Vietnam Vacation: Food

The subject I am most often asked about regarding our visit to Vietnam is food. Vietnamese cuisine, based on fresh meats and seafood, vegetables and rice, is considered to be one of the healthiest diets in the world. Food is for the most part inexpensive, although some imports at American markets are pricey (as an example, we paid about $5 for a bottle of pancake syrup to leave as a thank-you for our host family). We enjoyed a variety of food, from a pot roast prepared by Hanna’s coworker and friend Sarah to hamburgers at Kangaroo Cafe (operated by an Australian expatriate) to traditional Vietnamese dishes and street food. Following are the highlights of our culinary experience. One other note – we saw a KFC in Hanoi, but there are mercifully no McDonald’s in Vietnam.

Tet Feast – Hanna’s landlords invited us to eat with them one evening. They prepared foods traditionally associated with the approaching Lunar New Year. They also ordered pizza specifically for Joey. (His review: Vietnamese pizza is unusual, especially the one with meat and corn toppings, but good.)

Hanna and her landlords. The apple slices were served for dessert, along with pomegranate candy he brought back from a trip to China.
Chả giò, or spring rolls, consist of seasoned ground meat, mushrooms, and diced vegetables such as carrots, kohlrabi and jicama, rolled in rice paper and deep fried. We also made our own spring rolls from combinations of fresh ingredients and rice paper, eaten cold. Both varieties are delicious.
Bánh chưng, a traditional Vietnamese rice cake stuffed with mung bean, pork and other ingredients wrapped in bamboo leaves and boiled until the filling is cooked and the rice has absorbed the green color from the leaves.
Phở (pronounced fuh) is a savory Vietnamese soup with meat, rice noodles and vegetables. The broth takes hours to prepare using beef or chicken bones, charred onion and ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and clove.

Street Food – Hanna had a food allowance of about $6 per day. She had only a mini fridge and a hot plate for food storage and preparation. Fortunately, there was plenty of affordable food from street vendors throughout Hanoi. These food stands would never in a million years pass inspection back in the States, and would appear and disappear randomly (or perhaps not).

A typical street food vendor. We did not eat at this one.

For breakfast Hanna usually bought a bowl of bánh cuốn from a stand near her house, at a cost of about 75 cents.

Phil enjoying bánh cuốn and demonstrating his newly acquired skill of eating with chopsticks.
Bánh cuốn, a rice noodle roll typically eaten for breakfast.

One evening the girls and I went to dinner with a group of Hanna’s expatriate friends at an area they called “Chicken Street.” The food was prepared at an open air grill. We shared different types of chicken skewers along with grilled vegetables and toasted sweet bread.

Food prep on Chicken Street.
Laura bravely ordered a grilled chicken foot. Not much meat.

One of the remnants of French influence in Vietnam is a preponderance of bread stands. Phil and Joey were particularly fond of stopping for a snack. There are also fruit vendors. One of their favorite tricks is to invite tourists to hold their wares, then extort a photo op fee (it’s still less expensive than a party pic back in the States).

Joseph the fruit vendor. The pineapple was delicious.

Ice Cream – Hanna took us to Tràng Tiền Ice Cream Shop, a well-known tourist stop in Hanoi.

Enjoying our green bean and sticky rice ice cream.

Mai Chau – I will dedicate a later post to a side trip to the Mai Chau district, but the food there was outstanding and deserves a mention here. It was served family-style and included soup, chicken, beef, seafood, spring rolls, rice and vegetables. Interestingly enough, French fries are served often in Vietnam. Breakfast was a choice of ramen noodles or eggs (either fried or “mixed,” which is sort of scrambled) with a baguette and a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, also surprisingly popular in Vietnam.

Dinner at Mai Chau.

Markets – While we would have liked to, we did not have the opportunity to purchase and prepare foods from a market. In closing, I would like to share photos that I snapped at a couple of markets that we passed.

Market at Mai Chau.
Chickens at a small market near Hanna’s house.

Wow, I did not notice the birds in the potato sack until just now when I posted the picture.

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