From Vietnam with love: it's all about people - Dal Vietnam con amore:la gente soprattutto

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Food

Vietnam is famous for its cuisine, but at first I felt like I was missing something – I was expecting the bold flavors and contrasts of Thai food, mixing spicy, sweet, sour, salty, crunchy, soft all in one dish. Maybe I wasn’t appreciating the subtlety of the cuisine, or maybe we were spending too much time at first in the “safe” more expensive restaurants that water down the dishes for tourists’ palates. Anyway, I think I just needed to spend more time eating, because lately I’ve been appreciating the food a lot more!

The food is mostly very healthy, featuring very fresh fish or paper thin meat, often eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves or transparent rice paper, with rice noodles and dipping sauces. Meatwise, Vietnamese people eat anything – I’ve seen bat, gecko and cobra on menus and some type of insect grub in the supermarket. But there is also the French influence, and it’s easy to find fresh baguettes with crunchy crusts, but they must be eaten within 20 minutes or so or they turn chewy and soft from the humidity. There is also excellent strong coffee, perhaps best drunk iced. (There are loads of cafes where people hang out on lawn chairs facing the traffic, sipping iced coffee).

Recently in Hanoi we had some tasty pho, the ubiquitous beef noodle soup that originates in the North, and we ate out at a delicious gourmet Vietnamese restaurant with some Italians from the embassy. The highlight of our meal was a whole grilled fish that the staff deboned for us (after presenting the whole fish dramatically) and wrapped up into little rice-paper burritos with various fresh herbs and rice noodles, and we dipped them into a spicy-sweet sauce that had mango in it. We also had some tasty salads – one with beef, lime, hot pepper and herbs and another spicy one with mango and peanuts.

One of the nice things about looking at houses with Tran, an English-speaking university student we hired to help us communicate with local real estate agents, is that she knows where to go for lunch after we look at houses. One day we went to a very popular restaurant that has cute little wooden chairs and tables and different food stations cooking various specialties, a kind of up-market version of the food stalls that always have little plastic tables and baby chairs to sit on. Among the best dishes we tried was a big rice-flour crepe filled with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts and fried crispy. You break off a piece with chopsticks, wrap it in lettuce and dip it in a spicy-sweet clear sauce. Another time we ate at a very basic place, not a food stall but barely a restaurant, where we had exceptionally good thin noodles fried in a spicy-sweet dark sauce with ground meat, slices of pork and pork liver. The condiments included bean sprouts and herbs, and various hotsauces, and the noodles came with a bowl of very nice broth with chives and lime. For dessert they gave us homemade sweet yogurt. Not bad for about a dollar!

Although the food is almost always delicious, I had one remarkably gross meal in Hanoi. We went to a Czech-style brew pub, where the beer was okay but the Vietnamese food was gross, or maybe we ordered the wrong things. I ordered wild boar and the waiter was amazed and enthusiastic that a foreigner would order it, which immediately made me suspicious but I foolishly didn't change my order. It ended up being wild boar fat and gristle, in a tasty enough peanut sauce, that you eat with rice vermicelli and fresh herbs. I ate around the fat but Marco and Maia were braver and liked it. I’m sure I’ll try much more unusual things over the years here…


  • Aho' so' sempre io, quello della coda de cane alla canara (guarda er commento de vvenerdi' 23)! Nun capisco bene l'inglese ma sti' rice vermicelli che magnate che so' spaghetti o insetti? Me piace proprio sto' vostro blogghe. Beati voi che state in un paese esotico, qua a Roma fa n'cardo cane e er traffico sta' bloccato pe' i taxi. E' n'paese zotico! Alimorta'..meno male che ce stanno i mondiali!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:42 PM  

  • Aaaaah neno, c'oho sai o no che 'sti americani so' schifirtosi? Mo' pe 'n po' de peli su 'e cotiche aricciano er naso e provano a magnasse 'a ciccia 'nvece de 'e cotiche che so' a parte più bbona der maiale. Ma che te devo di', a me 'sti vermicelli de riso me fanno ride... ma so' propo boni, però. E si' che ce devo sta' na caterva de tempo da 'ste parti e me devo abbitua'! Vabbè, mo' te saluto, e me vado a magna' 'n po' de frutta zotica, a' a faccia de li taxisti, sti fetentoni, che ie venisse 'n corpo o che li mannassero a lavora' da 'ste parti 'ndo si fai 'n'euro con na' corza vai a appiccia' 'n cero a la Madonna. Viecce a trova' che te diverti 'na cifra, tu e tutte 'e code de cane a la canara tua!

    By Blogger Tamara e Marco, at 9:47 PM  

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