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These notes were made during a month long trip through Vietman in 2001. These are just our food experiences and you may have a totally different experience depending on your budget, where you travel and where you eat.

rice pluckersNotes from August & September 2001

Hello Vietnam

Our first local meal after arriving in Vietnam was at a vegetarian restaurant (Mon Chay). Most restaurants include someone standing out front to try and lure customers into their shop, with a sales pitch. After much deliberation, we entered one of them and ordered coconut rice, sweet corn soup and spring rolls. Not that different from what we have at our local Vietnamese restaurant back home, but the atmosphere was certainly authentic.
On our first morning we went for the ‘western breakfast’ as we thought that later in our trip when we go more ‘rural’ we won’t have the opportunity. We tried some mushroom omelet, a toasted cheese sandwich and washed it down with some watermelon juice. Even the western breakfast had a vietnamese twist. Later in the morning while waiting around for our day tour, we wanted to try some more local delights - the real stuff this time. Rob had a bowl of ‘pho’ and I had a glass of lemon sugar tea (as I wasn’t particularly hungry). Pho is the standard breakfast, or any-time-of-the-day meal for most Vietnamese. It is essentially a rice noodle soup, with beef or chicken broth. It is served with local green vegetables, bean sprouts, vietnamese mint, which is very different to western mint, and chili sauce on the side. You can add as much or as little of these ingredients as you desire. A lovely, refreshing meal we will enjoy regularly from now on.

banana seller19 Aug 2001 Yam and Tea

During our tour of the Chu Chi tunnels, they gave us a sample of what the locals may have eaten while holed up here during the war - some Yam and Tea.

French Sticks

The years of French occupation of Vietnam has influenced their food. A good example of this is the abundant availability of fresh bread rolls, usually enjoyed with some cheese and salad. Nowhere else in Asia can you find much bread to eat. A nice break from the hot and spicy meals.

Fresh Fish

One of our most enjoyable meals ever was when we stopped on an island along the Meekong River. We ordered fish, as it sounded like a nice local delicacy. They said it may take a little longer than the other meals, but we were happy to wait. We were surprised when a couple of guys walked out from the kitchen and went to a little lake which was right next to us, wielding a net, and proceeded to catch our lunch. The fresh fish was then brought to our table a short time later, showing typical Vietnamese service, the waitress proceeded to roll up pieces of fish with some delightful salad and herbs in fresh rice paper rolls. Exquisite.

21 Aug 2001 Snake Tales

While having our evening meal, the table next to us were loudly enjoying shots of alcohol. When we had a chance to join in, we didn’t have to be asked twice. After a few shots of this vodka-like drink, we were shown the bottle it came in. In the base of it were a snake and a chicken’s head, perfectly preserved.

field of cabbages22 Aug 2001 Floating markets

We had a nice day for our visit to the famous floating markets. We got a fish eye view as we motored along in a boat among the sellers. The sellers have long bamboo sticks fixed upright holding the type of product they sell – everything from pineapples to sweet potatoes and more.

A day in Dalat

In the hill station Dalat, we walked around the markets, viewing the freshest fish, so fresh they were still alive, some internal organs of animals, eyeballs, and other wonderful food. We ate lunch at a place where the food was pretty bland, but the toilets clean – a rarity in Vietnam. For our evening meal, we found a restaurant nearby, recommended by a hawker, which was actually recommended by Lonely Planet. The meal was lovely; long spring rolls, some noodles with vegetables and some tasty fish with rice.

23 Aug 2001 Accosted by Locals

We topped up on food for our day’s journey at breakfast consisting of banana pancake and croissants. Soon into the trip I realised that there was no need to, as the locals hassle you on every street corner for you to buy some of their locally produced foods. I succumbed to one little old lady selling sugar cane sticks and cupcakes. Yummy.

food carrier24 Aug 2001 Claypot delight

We relaxed by the lake and had a couple of beers. One was warm but tolerable. The Vietnamese have a great tradition of providing a small bowl of peanuts with each beer purchased. Nearby we found a nice place to eat, where we tried a local specialty ‘claypot’ meal each, accompanying rice paper rolls. The rolls were ‘do it yourself’, and we definitely needed a demonstration on how to combine the ingredients and make a solid edible roll out of it. Eventually with practice we enjoyed the meal.

