The Food: A Gustatory Exploration of Vietnam

Because food is something I’m just incurably obsessed and passionate about, I decided to have my last post about Ricky and I’s vacation be a sum-up of all the things we ate.

Some of these photos you might have seen before, but let’s just picture it like a family photo of sorts: these shots are having a delicious culinary get-together and they all want to be on the same page (literally).

Thus, without further ado, The Food.

For our first real meal in Vietnam, Ricky and I went to a super fancy restaurant where meals costs – gasp! – $10 a plate. We ordered two and were not disappointed.

For our first real meal in Vietnam, Ricky and I went to a super fancy restaurant where meals costs - *gasp!* - $10 a plate. We ordered two and were not disappointed...
Ricky with fancy napkin flower.

First dish was chicken fried rice served in a hot stoneware bowl. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Not greasy at all, and with such a fine balance between flavours that you could taste each thing distinctly and as a whole. Just perfectly salty enough so that no added soy sauce or flavouring was necessary.

Chicken fried rice.
Chicken fried rice.

Our second dish was a seafood noodle platter. The seafood – including squid, shrimp, and what I believe were scallops – were doused in a sweet and sour sticky sauce that soaked into the dry noodles until they were supple yet still satisfyingly crunchy. Served with a side of bok choy.

Seafood noodles.
Seafood noodles.

Next we ventured into street food. Starving as we were, we decided to stop at the first stall that looked appetizing (which meant we stopped at the first stall we passed because everything looked so ridiculously appetizing).

The menu being entirely in Vietnamese, we randomly pointed to the first thing on the signboard.

We ordered the first thing on the menu.
We ordered the first thing on the menu.

Our waiter nodded and went to his stall to fill up two big bowls of soup for us.

Filling up two bowls of soup for Ricky and I.
Filling up two bowls of soup for Ricky and I.

When he set it down in front of us, it looked absolutely divine.

Our soup.
Our soup.

We weren’t sure exactly what it was, but we think it might have been pig foot soup. It was full of unexpected tastes and textures – fried tofu, that black jelly thing to the right (which was amazing), and the gelatine of the pig’s foot.

Next to us was a crate of flavour adjustment bottles including soy sauce, limes, fish sauce, hot sauce, and peanuts. Loving it as it was, however, I didn’t touch any of those (although I did dress mine up by adding some thai basil and shredded lemon grass curls).

Over the next few days, we sampled foods from inside and outside the Ben Thanh Market. One of the first things we tried was Bahn Mi. Although we didn’t get a picture of the one we ate in the market, here’s a photo of a stall selling them on the sidewalk outside Ben Thanh.

Bahn Mi being prepared.
Bahn Mi being prepared.

In the market, we also ordered some spring rolls which came with a rich and creamy peanut sauce.

Our spring rolls with chilli-peanut dipping sauce and Saigon beer.
Our spring rolls with chilli-peanut dipping sauce and Saigon beer.

They were super delicious.

I later ordered an egg noodle and beef ball soup. I got a shot of the noodles all pressed against the glass and the lady making them even posed for me.

This woman saw I was taking a picture of the noodles and posed for me :)
This woman saw I was taking a picture of the noodles and posed for me 🙂
Egg noodle and beef ball soup.
Egg noodle and beef ball soup.

The beef balls maybe weren’t my favourite thing ever, but the egg noodles on the other hand were superbly fresh. The broth too was incredibly flavourful – I don’t know how they make it so delicious, but I’d steal their recipe given half a chance.

Having had a lot of soup, I eventually decided I wanted some straight up noodles and proceeded to order some at the outdoor market (set up like a huge party tent from a county fair or barbecue). I got a generous serving of beef fried noodles canoodling with oodles of veggies and marinating in a fragrant sauce, all of which was decorated with fresh cracked peppercorns.

Beef noodle stir fry with bok choy.
Beef noodle stir fry with bok choy.

While eating this thoroughly satisfying dish, I was able to peer at all the stalls around us. One was particularly visually appealing with several plucked chickens and their gizzards pressed against the glass.

In the process of watching them, the woman grabbed one and hacked it in half with a cleaver. Her coworker then barbecued it on a low-lying grill set over hot coals directly on the ground.

Chickens and gizzards.
Chickens and gizzards.

There were also spring rolls, giant prawns and a whole stack of plates at the ready.

Street food stall with giant prawns on top, spring rolls below, and a stack of bowls at the ready.
Street food stall with giant prawns on top, spring rolls below, and a stack of bowls at the ready.

We of course had to sample the spring rolls (not being able to get enough of these while there), so we ordered some as a side.

So fresh and lovely, served with a soy sauce based chilli dip.
So fresh and lovely, served with a soy sauce based chilli dip.

And it wasn’t just the food at the market either, but the food we took away! The fruit was bountiful and lush, like one would expect from a tropical paradise or a Bachic revelling.

I mean look at this plump dragonfruit - just one of many foods we indulged in at the fresh produce section.
I mean look at this plump dragonfruit – just one of many foods we indulged in at the fresh produce section.

