Vietnamese Food: Can I Fit It All Into One Post?

Friends of mine who managed to make it all the way down south tell me that it’s a veggie paradise down there.  They say it’s like Thailand and Taiwan, where every town has at least one clearly-labeled veg restaurant where the food is good, the staff is friendly, and the prices are legit.  I didn’t run into too many of those during our thousand or so kilometers from Hanoi and southwards, but I still managed to eat well.  Not so well that I could say I really miss Vietnamese food, but well enough that I wouldn’t let food apprehensions keep me from going back, as they almost did the first time.  Live and learn.  And eat.

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Every couple days or so, an ad-hoc restaurant appeared on the corner across from our hotel in Hanoi.  All the food was premade (where???) and set out in a glass case.  For around a dollar, depending on how much you ate, whether or not meat was included, and how much the lady in charge liked you that day (possible correlation to (not) having showered?), you could get a whole big plate full of goodness.  No seasoning to speak of, but if peanuts are involved, I’m happy.

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Steamed sweet potatoes and other miscellaneous tubers.  I regret not having tried them all.

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Oooh, fried stuff.  Sweet potato cakes, corn cakes, fishballs….

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Xoi, the one Vietnamese food I woke up thinking about.  Sticky rice cooked with Gac Fruit (whence the red color), thouen topped with herbs, vegetables, and fried garlic crispies.  Pulled pork, too, if you’d like.  Cheap, easy, quick, portable (if you’ve got a camping pot), often served in banana leaves, and, best of all, easy to pronounce and thus, track down.

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Xoi’s not always cooked with gac.  Sometimes it’s served white, with msg and peanuts on top and an omelette on the side.

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Xoi v3 – I think I’ll name it “xoi gorp.”  Barley, corn, peanuts, sesame means guaranteed energy all day long.

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Xoi v4 – with black rice and salty bean paste.

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We try to enjoy the local food as much as we can but, shameful as it may be, no cyclist can deny it: our eyes light up at the sight of an old lady making egg sandwiches by the side of the road.  Baguettes, scrambled eggs, some veg, and msg-laced chili sauce, all for $0.50.

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Shaky Numero Uno!

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A welcome addition to any meal / beer.

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No seasoning.

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Tomato and egg soup at Ben En National Park.  Not too bad.

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Also from the kitchen at Ben En: perhaps the best veggie spring rolls I had in all of Vietnam.  Ultra thin-n-crispy rice paper wrap with a nice assortment of finely julienned random veg in the middle.

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Where there are tourists, there will also be banana pancakes.  Or, at least, bananas on pancakes.

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The most counterintuitive food: rice, ground into powder, made into noodles, then mashed back together.  Served with minimal condiments, eaten with fish sauce.  Why bother?

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Hey, it’s the grossest thing I’ve eaten since that goat brain in Zhengzhou.  Can you tell what it is?

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Animal, vegetable, mineral?  Some slightly suspicious striations…

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Some gesticulating and body language clarifies: those were indeed worms in my porridge.  Ewwwwwouwwwwwwwwwww.

Actually, if I could have kept my eyes closed the whole time, I don’t think I would have found it disgusting.

As it was, I was afraid I’d puke all day long.

Whatever you do, don’t order “Chao Luon.”

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Some Vietnamese pappadums to help you choke down those worms.

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Lady and the Tramp, Vietnamese style.

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Vietnam saw the continued growth of my coconut addiction.  I now generally have one on me at all times.  Refreshing water, filling flesh, nice stool the next day, and an excuse to embrace my primal side and bash something on a rock.  I eat it plain, I add it to mango and banana sandwiches, I add it to salads, The only problem is that the coconut meat is so fibrous and fatty that even with me snacking constantly and three to five friends helping out from time to time, it’s hard to finish it off before it goes moldy.

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One of our two default dishes, always a big hassle to order: greens sauteed with garlic, no meat, veggie oil no lard, salt no msg, soy sauce no fish sauce.

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The other staple: fried tofu sauteed with tomatoes.  It’s generally pretty boring,

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…but turns out well when Katya marches into the kitchen, rifles through their herb selection, and insists that they add in loads of spring onions, garlic and ginger.

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Every once in a while, our kitchen raids would turn up some non-greens and non-tofu.

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Once, there was even a kohlrabi on the floor.  We had no idea how she’d cook it, but it turned out pretty well.

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Another success due to the “barge into the kitchen” method.

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They even liked us so much that they gave us a free scorched rice dessert.

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A brief digression for a few home-cooked meals.  Here’s some egg noodle soup with veggies, prepared in the lecture hall behind what we surmised to be a driver’s license testing center.

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I know this pic was featured in a previous post, but it was so awesome that I’m posting it again.  Ginger/tomato dahl, cooked up in the dark in a white sand forest opposite a Chinese graveyard.

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Couscous with tomato sauce, canned vegmeat, peanuts, sesame seeds, and nutritional yeast, cooked up at a little mom n pop shop by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

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A few selections from a nice vegetarian restaurants in Hue.  Tofu salad.

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Young jackfruit salad with pappadum.

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Banana flower and tofu salad.

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Ten points if you can identify both of these.

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The orange one was a persimmon (sometimes called a Kaki).  This one is a “milkfruit.”  A very strange contraption – kind of creamy like a custard apple, but without the multitude of seeds clogging up the inside.  You have to cut this one into quarters and then chew down to the rind; it’s just about impossible to come out of the eating experience without an annoying layer of sticky residue covering your knife, fingers, lips, and whiskers.

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Yeahhh, durian!  It took me about five tries, but I’ve finally come to love it in all of its stinky glory.

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Please don’t think we’re a bunch of jerks but…we pulled up at a nice but empty bakery, broswed a bit, freaked out at the prices ($0.50 for a mini muffin) , and started to run away.  Then one of us (not me, I swear) negotiated a deal: we’d stay on the condition that they’d give us everything at half price.

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In other “we’re a bunch of assholes” news, we talked this Hoi An (ripoff tourist town) donut vendor down from an exorbitant price to an only slightly inflated one.  Then, when other foreigners approached her, we stood by silently while she charged them twice what we were paying.  Are we awesome travelers or just straight up jerks to everyone?

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Oooh!  Hoi an has some legit food, too!  (Mostly) veggie buffet for $1 a plate in the market.  Noodles, spring rolls, greens, pickles, and an assortment of other goodies.

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Another awesome veg restaurant with a $1.25 set menu, including spring rolls and a fake drumstick made by wrapping tofu skin around lemongrass.  Clever.  Very clever.  Apparently places like this are the norm all throughout the south; unfortunately, the shakies and I cut west for Laos soon after.

Guess I’ll have to come back someday.

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One Response to Vietnamese Food: Can I Fit It All Into One Post?

  1. mingyulee says:

    AWESOME!!!! YO!!!!