travel

eating vietnam

My first thought when boarding the plane leaving Vietnam: how soon can I get back here?

Vietnam is for eaters. Food is not mere sustenance here: food is art, food is culture, food is family, food is heritage, food is nature, food is “hello” and “welcome” and also “thank you.”

Vietnamese food is as different in the North from the South as it is from the city to the countryside, but in every street-food stall, artisan bistro and hotel cafeteria you will be spoiled with incredibly fresh and flavorful ingredients treated with respect. And luckily for me, it hits all my favorite tastes in one blow: sour, salty, spicy and sweet.
P2199661Everything is beautiful in Vietnam (and all drinks come with two twisty straws).

_2169480-001Mr. Pho Master, please make me your pho – with the melt in your mouth noodles and a heavenly-scented life-affirming broth.

_2169484-001Unfortunately, I was ill for my first few days in Vietnam. I found that loading up on these gentle carbs for breakfast gave me back some pep in my step: rice porridge (congee) with shrimp,  pho noodle soup without meat but with kaffir lime/chili sauce/fish sauce/basil and cilantro, and the fluffiest egg fried rice.

P2169434-001Upon our arrival at one hotel, we were greeted with a dragonfruit juice box.

_2209709Choosing breakfast on the streets of Ha Noi.

_2209718Fluffy-chewy steamed banh bao with pork and quail egg. Beats an Egg McMuffin any day.

_2209703Fresh baked French rolls for banh mi.

_2209702Making banh mi with pate, jalapenos, pickled veggies, and chili  sauce.

_2209707Pork pate banh mi.

_2209723Oh, it’s so sloppy to tear in half, but its so tasty in your mouth. The best breakfast sando of all: omelet banh mi with all the spicy, tart fixin’s.

_2199677The Vietnamese have a lovely culture of stopping your day for a tasty beverage. We indulged in many. Like this iced hot chocolate.

_2199610Every few hours, B and Adam would grab a ca phe sua da (an intense and brilliant Vietnamese iced coffee, with condensed milk) for the chill, the sugar, and the caffeine. At night, they’d take theirs hot.

_2199611And throughout the day, we’d load up on “healthy drinks”: fresh fruit blends and yogurt smoothies. I was always partial to the limeades. These also came with two straws, but they were never the twisty ones….

P2199630A typical afternoon snack, surrounded by a multitude of glasses per person: alcoholic beverage, fresh fruit drink, water, and then a iced or hot coffee to finish.

_2209764Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and cha gio (fried spring rolls) with tasty nu’oc cham for dipping.

_2209771Pho Ha Noi. The flavorful beef broth is punched up with fresh herbs and limes, and yes, even an egg yolk.

P2199657Ca kho to: caramelized fish with chilies, cooked and served in a clay pot that helps develop the thick gooey sauce.

_2179520Can not wait to have this again: banh xeo is a light-as-air crispy crepe stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts, and served piping hot.

_2179523The white rose dumplings of Hoi An: translucent and ephemeral dumplings with shrimp and topped with fried onion.

P2199651Artfully plated garlic chili prawns.

P2199658Nutty noodles.

P2169444-001Money bags in Da Nang: crispy wonton bundles packed with juicy shrimp.

P2169440-001Bia, bia, bia.

_2169450-001Our first night in Da Nang we didn’t even have Vietnamese food , but it was irrelevant because even the Italian fare was amazing when you have an ocean of fresh seafood nearby. Here, a quite delicious spaghetti frutti di mare.

_2169447-001When in doubt, get the seafood. You will not go wrong.

_2199620The market in Hoi An.
_2199613In the Hoi An market, lunch time  means com ga – chicken rice.
_2179519Everywhere you go, you have to try the soups. Here, a subtle and delicate shrimp and egg soup.

_2179525And here, a more hearty sweet and spicy shrimp soup.

_2179517Did I mention bia, bia and bia? They’re so cheap you can try them all.

P2179572Beautiful Hoi An is chock full of eating delights around every winding corner.

P2179598For dessert, a passionfruit pannacotta (with a ca phe sua and a fresh mango smoothie and a water and a kaffir lime margarita on the side….)

_2209788-001Bun rieu cua is my favorite thing that I ate in Vietnam: a salty sweet tomato broth heavy with sweet crab, egg, fried tofu and slippery rice noodles. Come to mama!

_2209793-001Thinner than paper banh cuon: ghostly rice crepes stuffed with minced mushrooms and pork.

_2209784-001T0o many peppers to choose from.

_2209798-001

Cha ca from Ha Noi: fish grilled in turmeric and served with a generous amount of dill.

_2209800Bo xao rau: grilled beef with beautiful veggies.

2013-02-18 19.40.04Local specialties in central Vietnam: mee quang turmeric noodles with shrimp, home made braised tofu, and cao lau udon-like chewy noodles with pork. The tofu seems simple enough, but this was the best bean curd I’ve ever tasted: braised with soy and ginger for savory flavor, and crispy (not greasy) on the outside with a creamy molten-hot center that melts in your mouth. The secret to authentic cao lau is that the noodles have to be cooked in the water from a single ancient well from the town of Hoi An.

2013-02-18 20.24.36That was just the first course: caramelized pork, seafood pho, and braised beef to round out those bellies.

P2199635Even better than nachos: crab and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served on deep fried shatteringly crisp wonton skins.

P2199633In the hot, hot middle of the day the most refreshing thing is a seafood salad. Here: lightly poached prawns with pomelo fruit (like a grapefruit) with peanuts, basil, and mint.

Get your fresh fruit on the go.

By roadside eats, I mean right there on the road.

And on every sidewalk…

 Day and night: at all hours, there will be eating.

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