25 Aug 2001 Mexican

At the beach there are plenty of restaurants with deck chairs along the sand, but if you want to enjoy the beach and stay in the shade, you have to buy something from them. They were all pretty quite so we picked one, enjoyed the shade and bought an expensive beer. Dinner was back in town at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Big fans of Mexican food back home, we wanted to see how the Vietnamese enjoyed Mexican food. With their limited availability of ingredients, we ate some very interesting interpretations of nachos, enchiladas and burritos.

26 Aug 2001 Islands in the sun

Just about all tourists visiting Nha Trang will experience a boat cruise. As a special treat, one of the crew members dived into the coral to harvest a sea urchin, which was cooked up for those who wanted to pay extra for it. The other treat of the cruise was the floating bar. We all jumped into the warm waters of the South China Sea, wrapped with a floating tube, and enjoyed copious amounts of mulberry wine.

grains for sale in the market29 Aug 2001 Hoi An

This town is renowned for it historic buildings, taylor-made clothing, and a few special dishes. This evening we tried a few of the local delicacies: white roses, wonton noodle soup, and shrimp spring rolls. The whole town was decorated with beautiful red and coloured lanterns getting ready for an upcoming festival.

30 Aug 2001 Coconuts

One of the delights of traveling in Asia is buying a fresh coconut, letting the seller crack it open and stick in a straw. When you have finished drinking it, if you are lucky they will also chop off a section of the shell so you can scoop out and eat the flesh.

sellers in Sapa, Vietnam03 Sep 2001 Hurray for Hue

For breakfast we search out for a Hue specialty – Banh Khoai, a rice pancake with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. We went to three restaurants before we found one that had it on the menu.

04 Sep 2001 Aqua?

We concluded after a couple of months trying to teach ourselves Vietnamese that it is a very difficult language to learn. We tried to learn a bit before we came here, but did not get much past counting to three. One thing we did learn was how to ask for a bottle of water – “Mot chai nuoc soui”. We got a few laughs when we tried it, but an essential phrase to know on a hot Vietnamese day.

05 Sep 2001 Dollar Dazzlers

Today we decided to lash out and treat ourselves to a nicer restaurant at one of the upmarket hotels. One of the main attractions was their clean toilets which we used to freshen up. The promotion of the restaurant to lure us in was $1 meals, however each small dish cost $1, which added up to slightly more as you needed quite a few of these to satisfy yourself. The advantage of it though was that you got to sample quite a few different dishes. Even more expensive restaurants have the same problems as the others. While dining we noticed a commotion behind the service desk I saw a large rat race across the floor before one of the waiters stomped on it. The staff then looked around as if nothing had happened – trying not to alarm the patrons.

off to market10 Sep 2001 Sticky Sleeper

On our train trip back to Hanoi from Sapa, we shared the sleeper with three friendly Vietnamese ladies, who also shared their sticky rice cake with us. They wouldn’t take no for an answer.

13 Sep 2001 Last days in Hanoi

The restaurant we were looking for turned out to be too fancy for us, considering what we were wearing. We found another place more to our standards, and more traditionally Vietnamese. There were no English menus, so we made do with the minimal Vietnamese words we knew, rice and noodles, along with some pointing. We ended up with basic fried noodles and mixed fried rice. The rice was certainly mixed – including to our surprise a full heart, possibly from a chicken, but we were too chicken to try it. Our next stop was for ice-cream at a recommended place down by the lake. We tried some interesting flavours – watermelon, ginger and cinnamon.

15 Sept 2001 Overview

The trip to Vietnam is all over, and now we can reflect of the wonder food we ate during the trip. Here is a list of some of those that we will remember.
food pyramidRice paper rolls
• Phó
• Coconut candy
• Fish sour soup
• Coconut rice
• Avocado juice
• Cuttlefish (squid)
• Wonton soup with noodles
• Fried wontons
• Cau lau (pork and noodle soup with crackling croutons)
• White roses
• Tropical fruits: lychee, rambutan, paw-paw, green dragon fruit, citrus (like grapefruit), coconut, banana
• Sea urchin
• Drinks: mango juice, lemon juice, orange juice, mixed fruit juice, softys, artichoke tea, pineapple juice, corn wine, snake wine, mulberry wine
• The largest array of spring rolls that you can imagine
• Mince crab meat
• Minced shrimp on sugarcane
• Mexican – nachos, burrito, enchilada – with a Vietnamese twist


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