried this delicious meal, who you were with, how you felt… That’s why I love these restaurants that serve the food the way it’s supposed to be (and London has loads of those if you know where to look!). I might give Little Saigon a try when I’m back in London.

  31. Something that I love about London is that you can try food from pretty much all over the world in a single city. I’ve never been in this particular restaurant before, but I’ll definitely check it out next time I visit London. That crispy pancake looks amazing by the way, I’m quite surprised dishes are so cheap!

  32. The food looks marvellous…
    And your Vietnam experience from 2011 reminded me of a recent experiience of mine… I returned to my hotel in a remote town in India at night after dinner, only to find that teh shutter was closed and there was no one in the vicinity… finally after half an hour, I managed to find a way from the backsjide wiith the help of some neghbours…

  33. Most people, if not everyone, who visits Vietnam is impressed by the food, which is not exactly unknown but certainly under-discovered. You’re lucky you found a place that recreate the experience–most of us are frustrated when we leave the country.

  34. Ahh this made me so hungry looking through all of your photos! I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I love Vietnamese food, so definitely going to be checking this out!

  35. Looks very delicious! How exciting it must have been to find out that the food taste had not been adjusted from it’s authentic form. I definitely want to visit as well someday so I can taste the local food and find out how it is supposed to actually taste like.

  36. It is great to know that you discovered a slice of Vietnam in Little Saigon. The pancake reminds me of a similiar dish made in South India, which is called Dosa and may or may not have Potato fillings. I would have loved the simple experience of having Pho on the streets of Vietnam.

  37. Vietnamese cuisine is my absolute favourite, in particular, Pho and Bun vermicelli. Everything you ate at the Little Saigon looks absolutely scrumptious and like a huge portion as well, leaving you fully satisfied! Now I’m hungry for Pho šŸ˜‰

  38. Looks like a lovely place to eat! Never really tried Vietnamese food, but if I do I think I’ll wait until I go to Vietnam, although that pancake looks like it could feed a family of four! Looks delicious!

  39. Never been to Vietnam but I have tried Vitenamese cuisine in a street shop in Manchester. although i would have to say that there might be differences in flavours considering that its not locally made. Little Saigon seems like a nice place to try some great food.

  40. Now you can remember that magical moment at sunrise every time you get to that restaurant! I love to try the local food anywhere I go, and even though it is some times complicated to find a good version of it at home, it is well worth the search!

  41. Yeah it really is a pain to find authentic food…I have the same problem with Chinese Food in Germany…but glad you found this cute restaurant =)

    So are you planning to go back to Vietnam…any tips food wise what shouldn’t be missed?^^

  42. The food in Saigon and Vietnam looks amazing, and I’ve always wanted to visit there, for the scenery, people and now the food! A bowl of Pho would be my first meal too, I think, so simple and yet so representative of a country and its people. Karen

  43. I live near Leytonstone! I do like vermecili noodles so I think I would love Vietnamese food. The portions or huge but a shame about the card surcharge!

  44. Honestly I have very little knowledge about Vietnam and anything related. I love reading food posts. The place looks good and the food delicious. The best thing is that the order arrived early. I hate places where they make us wait for a long time. šŸ™‚

  45. There is also a Vietnamese resto here in Philippines and we think we are eating authentic Vietnamese food because the cooks are Vietnamese though I havent been in Vietnam.
    I like their food – simple!
    You should try their beef stew (if Little Saigon restaurant has it)

  46. I haven’t tried many Vietnamese foods but I’ve heard a lot about pho. I really should give it a try since there so many restaurants here in NYC. I loved your story about how both the young and old were up at sunrise exercising, dancing and practicing tai chi – that’s a sight I’d want to see.

  47. Is is bad that I think that a city that doesn’t have a good Viet restaurant is an average city? haha – Vietnamese restaurants around the world really do give you a good glimpse of the food over there, but nothing beats a 3$ pho by the street of Saigon! can’t wait to go back.

  48. I’ve eaten pho before and love it and the food in your pictures looks incredible. And dancing at sunrise sounds perfect! I used to be a late-riser but so many fantastic things happen early in the morning and I hate missing out.

  49. It’s always nice to find authentic foreign cuisine in local areas. It’s even more powerful when you have had the chance to visit and dine in the food’s country of origin.

