After our stint in Halong Bay, we took an overnight train to Hue in central Vietnam. Hue is often regarded as the food capitol of Vietnam, mostly the of fussy emperor who demanded that he never ate the same dish twice. Like I've mentioned before, more than 1400 of the 1700 Vietnamese regional dishes originated here.
Sauces are big in Hue. Every dish has its own sauce, and in my experience, everybody wanted to make sure that you ate the food the proper way. Personally, I found it endearing that people in the restaurants wanted you to have maximum food enjoyment, and I got used to the people placing food in front of us, then hovering around and searching our faces for clues as to how we were enjoying the dish. I learned quickly that Oooohing and Ahhhhhing over food or flashing a quick "thumbs-up" (if my mouth was full) would stop some of the hovering.
While we were walking along, trying to get our bearings, the constant drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. We were trying to find a place to eat, and I noticed a woman kneading dough, rolling it out, and cutting it into stubby noodles. Score! We took a seat at what looked like the garden area of someone's house, and waited. Soon, this came to us:
It was a steaming bowl of hand cut noodles in a chicken broth. The broth came with plenty of cilantro, sliced chilies, a slice of lime, and some chili sauce. There was also a basket of hard boiled quail eggs. This had to be one of the best meals we had, and the cost for all three of us was $1.25.
Another dish I had to try was the bahn khoai (happy crepe) at Lac Thien. I should have taken a picture of it when it first came out, but I couldn't resist digging in first.
These cakes were savory, and they had bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork all wrapped up in a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside crepe. The accompanying sauce was made from ripe bananas, peanuts, nuoc mam, and (of course) sugar. Mr. Le from Lac Thien, made us some clever bottle openers to take home and let us browse through 3 photo albums of people from all over the world in front of famous monuments using his beer opener. We got the hint - I have his address and will be sending him some photos shortly.
Next stop: Nha Trang, via the most hellish bus trip ever. Since Nha Trang is nestled against the South China Sea, fresh seafood was the only thing to order. While wondering around, I spotted an outdoor restaurant that smelled promising. And it was! I had no idea until then how strong the Chinese influence was on Vietnamese food until then (I later learned that one of the emperors fancied all things Chinese, from its cuisines to its architecture). This was a seafood hot pot, served with a cold rice noodles.
The bahn mis (sandwiches) in Vietnam are sold on almost every street corner. The interesting thing about Nha Trang was that the French bread used for these sandwiches had some serious chew to it - not at all like the light as air bread we had in Hanoi and Hue. Apparently, Nha Trang prides itself on its stick-to-your-ribs bread, and locals claim that the bread is hearty because it fuels their fisherman.
In Nha Trang, I also ventured into a supermarket to buy some snacks. I love trying out different chips and drinks. This time, I ended up with corn milk and dragon fruit juice.
The corn milk was made from milk, corn, and sugar. It tasted like the milk left at the bottom of a cereal bowl after eating Cap'n Crunch. Is that a good thing? You tell me. The other drink was too chunky to be good, at least for me. I think about half of the can was full of dragon fruit chunks that didn't taste as good as the fresh dragon fruit shakes I had been enjoying. Unfortunately, I did not drink all of it that night and the ants found it in the morning. The boy, bleary eyed, woke up and saw the drink on our nightstand covered in bugs, so he dumped it into our sink. Bad idea. The fruit chunks ended up clogging up our sink and I woke up to him swearing while poking a hangar down the drain. I don't know if I could ever drink this again.
Our last stop in Vietnam was:
Technically, this was Ho Chi Minh City, but that is not a good name for a beer now, is it? One day in Saigon was not enough, especially since the street food here was the best in my experience. How about some waffles flavored with pandan leaf?
Or some pho bo? Former US president Clinton ate at this pho establishment (Pho 2000), and his picture was plastered all over the restaurant.
Feel like some fruit? Rambutans were in season and we bought a bag.
Upon reflection, I probably think that Saigon has the best food because of the food revelation I had here:
O Be is located inside the main market. When I saw the display in the window, I had to stop.
I ordered a dish that was my most memorable meal. It was round rice noodles sprinkled with fried pork skin, dried shrimp powder, chili, and two different types of fish cake all smothered in nuoc mam. It sounds so simple, but there was an art to assembling this meal with the right proportion of sweet, hot, and salty. If I could go back and have only one meal, this would be it.
For those of you following along, the description in my last post was for jackfruit chips. What the heck is glucoza and why do I need to be protected from it?
Is it time for lunch yet? I'm starving!