WARNING: do not read on an empty stomach. You have been warned. The following contains explicit images of saliva-inducing tummy grumbles.
As you may all know by now, my recent absence over the festive period was due to my being in Vietnam and oh how I feasted to my tummy’s delight. Whenever I am back in the UK, I long for some home cooked Vietnamese meals. Even a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) bought here by my workplace momentarily quenches my desire for something more, at the expense of paying well over ten times the amount for a sandwich that I would normally pay only 30 cents back in Saigon. SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
As such, I feasted every day till my tummy could accept no more beating. I stopped at every stall and tucked into new, wonderful delights. I sat outside in open eateries on low plastic stools and ate my meal with the raucous chaos of mopeds and mindless chit chats swirling all around me.
Guys, I do not do fine dining in Asia. Instead, I prefer to dvelve into the wondrous food offered to me by the humble food vendor on the street corner, cooked before my own very eyes so I know it’s fresh. In fact, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was in a tucked away alley, sitting on a plastic chair with various locals, an assortment of various meats with rice and herbs dished up before me on a green, banana leaf-shaped plate, washed down with an ice cold sugar cane juice, all for the price of just $1.50. Seriously, how can you beat that?!!
Vietnamese cuisine is sooooooo yummy, it is packed full of fresh herbs, lettuce and most dishes welcome the use of your own very fingers…..now this is what I call finger food! No need for knife and fork, Ma!
Feast your eyes on the following stuff that filled my belly and made me go all warm and gooery inside:
NB: I will do my best to describe what the following food items are, most of the time, there isn’t an English word for it and some of the time, I don’t even know what goes into it exactly. All I know is that they send your taste buds right up to heaven and wanting more.
Sticky Coconut Rice
Sticky Coconut Rice - the other version...delicious with fresh coconut cream poured over the top
Barbecued Pork on a Bed of Rice with Pickled Vegetables and Nuoc Mac Cham Sauce
My favourite sauce in the whole wide world! Nuoc Mam Cham - made with nuoc mam (fish sauce), lime juice, sugar, chillies and garlic. Here they have added chopped carrots and various bits
Braised Belly Pork with Eggs served with Rice and Pickled Vegetables
Braised Belly Pork with Egg ------ I usually leave the fat...too much for me
Eating outside in the open air was simply the best!!! So cheeeeeeap too
Sugar Cane Juice
An assortment of fresh leaves, herbs, cold meats, vegetables, to be wrapped up in rice paper, dipped in nuoc mam cham and stuffed into your mouth!
Pile a good amount of greens, pickled vegetables, meat and herbs onto rice paper. Messily wrap it up or roll neatly (like I have done!) and dip into nuoc mam cham sauce
How gorgeous does that look! It's got HEALTHY stamped all over it!!!
Soursop...one of nature's most powerful fruit in curing all sorts of ailments
Inside is a sweet, juicy, creamy pulp surrounding black seeds...the numerous health benefits will be discussed in a later post! =)
Sticky savoury rice with chinese sausages, dried shredded pork and eggs. Got this at a street stall in a small box with plastic spoon for about 10 cents...No joke. Talk about a cheap snack!
Bun Bo Hue! his is not a subtle dish; your taste buds will be bombarded with sweet, savory and spicy flavors. My mouth waters just thinking about it!
Banh Cuon Cha Lua....one of my all time favourites!!!! Rice sheets filled with sauteed pork, wood ear mushrooms, topped with fresh herbs, fried shallots and slices of Vietnamese ham (typically you have beansprouts too but I asked the vendor to leave them out as I am not a huge fan!). Douse with nuoc mam cham and eat to your heart's content. I had 3 plates of these one morning. So damn good.
"What's this!?" you ask....street vendor was rolling these up with her nimble fingers. It's a sort of maize (not sure which one exactly! Tapioca maybe?) but it's got fish flakes, chillies, green onions and spices mixed in....She shapes them into little balls...
...and drops them into hot-spitting oil for a good frying
Crispy, golden little balls of....whatever it's called! =)
Yummy interior....I snapped up a small bag for my snack-on-the-go necessity for less than 10 cents
Also available were fried taro strips
Flash boiled for a minute or so, then dropped into a bowl to be topped with soul cleansing broth, vegetables, herbs and meat
Add chillies, squeeze some lime juice and slurp away!
...and to my surprise, I discovered several boiled won ton parcels in my soup :0)
Durian...you either hate it or love it.....I LOVE IT
Inside are large, yellow, fleshy bits.....creamy heaven bursting in your mouth....durian candy and cakes are found everywhere throughout Vietnam...
...such as this durian cake I was introduced to. Made of rice flour, mung beans, durian and sugar. Carb overload =) I love the rose design on the top. This looked so pretty I dared not eat it at first. But did I eat it? Damn right I did. I devoured it.
Banh bao stall!
Banh Bao or Steamed Buns
Filled with minced pork, chinese sausages, wood ear mushroom and portion of a hard boiled egg....Yummy in my tummy I say. One day, I will attempt these at home!
Another stall that gets my heart racing every time I spot one....the Banh Mi stall...Vietnamese baguette!
Filled with thinly sliced pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers, pate, mayonnaise and grilled pork. Lunch/snack on the go for less than a dollar.
Banh Khot....OMG, I have never tasted anything so delicious. I was introduced to this in Vung Tau. These are basically miniature fried pancakes with a sole shrimp dolloped atop, sprinkled with green onions.
Grab some fresh leaves, herbs, pickled vegetables and place your Banh Khot in the middle, wrap up into parcel and dip in nuoc mam cham. These are drop dead delicious and despite the fried content, you more than make up for it by the amount of fresh vegetables you consume. Trust me on this one, I had about 8 of these pancakes but must have eaten the entire plastic bag containing all the herbs and fresh lettuce they give you
Goi Cuon - rice paper sheets filled with vermicelli, shrimp, pork, herbs....H E A V E N. Delicious with peanut sauce or even nuoc mam cham sauce
Mam Tom Chua (Sour Shrimp)...love this with a warm bowl of rice
Eaten with a good dollop of that fermented shrimp paste most people love to hate...yummmmmmmmmmmmm
Shredded Papaya Salad with Dried Beef
Thit Kho To (Caramelised Pork Cooked In Clay Pot)...one of my all time favourites...
Bun Cha Gio - bowl of vermicelli noodles atop bed of lettuce, pickled vegetables and herbs, topped with slices of grilled pork and egg rolls (cha gio). Douse with nuoc mam cham and eat away....
My most adventurous food tasting yet...Grilled Sea Urchin....cooked with garlic, spices and topped with crushed peanuts...I was blown away by the taste and pleasantly surprised!
This has got to be the most picture-heavy article I’ve ever written to date but I just had to share with you the wonderful cuisine of Vietnam. These pictures do not do it any justice and reminiscent of the classic one-liner “You had to be there…”, you simply just had to taste it.
In the course of typing this up and going through all the images, selecting, cropping and editing bits out, I could not contain myself from salivating and I have already done a search on the internet for various recipes. I am dead keen on trying them out now in my bid to bring Saigon into the confines of my own home.
Hope you’ve all enjoyed it! My tummy has =)
Bon appetit! (and yes, no need to tell me, I did not rub in my white sunscreen that well, lol)