prawn dumpling

Ben In Vietnam!

This blog post is a little later than I had planned… apologies for that… we’ve been locked away in a studio shooting a secret project (which may or may not have included a few Xmas jumpers, a festive tree and a turkey!).

However, now I get the chance to share with you little foodie snippets of my recent trip to Vietnam. I always choose holiday destinations that are so diversely different to the culture of the UK and as a result get to experience not just phenomenal scenery, people and culture but of course new foods!

Let me give you my 3 favourite meals from the trip:-

1)   Our second main stop in the country as we whistled our way from south to north Vietnam was Nha Trang. After the bustle of Hoi Chi Ming City and the fascinating and insightful adventure to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Nha Trang was a little more calm. It‘s best known as a beach resort… but of course that means it’s on the coast and seafood was plentiful. It was here that we had my most memorable dinner in Vietnam.

The restaurant itself was basic with plastic garden furniture under a canopy but the thing that drew us in was the freshness of the fish… it was still swimming! We stood on the street and our waitress/host asked us what we were interested in. After much deliberation (it all looked so good) we opted for a few fresh oysters (which were to be bbq’d) a handful of prawns and a grouper fish that we pointed to swimming around in the oxygenated tank. What followed was a bit of a performance… the guys fished it out of the tank using a small basket and flung it to another waiter several feet away, who caught it mid flight in a bag and hurried it off to the kitchen.

We sat down at a table, ordered drinks (we’d become quite attached to the Saigon beer) and a few sides including Morning Glory, cabbage, fried rice and various dipping sauces.

 

It didn’t take long for the grub to arrive and we knew instantly that we’d made the right choice… it was so good! Cooked very simply and served very rustically, but the flavours shouted for themselves. I’m not going to say it was elegant… we attacked oily, chilli and garlic prawns with our fingers, scooped rice into our mouths awkwardly with chopsticks and stripped the grouper right back to the bone with whatever implements we could find. It was however, incredibly memorable, made even more so by the staff who were such fun. We insisted we all got a photo at the end and after much giggling and blushing we took this!

 

2)   My new favourite place is Hoi An. A more subdued ancient city about halfway up the country, set on a tranquil river, which becomes laiden with floating lanterns each evening. There was a whole ton of street food I enjoyed in Hoi An (I’ll save that for another blog) and spent ages just walking through the market… a real eye-opener.

The best meal I had here though was when I took the advice from the locals (and to be fair the Lonely Planet Guide) and ordered two Hoi An specialities. Bánh bao Bánh vac – also known as ‘white rose’. It’s a really dainty and light steamed dumpling of prawn made from rice paper and topped with crispy garlic and served alongside a sweet dipping sauce with a mild chilli kick. It was fresh with a tangy dip and crispy garlic is definetly an idea I’ll remember.

  

I followed this with a bowl of Cao Lau. Noodles cooked in a pork broth, albeit not served like pho and swimming in liquid, instead just a little infused with the fresh flavours of star anise and mint. There were plenty of fresh veg served in the bowl with beansprouts too and it was topped with slices of roast pork and small crispy croutons. It’s said that the dish has to be made with water from the ancient guarded Cham wells found around Hoi An. I can’t say for sure whether mine was… but it definitely tasted good! Really very different to many other bowls of noodles I found in Vietnam.

 

3)   I’m undecided about Hanoi… but then perhaps that’s unfair. Although we spent 2 nights in the city I never got chance to see it in the daylight. We left on a tour and headed out to Ha Long Bay, which was truly magical. So overwhelming in fact that I decided to sacrifice my phone (and all the photos/videos I took on the trip) to the salty South China Sea. What I did love about the place though… was the way the city came to life in the evening with street food vendors. After walking about and being spoilt for choice we settled on a place that was busy with locals. Surely that’s the way to go right?

 

We ordered fried noodles dishes with beef and Morning Glory plus some roasted pigeon. Pigeon I’ve had a number of times in the UK but it certainly wouldn’t be classed as street food. Instead in the UK as quite fine fair. This however, was back to basics… but I reckon perhaps better for it. Aside from the fact that in the Western world we’re a little more squeamish with our food and would cower away from a meal still served with it’s head and feet, it was incredibly delicious.

In my naïve ways, I’d say the food of Hanoi had more of a Chinese influence to it, than that of the south. I suppose that makes sense, but it still definitely had it’s own flair. 

It was a real struggle to write this blog post and keep it to less than 1000 words… so much excitement surrounds the Vietnamese food! There was so much I enjoyed… the street snack food especially and the wandering around the markets. Perhaps I’ll save those tales for another post!