Eating My Way Through Vietnam

As you know quite well by now, food is my favorite part of traveling. I find that eating my way through a culture is the best way to experience it, and I found Vietnam’s to be absolutely delicious.

Before beginning our trek through Sapa, we were given breakfast at the hotel from which we departed. I decided to try the chicken pho, a dish that has been recommended to me on countless occasions. I’ve never tried it because it always sounded rather boring to me: a noodle soup with some veggies and meat. Well, I learned that pho is deceptively simple. It was just a noodle soup, but the broth, flavored with green onions and cilantro, was phenomenal. There’s a reason Vietnamese people slurp this stuff down on a daily basis.IMG_5082I knew from the trek in Myanmar that we would be in for some fabulous food on our trek. This was the meal from our homestay the first night:IMG_5115Clockwise from the bottom: spring rolls, chicken with lemongrass, spaghetti squash, pho, crispy fried pork and an omelet.

We were actually not all that hungry, as we had had quite a late lunch. Well, you wouldn’t know it from how we chowed down on this meal. I was on the fast track to becoming a spring roll aficionado at this point in the trip, and these were some of the best I had in Vietnam. It’s a good sign when a dish is filled with a food you loathe (mushrooms) and you gobble it down anyway.

I also really enjoyed the chicken with lemongrass and fried pork. All of it was simply seasoned and prepared, and absolutely wonderful.

One thing I loved about Vietnam was the heavy French influence on its cuisine. It has been one of the few places in Asia that I’ve found with bread and pastries that satisfy my inner Parisian snob. Breakfast the next morning consisted of airy crepes topped with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey.IMG_5129We had the same breakfast the next day, but the bananas were a little different. They were shorter and fatter than regular bananas, and had a different flavor. More banana-y than regular bananas? I don’t know, I’m bad at this. But they were good.IMG_5178I was, once again, shocked by how simple yet delicious lunch was on Day 2 of our trek.IMG_5164When my lunch arrived, I was not too enthused. Some fried noodles topped with sliced omelet? It looked pretty bland. But with a couple dashes of chili sauce, it was perfect. It’s hard to describe, other than to say that all of the flavors went well together.

When we arrived back in Sapa the next day, I made a beeline for my favorite bite of the trip: spring rolls. These were the best ones I had the whole time, and probably will ever have for the rest of my life.IMG_5208I enjoyed them alongside a local beer.

IMG_5206Hanoi had some excellent street food, perhaps none better than the bahn mi donor. This wonderful cultural fusion takes the fluffy bahn mi bread for which Vietnam is so famous, and stuffs it with Turkish donor kebab meat, cabbage, carrots, lettuce and tomato. My pictures of them are terrible, but trust me when I say they were amazing.IMG_5078The final food highlight of Vietnam was in Hanoi, at the Hoa Vien Brauhaus. I had no idea before doing a bit of research, but Hanoi is home to a number of microbreweries. This one is their most popular, and looks exactly like a Czech beer hall.

Alex and I tried both of their beers, one wheat and one stout. We both found the wheat to be a little watery, but the stout was excellent. I love stouts with notes of coffee, so this one was right up my alley.IMG_5242The menu has a mix of Vietnamese and Eastern European items, so it was an interesting mash-up (although I suppose both cuisines use quite a bit of cabbage). We sampled the sausage, fried cheese and shrimp spring rolls.IMG_5244 IMG_5245 IMG_5246The spring rolls were okay, but it was the sausage and fried cheese that stole the show. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been living in Asia too long (I’m usually not a huge fan of sausage), but it tasted really good. The fried cheese is a must-try if you go.

I would go back to Vietnam in a heartbeat, just to keep eating its wonderful food. I’m already scouting out the best Vietnamese restaurants in New York so I can continue to enjoy this wonderful cuisine from home.

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4 thoughts on “Eating My Way Through Vietnam

  1. So my very limited experience with Vietnamese cooking comes from Top Chef. I know, I know but what I learned is while things look very simple, they’re usually made with tons of really creative flavors that play very well together. You get hot and cold, sweet and sour, spicy and sassy all in the same dish. Plus, there’s fried cheese. Um yes. I’ll take two.

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