Ever since I left Vietnam two years ago, I’ve been longing to go back. The people are warm and engaging and the landscape is absolutely stunning. The food? No words. From the minute you step out onto the street, the sizzle and smell of street food all around you calls your name.
I’ve been back in Vietnam for a week now, exploring all types of flavors and dishes. Honestly, I’ve been busier eating the food than taking pictures of it, but here’s a look at both fantastic and unique things that might cross your plate if you visit Vietnam.
Northwest of Hanoi not far from the border with China is Sapa. People come to Sapa not for the food but to hike and explore the surrounding mountains and hill tribe villages. I was hoping to find something interesting to eat and discovered a restaurant featuring local tribal dishes.
The restaurant Good Morning View (which incidentally had no view at all) featured some of these local dishes:
I couldn’t bring myself to be adventurous enough to eat horse (All the lemongrass and chili in the world couldn’t cover up what I’d be eating.) Instead I opted for a bamboo rice dish. Sticky rice is stuffed into a piece of bamboo and then smoked. They often squeeze juice from the bamboo plant over the rice, turning it green. My rice was mixed with black rice leaves, which gave it a deep dark, almost blue, color.
A Cold Bowl of Soup
We spent a couple of hours riding motorbikes the first day in Saigon then stopped for a typical snack called suong sao. Basil seeds are dropped into a mixture of sugar and water. The seeds slowly expand and you can see a tiny black center inside. It’s nothing more than a cool soup with a slightly gelatinous consistency, but it was refreshing on a hot humid day.
A Hot Bowl of Pho
For breakfast, you can forget the cereal and toast. People here start out the day with a big bowl of pho. Every morning patrons sitting on short squat plastic stools that line the streets and eat this traditional breakfast. Fresh herbs like basil and mint top rice noodles in piping hot broth. Sprinkle some chili sauce and ground peanuts on top and you’re set.
The French colonized Vietnam until the mid-1950s. Their influence on Vietnamese cuisine though still lingers on. With that in mind, I decided to try out one of Hanoi’s better known French restaurants.
Across from a tattoo parlor and sandwiched between two narrow buildings, Green Tangerine looks rather ordinary. Inside the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and romantic. The wait staff spoke Vietnamese and French, but very little English. Getting any clarification on the menu was difficult. What I succeeded in ordering was delicious.
If you’re not in the mood for pho, fresh herbs, or fancy French food, you can always find plenty of places to grab a burger, pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken (who knew, right?) in Vietnam. But why would you? Food is one way to discover culture. When you eat local food, you learn what the people around you love, what they were brought up with and even a little of the history that comes along with the food. All that, besides of course amazing flavors, make that an adventure worth taking.
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