Our Vietnamese Food Diary

First off, I’d like to apologize to the good people of Vietnam. We ate you out of house and home (and OK, out of all your street stalls, too) and for that I am truly sorry.

Secondly, I’m not that sorry because the food in Vietnam defied my wildest expectations…and I’d make the same calorie-ridden choices all over again. Seriously– thinking about it now is almost too much. I’m trying not to drool on my keyboard as I write this post. Prior to traveling to Vietnam, all I knew about Vietnamese cuisine was that pho was a part of it. You know, the savory, salty soup packed full of rice noodles, herbs, and meat. Pho has always been a rainy day go-to for me and Tay, it’s cheap! It’s delicious! But, BUT, there is so much more to Vietnamese food than pho. Pho doesn’t even scratch the surface, you guys. I type this from our hostel room in Cambodia and am silently weeping for all the scrumptious Vietnamese food that’s probably being cooked at. this. very. moment. that we no longer get to enjoy. But to you, dear reader, I’d like to pass on a gift. I can’t bestow you with a piping hot bowl of bún riêu through the screen, but I can offer up our many, many, food pictures and a bit of information about our favorite dishes.

Coffee

It’s no secret that Vietnam is well known for its coffee. Strong and bold on its own, but served with sweetened condensed milk more regularly, it’s no wonder that thousands (millions? bazillions??) of cafes fill the country from north to south.

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Here’s a standard cà phê sữa đá, iced Vietnamese coffee with milk.

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And this is our favorite cup of coffee in Vietnam, cà phê trứngegg coffee. This Hanoi specialty tops Vietnamese coffee with velvety egg cream. It’s truly more like a dessert than a standard cup of Joe.

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Or you can go caffeine-free with egg hot chocolate.

Noodle Soups

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Phở, the Vietnamese soup we all know and love. Not surprisingly, it’s even better in Vietnam. You can get the dish all over the country, but we found our favorite bowl in Hanoi. Our first night in town we were strolling through a local park and a precocious little boy asked if he could practice his English with us. Being the gluttons we are, we asked what his favorite restaurant in town was and he brightly replied, “Phở Thìn!” as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. We ate there twice and toasted to him both times.

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IMG_9451Bún chả, a deconstructed soup consisting of flame-grilled fatty pork, vermicelli rice noodles, herbs, and a sweet and savory broth/sauce, quickly became our favorite food in Hanoi. We experienced our first bowl on the first day that President Obama was visiting Vietnam and happened to be eating the very same thing.

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Bún riêu cua, is another delicious vermicelli noodle soup that features fried tofu, minced pork, huyết (congealed pig’s blood, only for Tay), and herbs in a tomato and paddy crab-paste-based broth.

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Bún bò Huế is a beef based noodle soup that originated in Vietnam’s former capital. The lemongrass heavy flavor of this soup can be a nice change from the savory flavor of phở, but we did not fall in love with this option, even when consuming it in Huế.

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Bún ốc, a snail vermicelli soup, is another one that didn’t make our favorites list. Unfortunately, the snails in this bowl were a bit too chewy for Tay’s tastes.

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The grandest soup of them all was this seafood hot pot b that we feasted on during our stay on Cát Bà Island. Hot pot seemed to be the party dish of Vietnam, so we invited a whole pile of shellfish and an assortment of mantis shrimp, prawns, and crab to join us for dinner. The mantis shrimp were the life of the party, dancing on the table when they arrived.

Rolls and Wraps

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Nem cua bể or, fried crab spring rolls. Hoooooo boy. These decadent mixtures of minced crab, minced pork, egg whites, carrots, mushrooms, and vermicelli noodles all wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried. Traditionally presented alongside bún chả, these beautiful babies are meant to be dipped in your soup’s broth and enjoyed noisily (to the chagrin of your waiter).

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Bánh cuốn, which are pork and wood ear mushrooms stuffed into a fresh, rice paper wrapper with crunchy fried shallots layered on top.

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Tay was on the hunt for crab pancakes nearly the entire time we were in Vietnam, and he finally found some in Hoi An. Pieces of crab, along with spring onions, are deep fried in a batter and served up by street vendors everywhere! The weird part is, the shell is fried along with everything else, so the eating process is kind of disrupted by picking out pieces of crab shell…not the most enjoyable experience, but a tasty one nonetheless.

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Spring rolls! Pretty much the same crunchy fried goodness we’ve come to know and love back home, but with more authenticity.

