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.
Everything is beautiful in Vietnam (and all drinks come with two twisty straws).
Mr. Pho Master, please make me your pho – with the melt in your mouth noodles and a heavenly-scented life-affirming broth.
Unfortunately, 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.
Upon our arrival at one hotel, we were greeted with a dragonfruit juice box.
Choosing breakfast on the streets of Ha Noi.
Fluffy-chewy steamed banh bao with pork and quail egg. Beats an Egg McMuffin any day.
Fresh baked French rolls for banh mi.
Making banh mi with pate, jalapenos, pickled veggies, and chili sauce.
Pork pate banh mi.
Oh, 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.
The Vietnamese have a lovely culture of stopping your day for a tasty beverage. We indulged in many. Like this iced hot chocolate.
Every 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.
And 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….
A 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.
Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and cha gio (fried spring rolls) with tasty nu’oc cham for dipping.
Pho Ha Noi. The flavorful beef broth is punched up with fresh herbs and limes, and yes, even an egg yolk.
Ca kho to: caramelized fish with chilies, cooked and served in a clay pot that helps develop the thick gooey sauce.
Can 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.
The white rose dumplings of Hoi An: translucent and ephemeral dumplings with shrimp and topped with fried onion.
Artfully plated garlic chili prawns.
Money bags in Da Nang: crispy wonton bundles packed with juicy shrimp.
Bia, bia, bia.
Our 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.
When in doubt, get the seafood. You will not go wrong.
The market in Hoi An.
In the Hoi An market, lunch time means com ga – chicken rice.
Everywhere you go, you have to try the soups. Here, a subtle and delicate shrimp and egg soup.
And here, a more hearty sweet and spicy shrimp soup.
Did I mention bia, bia and bia? They’re so cheap you can try them all.
Beautiful Hoi An is chock full of eating delights around every winding corner.
For 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….)
Bun 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!
Thinner than paper banh cuon: ghostly rice crepes stuffed with minced mushrooms and pork.
T0o many peppers to choose from.
Cha ca from Ha Noi: fish grilled in turmeric and served with a generous amount of dill.
Bo xao rau: grilled beef with beautiful veggies.
Local 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.
That was just the first course: caramelized pork, seafood pho, and braised beef to round out those bellies.
Even better than nachos: crab and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served on deep fried shatteringly crisp wonton skins.
In 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.