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  51. I’ve always been a fan of Vietnamese food. In Singapore, I used to go to this Vietnamese restaurant but always ended up having Pho, coz they were so damn delicious. I should try this pancake thing next time when I get an opportunity

  52. Love that you found a place with great Vietnamese good! When I visited Vietnam I fell in love with the food and the culture! I have yet to find a Vietnamese place I love in NYC.

    I SO wish I would have taken a cooking class in Hoi An like you did- how fun!? I would be right there with you and would be quite clumsy!

  53. It’s nearly lunch time and now I’m craving for some vietnamese food too. Since I’m currently located across the world, I wouldn’t get the chance to try your featured restaurant. Oh well, I’d have to find a substitute then. Thanks for sharing your experience! šŸ™‚

  54. Vietnam is a place on my bucket list. It’s so great that they have such an authentic place like this outside of Vietnam. I always love places that have got it completely right and can transport you back to somewhere with just a taste. The memories it’s envoked are lovely. Your trip to Vietnam sounds so full of culture. Vermicelli noodles are my go to when I’m out, all the food here looks so delicious.

  55. It’s amazing how you can find authentic Asian cuisines even in cities like London albeit sometimes they don’t get enough publicity, I get it when you mean sometimes restaurants adapt their food specifically to cater to the taste of their locals, in this case, Englishmen, happens here too. šŸ™‚ I absolutely love Pho and Vietnamese stir fry noodles! I have a Vietnamese friend who loves to cook authentic dishes from her country and I absolutely love it.

  56. Vietnam is definitely on my list and your blog has made me a bit more excited about visiting the country. I’m definitely going to savor some Vietnamese delicacies on my trip. Well-written post! šŸ™‚

  57. This looks like a really good place! I haven’t been to Vietnam yet but love the food. We have a huge Vietnamese culture where I live and it’s seriously the best food ever!

  58. I visualized every wall, the scooter, sounds, the garage door and the bad. I swear I could even sense your feelings when that hostel oversold your bed. I wish I could read more of that story …
    But the restaurant in London also sounds great and the prices are reasonable.

  59. I haven’t tried Vietnam cuisine yet but I do find it really fascinating. I just love how this Little Saigon restaurant shows their faithfulness with their theme that even though it’s in London, dining in will somehow take you to Vietnam.. I love all the decors and of course, the dishes are really tempting too!

  60. I’ve never tried Vietnamese cuisine, but as you were talking about it, it seems delicious. Little Saigon just seems such a great place to eat that kind of food, and I’ve heard so much about the taste of this Viet specialities! I definitely want to try now!

  61. This made me crave for Vietnamese food. Vietnamese food for me is a fusion of healthy and delicious food. From the looks of the food, it looks and tastes like an authentic Vietnamese. Though I just hope the price is also the same with the price of the food in Vietnam as the price of food there is really cheap. But nonetheless, the food is very yummy. Hopefully I can go back to Vietnam next year. ??

  62. I loveeeee those “pancakes.” I grew up eating that and it brings back so many memories! I especially love it when they put the shrimp in the middle!

  63. Sunrise Tai Chi would have made me fall in love with here too! What an amazing experience that must have been. No wonder you fell in love with Vietnam and its food. So good to find authentic restaurants to relive it!
    lily kate x

  64. I also went to eat Vietnamese food when I visited London. And, damn , it was good! I haven’t discovered this place, but I will note it for my next visit. The food looks delicious!

  65. Yum! I love Vietnamese food. Vietnam is such a beautiful country too. I remember there was a kind-of dance-like class happening in the middle of a park in Hanoi at about 8pm at night. Of course my friends and I joined in and giggled for hours after. When in Rome (or Hanoi) šŸ˜‰

  66. I shouldn’t have read this after a long an hungry workday šŸ˜€ The food really made my mouth water. Never tried Vietnamese food though, went to the bucketlist!

  67. I never been to Vietnam, but it’s on my long journey home from Oceania. I can’t wait to experience the culture and especially the food! i used to live in London and vietnamese restaurants were among my favourites! šŸ™‚ Great post and pics!

  68. Nice story.. Even though you have tough times, travelling is nice when you have this kind of stories. I like how you use the language, and Vietnam looks interesting place. Definitely in my list.

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