There were baskets and tubs of mangos, mandarins, durians, sugarapples, pineapples, dragon eyes, lychees, mangosteen, jackfruit, avocados, coconuts, bananas, apples, papaya – all displayed with great care to give a truly indulgent experience to the senses.

Lychees.
Lychees.
Mandarins.
Mandarins.
Mangosteen.
Mangosteen.
Woman selling her fresh fruit.
Woman selling her fresh fruit.

Then of course there were the drinkable coconuts which were sold chilled and in abundance. It was hard to keep from ordering one after the other (too much of this great thing and you might find yourself sitting on the toilet with a case of the runs), but we certainly consumed them to the wisest maximum capacity we could.

Coconuts ready to be cut open and served with bendy straws.
Coconuts ready to be cut open and served with bendy straws.

We were also introduced to some new foods, like during our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels when our guide had us try steamed tapioca and lemongrass tea.

Steamed tapioca with salty peanut dipping plate.
Steamed tapioca with salty peanut dipping plate.
Lemongrass tea to accompany steamed tapioca.
Lemongrass tea to accompany steamed tapioca.

But of course – what have I left out? Pho.

Pho from chain fast food restaurant. Surprisingly delicious since it was probably the equivalent to a Burger King for pho.
Pho from chain fast food restaurant. Surprisingly delicious since it was probably the equivalent to a Burger King for pho.

We had so much pho.

Street food pho - delectably succulent and fresh.
Street food pho – delectably succulent and fresh.

The above picture is from a street food tent much like the one I ate my beef fried noodles in and was probably the most delicious beef pho I had on my trip. Also like the beef fried noodles tent, every table was set with a square crate of fish sauce, uber hot chilli peppers, limes, and pepper paste of varying degrees of spicy.

Adjust your soup to your taste using any or all of these ingredients.
Adjust your soup to your taste using any or all of these ingredients.

And of course we made our own chicken pho during our organic farm cooking class.

Our broth simmering away, spices wrapped in a cloth to preserve the recipe's secrets.
Our broth simmering away, spices wrapped in a cloth to preserve the recipe’s secrets.
Chicken pho with fish sauce and thai basil.
Chicken pho with fish sauce and thai basil.
Mmm steamy pho ga! (Okay now I'm just torturing you guys with pictures of pho).
Mmm steamy pho ga! (Okay now I’m just torturing you guys with pictures of pho).

During our cooking class, we also made green papaya salad with prawns with a fresh and zesty orange dressing. This was topped with sesame seeds and peanuts and decorated with red chillies (don’t recommend eating them though unless you want to die).

Green papaya salad with prawns. Also those red chillis decorating the edge were insanely spicy.
Green papaya salad with prawns. Also those red chillis decorating the edge were insanely spicy.

Lastly we made barbecued banana which was caramelized as it was fried in honey, and then drizzled with a vanilla coconut sauce. Also sprinkled with peanuts and sesame seeds, it was just heaven.

Just looking at this for too long makes me tremble with desire.
Just looking at this for too long makes me tremble with desire.

And there you have it! The food of Vietnam.

Sadly for Cambodia I can’t do the same because I 1) never had my camera on me during meals, and 2) got food poisoning and wasn’t up to eating much period.

It was truly a pleasure to be in Vietnam though, and my respect for its culinary brilliance has skyrocketed.

Ricky and I thoroughly enjoyed our vacation, and even though we had to say goodbye to the country with heavy hearts, we did so knowing it wouldn’t really be goodbye forever. Although it’s far off in the future, we plan on going back to teach English.

Our flight back was quite decent (aside from a mishap with Cebu Airlines who insisted we were only allowed one carry-on luggage of 7kg despite their website assuring us we had an allowance of two for 15kg each), and our layover in the Philippines was a much more reasonable four hours instead of twenty-four. The staff was even kind enough to walk us through our transfer.

When we touched back down at Incheon Airport, it was with the heaving sighs of regret that our vacation was already at an end and that we’d have to go back to living in the drab, colourless world of Korea. And yet we were still invigorated enough not to let the place get us down and to work hard at getting out of here so we can continue to explore the more wonderful parts of the world.

And with that, I bring my vacation posts to a close.

Until next time!


6 thoughts on “The Food: A Gustatory Exploration of Vietnam

  1. WOW all the food ! Deelish. So what did you eat the next day in Vietnam. It’s still winter here so all those soup pix make me want to curl up with some of them to keep me warm inside and out.
    p.s. Great food photos
    p.p.s. I hope you return someday and take more food photos to delight our senses, taste buds and your tummy.

    Like

  2. Fellow Chungbuk teacher popping in to say hello!

    I enjoy all of your posts, but just had to comment on this one. I believe that what I eat during my travels leaves a lasting mark on my overall view of a trip, and these pictures brought back a flood of memories from my recent trip to Vietnam. Did you guys also try the iced coffees? They’re crack. Crack, I tell you.

    Like

    1. Yes it was amazing!! We couldn’t stop drinking them, that’s how much like crack they were. But yeah all the food was unbelievable. I’m glad it gave you a good old dose of nostalgia 🙂 thanks for the comment!

      Like

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