Most of the time, I have a lot more fun deciding which Vietnamese desserts to buy than I do consuming them.


There is a wonderful Vietnamese eatery in Chicago called Ba Le Bakery. They make their own baguette style bread and offer a number of tasty sandwiches. My favorite is barbecue pork topped with daikon radish, cilantro and jalapeno. Though I return for the sandwiches, I spend most of my time scanning the ten feet of refrigerated cases dedicated to sweet puddings and drinks. The large plastic cups are clear and showcase various bright colored concoctions, often with odd shapes floating within. Most of the time, the staff can’t really explain to you what they taste like or what is in the drinks. For some this may be a turn off but it makes me want to sample every last one.

Lately, we have been watching recorded episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The foul-mouthed foodie travels the world exploring various cuisines. Though it isn’t the basis of the show to eat bizarre foods, he doesn’t shy away from Korean chicken butt soup or squirrel pot pie from the Ozarks. I am not easily persuaded into eating odd animal parts but I do love trying new foods and flavors.


Most of the drinks and puddings at Ba Le include various gelatinous substances , sometimes coconut milk, mung bean, tapioca, fruits, herbs and flavorings. My “swamp juice” was called Mu Chom. When I asked what it was in an effort to differentiate it from the others, the lady at the register told me, “It’s Vietnamese.” Um, thanks. The ingredients list read, sugar, jellow, pandan leave flavor, herbal leave. Hmmm

Mu Chom was overly sweet with a slimy, slick liquid that held suspended “jellies.” Though I usually enjoy pandan flavor, this dessert was not my favorite. They usually never are. But, that doesn’t seem to stop me from spending $3 on a new concoction each time I visit. Since I can’t make a living traveling the world like Anthony Bourdain, I suppose $3 buys me my own small culinary adventure right here in Chicago.

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31 Responses to “Swamp Water? No! Vietnamese Sweet Treat”

  1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Says:

    Well! That really does look like pond water full of frog eggs! But I wholeheartedly agree with you on the fun of trying new foods, even if they don’t always turn out to be delicious.

    Hooray for culinary adventure!

  2. cat Says:

    hey Caroline!

    these are basil seeds, which become gelatinous when soaked in water:

  3. stresscake Says:

    eeek. You’re braver than I. I’ve stared at this one and the one with the sprouted mung beans but can never make that jump to purchase. I need your courage beside me next time.

  4. Neil Butterfield Says:

    This type of cuisine has never really grabbed me. However your favorite sandwich sounds like a winner, I love Pork and Jalapeños. :-)

  5. Caroline Says:

    Thank you Cat, I love the link…

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  7. Dana Says:

    I think it is so important to be an intrepid culinary adventurer. Trying new things is so great! Those guys look like little froggy eggs, I bet the texture was really interesting.

  8. Christina Says:

    I love traveling the world with Tony too! I also love trying new things and being adventurous. So envious that you have a shop like that to sample new treats. Thanks for sharing that with us!

  9. Stolk Says:

    “Jellow” means tadpole in Vietnamese. What, you didn’t know? Apparently they can live in your stomach for years.

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  11. Culinary School: Three Semesters of Life, Learning, and Loss of Blood Says:

    We played with a lot of food at cooking school, but nothing like this! Such fun.

  12. michelle Says:

    there are some great ones – i promise !!! i am half vietnamese and growing up my mom and her friends would make all these treats – i never remember the names so i would /still do make up my own ” american ” names for them …. so i suggest trying ” baby balls” – they are white balls (that usuaully have a bean/ginger filling but when they run out of filling the just roll up bite sized ones ) in a sweet sauce with a little coconut milk on top , the sweet rice with beans that might be blacked eyed peas in them and ” grass milk ” the cocunut milk with green jello like pieces and some type other stuff mixed in

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  14. Cait Says:

    I am from Chicago, too. I have visited Ba Le, (I live in Rogers Park), but I also highly recommend Nhu Lan Bakery. It is in Lincoln Square, and now I really want some of their amazing sandwiches.

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