It’s no casual choice my first picture of this post- we’ve been to fancier places, to top-of-the-list recommendations…but my tastiest meal to remember from the Vietnam trip was this steaming bowl of roadside Pho, the traditional and well-loved noodle soup of this amazing country.
Living and traveling, traveling and learning…what I understood at last is that it’s not about the glamorous setup, the refined esthetic of the meal, the $$$ price… What matters most is the vibe, the energy of the place and the people around you.
We had been in the saddle for hours, cruising with our Easy Riders motorbikes through the picturesque villages- and that’s when we got our lunch reward, stopping half way to My Son at this family-run small restaurant.
We don’t really eat meat, so while our guide was having his Pho the traditional way, with boiled beef, we chose ours with extra vegetables and omelette (the soup base is flavor-rich bone broth simmered for hours, so that doesn’t make us hardcore vegetarians or anything. We just avoid the meat chunks 😅) . That’s a spoonful of chili jam on top, and Pho comes with a side plate of fresh herbs and shaved banana flower to be dunked in- that makes for a mad taste and an explosion of flavors on your palate! We just got picky plucking out the dreaded “fish mint”: the Vietnamese scatter it everywhere for its special taste which is…you guessed it, FISHY. But no dried-up bitter anchovy taste hiding in a pretty heart-shaped herb for me, thanks.
On the road but still hungry? Sure, if we got lucky we’d stop again roadside for Bahn Mi baguette sandwiches (man, we ate a lot of eggs everyday since we refrained from barbecued pork, liver pate or cold cuts, the habitual Vietnamese-Subway fillings!) or spring rolls, but these were the favorite snacks. Crunchy peanuts roasted with sweet coconut juice and spicy shrimp crackers going hand in hand with a local chilled beer.
And these babies, dear fellow foodies, are crystal White Rose dim sum, a Hoi An specialty: delicate rice paper dumplings filled with a mixture of shrimp and minced pork (you can also find the seafood-only version which is our favorite!) : dip them in fish sauce and you’re in for a tastebuds’ tingling treat !
Ok this coiled up river creature shouldn’t be exactly on the foodie list- but hey, was meant to become our dinner during our three day Easy Riders tour across the Vietnamese countryside from Hoi An to Hue. We found this guy bobbing in the washing basin and soon to be heading for the grill at our mountain stay: two local ladies hiked him up and smiled at us bright teeth and all. “Ha, looks like you’re having that babe!” I teased my friend- and our guide nodded enthusiastically. We stuck to our rice and Rau Muong Xao Toi -morning glory, Vietnam’s favorite vegetable, stir-fried with garlic. Morning glory, morning breath !
While traveling my dietary principles are trampled with muddy boots and thrown out the hostel window. At home I try to cook mostly gluten and dairy free, eat my greens and bake my own sweets with less sugar…avoid deep fried stuff and late-night treats. But on trips…oh boy I should just be wearing a t-shirt with capital letters “TREAT YO’SELF” all.the.time ! Seafood noodles, fried rice and tempura shrimps washed down with cold beer at 1 AM ? Come my way. Korean K-Pop blasting on tv and the restaurant staff entertaining us with some serious moves in between orders. Best night ever !
Below you’ll find a shortlist of my absolute favorites, Vietnam’s culinary gems…must-try on your foodie map!
1. Pho (duh, I know) – beef-broth noodle soup light enough for breakfast, satisfying for lunch…basically tasty anytime. Best one we had ? Airport Mama Pho cafe- flying from Phu Quoc to Saigon…and our roadside jewel. Building up that hunger while being on the move…and finally appeasing it…makes food taste better every time !
2. Banh Xeo – ‘sizzling’ rice-batter pancake filled with seafood, bean sprouts and herbs. Bright yellow because the batter is made with turmeric, one of the healthiest spices out there !
3. Banh Mi – toasted baguette filled with barbecued meat, liver spread, cold cuts like ham or mortadella and crunchy vegetables tossed with delicious sauce and mayo combinations. The ‘fancier’ versions, harder to find, can be made with fish, shrimp or pan-fried tofu slices.
4. Banh Beo – a specialty found in the Imperial City of Hue: delicate bite-sized rice cakes topped with shrimp, served in their own little ceramic dishes. Your portion will be a dozen of this lovely mini-pancakes, to be scooped out of the colorful cup, drizzled with fish sauce or sweet chili sauce and slurped in one mouthful ! We really enjoyed this dish at Madam Thu in Hue’s Old Town…and secretly wished we could keep the beautifully painted dishes !
5. Com Chien – Vietnamese fried rice: and oh boy we ate tons of it- with egg and veggies or seafood- it’s a great filler when hungry, on its own or as a side dish! Had our best one with stir-fried baby clams in Central Saigon.
…and last but not to be neglected… Morning Glory. The Vietnamese love this resilient vegetable with a white starflower- it can grow and survive virtually anywhere- seeing it as a symbol of the Viet people’s strength and character. As much as the famous Vietnamese chef Ms Vy named one of its most popular restaurants after it – the Morning Glory nestled in Hoi An’s Ancient Quarter. So we always helped ourself with a nice garlic-flavored portion of glorious greens…made us feel less guilty for our baguette, rice and noodles intake !