March 21, 2012 by Nina
I can’t tell you how many people have told me how jealous they are that I get to enjoy Vietnamese food, but I disagree. I have found the majority of the food to be unordinary and without flavor. Unlike Indian food, it is without spices, and unlike Thai food, it is not spicy. In fact, in our first six weeks in Vietnam, we have eaten more Indian and Japanese food than Vietnamese food. Though a favorite among locals and foreigner’s alike, I am not a fan of Pho (pronounced “fuh?).
While in Thailand, we were adamant about “eating like a local” and almost never went to restaurants for the entire month; I regret not having splurged, as maybe I would have liked Thai food more. So, in Vietnam we have been to many street stalls and nice restaurants. Both of which have for the most part disappointed me (actually I prefered the street food); So, here were my favorite dishes:
Banh mi (sandwiches) is one of the most popular things to eat in Southern Vietnam. Many times I find the meat to be too sketchy or just plain gross (much of the street meat is very fatty), so Julian and I ate our sandwiches mostly with egg, but I had ones with schweinshaxe and it was so good. My favorite street food for sure. No two sandwiches are the same, but they usually have cucumbers, a meat spread, tomato, and chili and soy sauce, and are always wrapped in a used piece of paper (recycling!).
One of my favorite Vietnamese foods is the fried corn with dried shrimp. It’s especially funny that it’s made on the back of a bicycle. I got mine on the sidewalk across the street from the Post Office in district one of Ho Chi Minh, where there are many street vendors.
Our Vietnamese friend who we met on Couchsurfing took us to eat “seafood,” aka snails, at this local joint that we would have never found on our own. But since then, I have seen many places to eat snails, mostly outside of district 1. We ordered a bunch of dishes that we all shared, and it was a lot of fun digging into food we were so unfamiliar with. We also had fertilized duck eggs.
Street Kem (ice cream) costs between 1,000 and 9,000dong. Julian’s vanilla cone came with chocolate sauce and sprinkles (cute). I had an affogato (espresso with vanilla ice cream) for 15,000dong (they usually cost about $8 in the U.S.).
Another great thing to eat is Bahn Trang Nuong (rice cracker with scallions, pork, quail egg, peppers, and hot sauce cooked on the grill). Again, a great place to get street food in Ho Chi Minh is next to the Cathedral/across from the Post Office in district 1.
We saw many restaurants with signs saying “broken rice” outside, so I was pretty excited to try it, but was disappointed. Like many of the rice dishes, the meat and veggies are sparce and you are left with a large, bland plate of rice with only fish sauce (gets boring quickly) to season it.
Bo Bia (spring rolls made of rice paper and stuffed with dried shrimp, jicama, and carrots) is accompanied with a nice chili sauce with peanuts. Unfortunately, they are not as good as the Chinese spring rolls I am used to eating in America, but Cha Gio (fried spring rolls with beef) is seriously good.
Hint: one thing I do love about the culture of Vietnamese food is that it is okay to eat anything, anytime and it is probably the only country where the ice cream truck (or actually bicycle) comes around at 9am–and this suits me!
Have you ever been to Vietnam? If so, which was your favorite street food? How does it compare to Vietnamese food in your home country?
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March 5, 2012 by Nina
Getting tired of eating street food? Willing to spend $6 on a great meal? Here are some of my favorite chains in Saigon:
ABC Bakery: the very first place we stepped into when reaching Ho Chi Minh, and we returned many times after that. It is a chain, but many bakeries sell only cakes and do not have a place to sit down. The one on Pham Ngu Lao has pastries and baguettes galore. But possibly the best part are the cappuccinos, with adorable hearts shaped in the foam. The baguette sandwiches (popular street food in Vietnam) are the best because the baguettes are much crunchier than the street versions. You can even get vegetarian ones, which are scrumptious. It was such a relief to find bread after a month without it, in Thailand.
There are so many Japanese restaurants to enjoy in Ho Chi Minh. Tokoyo Deli is a chain that provides “authentic” floor-style seating and delicious Sushi. The prices are not the cheapest in the city, but the sushi is fresh.
Pat A Chou is a bakery located near the Notre Dame cathedral, and boasts fresh pastries, delivered via scooter.
Mochi Sweets is a chain, located in malls around the city that has a wide assortment of one of my favorite desserts. If you haven’t tried it before, you must. Mochi has a pastry exterior made from glutenous rice with ice cream stuffed inside. Common flavors include: green tea, strawberry, mango, chocolate, and vanilla.
Annam Market is a haven for those of us missing gourmet cheeses and chocolates. A market filled with these imported goodies, as well as beer and cleaning products.
Highlands Coffee is the best chain in Vietnam. It’s like Starbucks, but better. The door is opened for you, and you are welcomed inside. There is WiFi, air-conditioning, frappes, free computers to use, and kind service. You can find them almost as easily as a Starbucks in NYC. My favorite items are the Cafe Frappe and Cookies and Cream Frappe and my favorite location is on Pham Ngu Lao, as it has the best couches. Still, I think Kita Coffee (pictured right) has better cappuccinos. Actually, let me say that they have the best cappuccinos, ever. I am not exaggerating.
Note: Of course, you should also try the street foods of Vietnam, but I will admit I quickly got bored with Phổ, and with all the inexpensive restaurants ($10 or less for two people!), cafes, and patisseries, we couldn’t help but try them.
What was your favorite meal in Ho Chi Minh? Do you feel guilty eating at touristy or chain restaurants when in a foreign country?
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