More food, glorious food....
on Lucy Otto (Vietnam), 14/Feb/2011 14:12, 34 days ago
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One of my favourite things to do here is to set out from the house. on foot, with no destination in mind. I love to wander around, sometimes for hours, just looking and listening and smelling and tasting. Moving slowly, with your senses alive, leads to some incredibly beautiful experiences, and some, well, slightly less beautiful ones....Here's a few of the interesting street dishes I've found on my wanderings, both alone and with friends, over the past few months.....Steaming bowls ofbún riêu cua.This tomato, pineapple and shrimp flavoured broth is served with crab meat balls (sometimes with shrimps, tofu or cabbage), and served over thin rice noodles. Shredded herbs and beansprouts add colour and flavour, along with a squeeze of lemon, a couple of teaspoons of pickled sour veg, and a good dollop of chilli jam...... mmmmmmmm A breakfast favourite (particularly after a night drinking Bia Larue) is now 'Bánh mì ốp la' - a fried egg sandwich, Vietnamese style. They are so delicious it's making my mouth water just talking about them. A hot baguette is broken open and stuffed with fresh salad leaves, herbs, shredded spring onions and cucumber. Then in goes the hot egg; quickly fried with some minced pork and seasoning, the yolk broken and runny. The final touch is a good squirt of soy and chilli sauces (some would say it has to be Maggi, but soy sauce is amazing too). The resulting sandwich is warm, a bit crunchy, a bit moist, very difficult to eat with any kind of elegance, and just perfect. An incredible mix of flavours, and very 'Vietnam'.'Xôi' - You have to be up early to enjoy this dish of sticky (glutinous) rice. They're normally sold out by 7.30am. It can be cooked on it's own or with all sorts of things added - sweetcorn, green beans, black beans, coconut, meat, peanut, cassava, mung beans..... and then on top you can put coconut, sugar, salt, peanuts, meat, fried onions, onion oil, chilli oil, egg, shrimp..... these really are the difficult decisions of life. I tend to stick to the sweet varieties (as in the picture below, which is black bean xoi) with coconut, peanut, sugar and salt on top. I find it's the perfect mix of carbohydrate, sugar (to replenish energy after a long sleep), and salt (to balance electrolytes and set me up for another long day of sweating!)'Bánh xèo'. These small rice flour pancakes are cooked in shallow pans (8-10 at a time in the market) with shrimp, pork, shallots and bean sprouts. They're taken by hand and rolled in dry, translucent rice paper, with a heap of leaves, herbs, fresh beansprouts, cucumber, green papaya, banana flower....  into what looks like a huge fat spring roll  (I'm still teased about the first time I ate this, when I had to roll it up on my knee - I watched and learned, and now roll deftly in the air like everyone else). Then you dip into a delicious sugary, vinegary, garlicky, chilli-y liquid, which helps to cut through the oiliness of the pancake. It's incredible to watch my teeny tiny colleagues eat these things. I can manage 3 at the most (and I have a good appetite, as you all know...) They can eat 7 or 8, easily. I honestly don't know where it goes. They don't even stop talking.'Bánh cuốn' - rolled and sliced steamed rice noodle sheets, with a variety of fillings; sometimes something pink coloured and savoury and completely unidentifiable, sometimes mushrooms, sometimes crumbled pork meat. The noodles are often topped with pickled julienned vegetables and chilli, or a fried spring roll, and drizzled with a sweet, vinegary liquid. Described in words, it sounds pretty unappetising, but it's really tasty, especially with a glass of fresh hot or iced soy milk. (The name 'bánh cuốn' refers to the rolling of the noodle sheets, so fresh spring rolls go by the same name, and are equally as good)  'Bánh rán' - golden balls of a gluey rice/cassava mixture, deep fried to crunchy outside, with a gorg­eous grainy filling of bean/sugar paste inside. Warm, very tasty, and at least 10 billion calories per ball.'Hến trộn'- baby clams fried with lemongrass, chilli and spring onion, served with crushed peanuts, fried shallots, nước chấm (a fish sauce, sugar, chilli and garlic dipping sauce) and a crunchy rice cracker to break and scoop them up with. A great snack to tuck into with friends.This picture is borrowed from  - I was so hungry last time I ate itthat I forgot to take a pic! I'll put my own soonAnother delicious snack dish, 'bò bía',consists of a pile of shredded pickled vegetables (carrot, unripe papaya and daikin), a dark thick sw­eet, caramel-y, soy-saucey, open-sesame-ey sauce, caramelised shredded dried beef (I think, although it might be jackfruit), roasted and crushed peanuts, heaps of fresh Asian basil, and again, a big dried rice cracker to scoop and scoff it all up with. I've never eaten anything like it before, and I'm sure I won't find it anywhere else (when I googled it for recipes I found that in the rest of Vietnam it's a different dish - a form of spring roll with Chinese sausage). It was astoundingly good.A common sound on the streets of Vietnam is that of the'Bánh bao'sellers, as they cruise around on their motorbikes. They carry ingenious dispay cabinets, small charcoal fires and metal steamers around with them, from which they pull fluffy steamed rice flour pockets filled with spiced and peppery vegetables, rice noodles and pork fat.  