Vietnam has the most understated assortment of flavours in all of Southeast Asia.
While Thailand rocks heavy, sweet noodles, Cambodia is all about thick curries and Laos loves a broth soup, Vietnam does wonders with raw fruit. Stick with me here, but in many dishes raw fruit like mangoes, papaya or pineapple are shredded or sliced into salads for a sharp and crunchy kick.
I voiced my love of raw fruit salad in this post of my favourite Southeast Asian dishes. A recipe I had the joy of making at Ms Vy's Morning Glory Cooking School in Hoi An. As a class we took a tour around the market place, buying our ingredients and trying foreign fruits and vegetables, tasting tangy lemongrass ice-cream.
In the lesson we made crispy pork pancakes banh Xeo, and shrimp mousse cabbage leaf parcels in broth Canh Bap Cai Nhoi Thit, while Ms Vy embellished the recipes with tales of impressing her mother-in-law with the perfect broth.
Regrettably, the helpers employed to bring out ingredients and equipment would take the spoons out our hands and finish off the dish before handing it back to us and declaring it finished.
Excuse me?! I didn't ask for help and we're not attending a cooking class to look pretty in an apron for Instagram (although I'm sure there was a lot of that going on too). It was my only issue with the class; cooking is an individual's art and I was irritated that they butted in.
Vietnam's national dish, pho pronounced 'fuh', is a therapeutic beef and rice noodle broth with oodles of fragrant herbs.
Look for side street restaurants to find your pho, the little hideaways where all the tuk tuk and taxi drivers go to eat lunch. That's where you'll unearth the tastiest and freshest bowls of pho, for $2 a serving. I made a game of seeking out joints with just locals feasting. I sat down by the window and watched as other sightseers spied me and began to flow in. Where there were no foreigners previously, now half the customers were foreign.
The French colonised Vietnam for 60 years with the intention of introducing modern political ideas, social reforms and industrial methods (along with economic gain for themselves) and all that remains of the French in Vietnam now are baguettes and a few pretty buildings. Good job, France.
When you’re sick of noodles (I thought I could eat Asian forever) these stuffed baguettes are known as bánh mì, this French/Vietnamese showdown of flavours works rather well with cold cut, spicy pork, aromatic coriander and pâté.
On our tour of Halong Bay we were inundated with food, we rolled own fresh spring rolls called goi cuon, banqueted on Vietnamese BBQ pork drank many a cup of syrupy condensed milk coffee so sweet it borders on dessert and pancakes smothered in yet more condensed milk.
In a hostel I was staying in, one of the cleaning ladies was making her dinner in the kitchen and she had a bowl of cooked meat on the bench. I asked her what it was and although she didn't speak English, she gestured that I should try some with an encouraging nod. When I tried it she threw her head back and cackled.
What did I just eat? Possibly dog. I'll never know.
While sitting on the bus a motorcycle with puppies in a cage strapped to the back zoomed past. They were packed in to the point that none of them could move and were obviously on the way to a few restaurants in Hanoi. Unethical but it explains why I saw none of the stray dogs that plague the rest of Southeast Asia
Speaking of odd meats, I heard from fellow backpackers that eating ostrich is a thing in Vietnam so we walked the streets seeking a Big Bird burger without doing any research on where to find it.
To get past the language barrier we drew a picture of an ostrich on a little notepad and approached people on the street with it. We brought a little more joy to the world but achieved nothing more.
Just to finish on a not so weird note here's the recipe of the Sour Mango Salad from the Morning Glory cooking school in Hoi An, Vietnam
Sour Mango Salad
200g of firm, unripe (or green if you can get it) mango, finely sliced
1 cup of onion, finely sliced
1 1/2 cups of mixed Vietnamese mint and regular mint leaves
2 tsp of sesame seeds - toasted
1 Tblsp of vegetable oil
2 Tblsp of fried shallots
1 Tblsp of lime juice
1 Tblsp white sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp each of crushed red chilli and garlic
In a bowl mix all the ingredients together. That's it. Divide between four bowls and serve as an appetiser with prawn crackers.
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