Sandwiches

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The bánh mì is Vietnam’s claim to sandwich fame and has even been praised by Anthony Bourdain–hopefully you enjoyed that little rhyme. The sandwich relies heavily on its bread, a traditional, fresh French baguette, and is stuffed with pork, pork liver pâté, cucumber, cilantro, carrots, and sauced with any combination of mayonnaise, chili sauce, and ketchup. Tay frequently enjoyed these sandwiches as a late night snack, but I found the pickled vegetables to be a bit sweet and ultimately passed while dreaming of meatball subs instead. Sigh.

Noodles and Rice

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We found fried noodles  to be common fare around the country and most often involved taking top ramen noodles from a packet (yep) and cooking them in a pan with a protein of our choosing, soy sauce, and some vegetables. Easy, delicious, and something we can totally get behind as (semi) recent college grads.

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Bún thịt nướng features a cold rice noodle topped with pork, vegetables, peanuts, and some fried spring rolls for an extra bit of oomph!

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Cơm tấm, or broken rice, featured here with sauteed pork.

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Found primarily in Hue, cơm hến is a spicy rice dish topped with baby clams, greens, peanuts, onions, and garnished with some crispy rice crackers.

Strange Eats

While we didn’t find these foods to be typical of the country, they were available on rare occasion. Tay, being a more adventurous (read: weird) eater, happily delved into some of these outlandish delicacies during our stay in Hoi An.

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Spicy skinned frog flavored with lemongrass and chilis.

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Pig brain steamed and seasoned with black pepper.

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Braised entrails seasoned with a variety of spices.

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And the granddaddy of all weird eats in Vietnam: Hot vit lon. Better known as “balut” throughout the rest of Southeast Asia, this dish consists of an unhatched bird (duck or chicken) embryo inside an egg. I’m not going to lie, I definitely had to turn away while Tay was attempting to eat this Fear Factor-esque delicacy, but he seemed to get it down OK.

Desserts

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Da Lat is a city in Vietnam known for its production of wine. So naturally while we were there we spent an afternoon enjoying a bottle of wine along with some cheese and bread along the lake. It was romantic and delicious, and so windy that neither of us could put down our dinky plastic cups for fear of them blowing into the water. C’est la vie.

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We were stoked to meet up with a familiar face from San Diego, Neil, and his fiancee (now wife, woot!) Thanh while we were in Hanoi. The duo took us on an amazing double date night that ended with some shared coconut ice cream (served inside a coconut, for god’s sake). Creamy, delicious, and simple, this ice cream is one that can’t be missed while traveling in Vietnam or Thailand.

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Our pictures are proof that we’ve been eating out a ton (obviously, we don’t have a kitchen), but we do manage to stay on a pretty tight food budget! Dining at street stalls is CHEEEEEAP. We’re talking $1-3 per plate. Featured above is an uncharacteristic splurge that we thoroughly enjoyed in Hoi An. Red wine and the most amazing chocolate cake I’ve had possibly…ever.

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Beer! Beer counts as dessert, right? And also sometimes breakfast, lunch, and dinner… We parted ways with the 10 cent cups of bia hoi and enjoyed a proper red ale while visiting Nha Trang.

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This picture might not be the prettiest, but please, take a moment to soak it in. What you see here is a blended cup of coffee combined with avocado and condensed milk. This ultra-creamy, ultra-sweet, ultra-caffeinated beverage rang up to the tune of $1.50 a piece during our stay in Ho Chi Minh. I’m still having lucid dreams about it.

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These sugary fire-roasted sweet potato cakes were the ideal late-night snack in Da Lat.

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Sweetened soy milk, also from Da Lat, that we didn’t really understand the appeal of but tried anyway. Spoiler: it was just OK.

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MOCHI SWEETS! Straying from our all-Vietnamese-all-the-time diet, we indulged a few times at this Japanese sweets shop in Hanoi. And it was so, so worth it. Our favorite was the chocolate mousse mochi…no further explanations are needed.

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Let’s end the post on a traditional note, shall we? Feast your eyes on tàu hủ nước đường. The crowd-pleasing street stall dessert is simply silken tofu (read: super soft, super creamy tofu that has the texture of Greek yogurt), covered in a light sugary, ginger syrup. A nice old lady in Hoi An hooked us up and was delighted/appalled when I began chopping up the tofu. Note to self: Do NOT chop. Simply spoon it up and enjoy.

Vietnam, you were good to our hearts and bad for our waistlines. XO

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