Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vietnamese Gastronomical Delights (part 1)

Good, fresh food. That is what I think of first when I recount our recent trip to Vietnam. For those of you who are fans of the sweet, salty, and oftentimes fishy combination, Vietnam has your number! Or if straight up sweet is your thing, close your eyes, throw some đồng, and you'll hit at least one shop or shack selling something that will make your teeth ache.

We started our culinary adventure in Hanoi, on top of the hustle and bustle at City View Cafe. We were weary from our 18 hours of traveling. We were sticky from the humidity. We were fearing for our lives every time we crossed the street.

In short, we needed drinks.

Fruit shakes are the way to go in Vietnam. Traditionally, they are made just from fruit, lots of sugar (you can request less sugar or no sugar), and ice. That's it! I decided months ago that the first thing to touch my lips in Vietnam would be an avocado shake. And it was. Later, my fruit shake of choice was dragon fruit.

We also had our first snack: the ever present spring rolls. Every city has its own version of this fried piece of goodness, and it was my job to sample them in every city. A tough job, I know. At the very least, these rolls had pork. Oftentimes, other morsels would be included like shrimp, mung bean noodles, and carrots.

We laughed a the craziness below us, until we realized that we would have to be a part of it again once the meal was over. We ordered another round of beer. That's when I took this video of the traffic below. Look in the upper right hand corner of this video and watch the person cross the street. It is as sketchy as it looks! And we had to do this many times over!

Our next photo worthy meal was dinner that night at 69 Bar-Restaurant.

The highlight was these fresh spring rolls with fried catfish, dill, and a crispy rice paper roll. This was the first time I have ever had rice paper rolls that were supposed to be crunchy - our server was adamant that we ate them all within 4 minutes because he said after the rolls were soggy, the dish wouldn't be good. For the record, I think we finished these in 3 minutes.

This dish, thit kho, was one that I enjoyed in the US several times. It is pork belly (yes, the same meat used for bacon) cut into thick slabs and braised in coconut juice, coconut, caramelized sugar, and the ever present fish sauce. I've made it before, too, with great success. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to make it as good as the restaurants in Vietnam. Why? Well, for starters, I can't go into my backyard and pick some fresh coconuts.

Oh, the fruits of the sea were plentiful in Vietnam. At Cha Ca La Vong, they only serve one dish, appropriately named cha ca. How to describe this? It is fish sautéed in butter, then piled with fresh dill and green onions. They bring the greens in a separate bowl and mix them on the skillet at your table. When you have eaten most of the greens, another heaping bowl of greens appears, and is also dumped into the skillet and lightly wilted. Cha ca is served with peanuts, nuoc mam (fish sauce), and rice noodles.

If you feel that your libido needs a boost, there were plenty of snake liquors that supposedly do the trick. Traditionally, only men drink these medicinal liquors, but they've become a tourist commodity.

After a couple of days in Hanoi, we ventured out to Halong Bay for a break from the smogginess of Hanoi and the obnoxious honking horns. We lived on a boat for two nights and boy did we eat large. Our seafood plucked from the bay daily.

This fried fish is topped with nuoc mam, tomatoes, white and green onions, and a touch of sugar.

May I wax poetic about the cucumbers? These cucumbers were little bites of heaven. They were dressed with chillies, raw garlic, sugar, and nuoc mam. There were also some of the sweetest shrimps, dusted lightly with tapioca starch and fried, and steamed clams that tasted like little bites of the sea. Unfortunately for you, I was too busy eating them to take their pictures.

Sigh, it is so fitting that my 100th post (yeah!) is about food. I'm hopelessly obsessed with all that passes through my lips. There will be one more food post on Vietnam, one food post for Thailand, one for the cute beasts I encountered, one for my socks (they get their own post!), and then some posts of the scenery. Ha, only I would save the sites of Southeast Asia for last.

I'll end this first food series with this:

Can you guess what this is?


  1. First!!

    Wow a lot of that food look out of this world. Lots of good info and great pictures.

  2. I have no clue as to what that could be! Isn't the label basically saying that they didn't do much to it? Is it like a APPLE or something?

    I cannot believe all the different things you were able to experience. And the traffic....HELL TO THE NO!!! That's insane! I wonder if they have more or fewer traffic accidents. Those people have to be alert just to stay alive!

    My dad was saying that he has some awesome scenery shots from the 60's when he was over there. He said that it was a BEAUTIFUL place and that the food was INCREDIBLE!!! He's going to help 11YO with some of the historical pices of her least as far as the war goes!

    I cannot wait to see the next post! 11YO will be studying them as well....


  3. Good lord, that traffic looks like everyday Lima traffic insanity! There IS a lot of Asian influence here in Peru, but I thought it was mostly in the food...guess not!

    I'm glad you're back, glad I'm back, and I'll get caught up on all the reading I've missed for a month, then I'll post.

    The food looks YUMMY!!



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