We eat Vietnamese on occasion at home (usually Pho) and had expected the usual fried rice, noodles and soup that we had eaten in Cambodia. Vietnam has a few new variations that we hadn’t yet seen, and of course a few disturbing sights at a local market.
The first thing we noticed is that the Vietnamese love their coffee – and not just instant coffee, but real, strong, pungent coffee usually served with an individual drip filter so that it was fresh and strong (so strong in fact that it upset my stomach but Alistair was in caffeine heaven throughout the whole country). Dumplings and coconut buns were one of my favourite items; the dumplings had an interesting mix of sweet bread with savoury filling, and the coconut buns weren’t over sweet like the ones at home and had a chewy authentic taste.
Some items were similar to what we would eat a home, but often with a twist. Baguette sandwhiches are very popular in some cities, sold from small portable vendor carts. Alistair almost asked to be adopted by one woman who sold amazing vegetarian sandwiches with two types of I-can’t-belive-it’s-not-meat, and vegetables on a soft bun, only 50 cents (we ate a lot of these in Nha Trang). We tried spring rolls everywhere we went and everyone did it differently – fresh, deep fried, spicy, greasy, crispy, and a variety of different fillings always kept it interesting. Pancakes are a popular breakfast option but with intriguing ingrediants such as pineapple, mango, or coffee.
As a vegetarian Vietnam proved to be easy to dine in, most places had vegetarian menu options or at least a fried rice with vegetables. For some of the organized trips we did have set meals that were meat orientated, but I always had enough rice, fried cabbage, and egg or tofu to fill up and be satisfied.
As expected there was a few cultural differences then we are used to, for one thing everything comes in a bag. Even an iced coffee to go will be wrapped in a bag to hold, then a secong bag to transport. We often witnessed small contained coalpits on the sidewalk that were roasting corn and yams for sale. We did try one of these corn-on-the-cobs (steamed not roasted though) and were disappointed at the mushy bland taste that we compared to the sweet corn from home.
The most disturbing thing I saw was while walking through a market in North Vietnam – on one of the tables was a midsized dog; it had been roasted in full, the still intact head was hauntingly recognizable but the body had been hacked apart. I wretched a little and walked away.
After around a month of travelling on mostly rice and noodles I began to crave something else. Most restaurants would have a western page in their menu and I found myself ordering spaghetti, pizza, or veggie burgers once in a while. The change of diet was nice and I still eat mostly noodles or rice, with the occasional western treat.
Al’s Beer Corner
Vietnam always seemed to have more options as well when it came to brands. I was pretty excited when I realized those brands actually changed the further we travelled through the country as my goal was clearly to try every one.
Saigon “Green” and Tiger were a go-to for us throughout Vietnam with their big bottles (650ml), cheap prices (50 cents) and light tastes. In the South 333 and Saigon Export were popular beers, though not my favourite.
In central Vietnam I discovered Festival, Huda, and Hue Beer as the most common and for me Huda came out on top with its light crisp taste.
And finally in the North it was Halida and Ha Noi Beer, and Halida won hands down; it just went down so easy after a long sweaty day in the sun.
From both of us in Southeast Asia,