They're very cheap, and popular with kids.Fresh seafood at the beach. Bliss.This street barbeque smelt absolutely amazing. I was a bit unsure when I realised what was sizzling on it, but I didn't let myself w­imp out. The marinade­was delicious, and I actually enjoyed the small hot crunchy birds. The fresh beer ­­was pretty good too   :o) My favourite evening snack ishủ tiếu from the cheerful mobile vendor up the road. Mien (vermicelli noodles), lots of beansprouts, pork broth, meat and crackling, a heap of lettuce leaves, a squeese of lemon, soy sauce, chilli jam.... I can rarely stop at one bowl (and at 15p a pop, why would I?)Over the winter, I really enjoyed hotchè, to be found bubbling in in Tam Ky's markets, in huge vats over charcoal fires. I think I described chè before - it's basically any type of legume (red bean, green (mung) bean, black bean, lentil) slow-cooked with a heap of sugar - but there are a million varieties and all sorts of things are added. So far I've tried sweetcorn chè, tapioca chè, fruit chè, banana chè, seaweed chè, sweet potato chè, coconut chè, longan chè, lotus seed chè, ginger chè, rice chè.... but I'd never eaten hot chè before,so I had to sample it.... a small bowl of sweet green bean soup with chunks of taro and ginger and a good splash of cool coconut milk on top. Ridiculously sweet, but delicious.------------------------------------------------------------------------So now I'll move onto dishes I'd put into the 'glad I tried them, but won't eat again' category....First up is mực khô,a whole dried squid, barbequed in front of me, and served with a potent and fiery jammy chilli/tomato/fish sauce dip. ReallyNot Good. Tough as leather, and very very fishy. I could neither bite a piece off or swallow the stringy mouthful I finally managed to rip off with my fingers. I managed to wrap half the thing in newspaper and hide it in my bag to dispose of later.I would never have ordered this next dish, but ettiquette forced me to try it when I was invited out for dinner one day. It was either frog or toad, I'm not sure which. It had big dark blotches on it's skin, which was still very much connected to the 'meat', and lots and lots of little bones. The dogs under the table got a good meal from me that night. I'm getting pretty good at the subtle dropping of things...And then I was devastated when I realised what I'd ordered at the little stall by my house, when I'd just moved to this town, it was very late, raining heavily and I was desparately hungry.....'trứng vịt lộn' are considered very nutritious for children and people recovering from illness, and are apparently recommended for guys wanting to enhance their, erm, performance. They're boiled duck eggs - with an almost fully developed duckling inside. Yep.. feathers, feet, beak... I took a deep breath and managed half a spoon. With my eyes closed. And kept it in my mouth as I escaped to spit it out at home. Sorry - I'm sure a lot of people love them, but I couldn't handle it. I went to bed hungry that night! Again, this isn't my picture. Mine came out dark and blurry, and I'm not about to repeat the experience to take another one. This picture comes from a website you want to see more.And now onto Tet food....Tet (the lunar New Year) is a really big deal in Vietnam - it's like Christmas, New Year and the entire nation's birthday rolled in one big 5-10 day party. And as with every good holiday,  a considerable part of the celebration revolves around eating. There are a lot of traditional and symbolic dishes for Tet. Unfortunately I went off without my camera for the two week holiday, so I don't have pictures of any of it! Some dishes were very good, but the most memorable were the more 'challenging' things.... a spoonful ofpig braineaten straight out of the boiled pig's head (it looked like moist blue cheese, and tasted a bit like creamy pate), being woken up with a bowl ofrice porridge with a chicken headsticking out (a big honour - the bird had spent the night on the altar before being hacked up), endlessbánh chưngandbánh tét- traditional sticky rice cakes stuffed with pork fat and mung beans, and chalky dry green bean biscuit/cakes. It was a real pleasure to spend time with families over this important holiday, but I have a renewed appreciation of our UK festive cuisine - I'll stick with warm homemade mince pies and mulled cider, thanks!Well there you go. A few more Vietnamese treats. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I did discovering them.Now, what to have for tea....   :o)