Thursday, May 5, 2011


Almost 3 weeks since an update but I hope that this post will make up for it!  My wife and I had an amazing trip to Vietnam that was full of good food and memorable experiences.  Our trip started out in Ho Chi Minh City, where we visited the War Remnants Museum and checked out a large indoor market that was flooded with people.  The latter photos were taken from one restaurant that really turned out to be a letdown.  I was really happy with the photos but I think that they are a classic case of food photography looking better than it tasted.  It certainly had us worried, but after making the flight up to Hoi An, our food fortunes turned for the better.  Ho Chi Minh, in general, felt like a newer sprawly city.  It very easily could have just been a combination of culture shock and jet lag, but we didn't love Ho Chi Minh City.  It was interesting for sure, but after visiting the other spots in our trip, I would have to say that I wouldn't put it at the top of my list of places to return to in Vietnam.  

Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, first meal of the trip and it was a good one

Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

Shrimp grilled on sugarcane, Ho Chi Minh City

Green Papaya and Shrimp Salad, Ho Chi Minh City

Banh Xeo, rice crepe stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts, Ho Chi Minh City

From Ho Chi Minh City, we caught a flight to Hoi An, where we spent the most time of the trip.  Hoi An is an amazing little port town dating back to the 15th century.  We had some great local specialties including Cau Lau, White Roses, and these little wonton guys with shrimp and tomato sauce on them.

Shrimp and Tomato Sauce on a Fried Wonton, a Hoi An Specialty.  Miss Ly's, Hoi An

"White Roses," rice dumplings stuffed with shrimp and pork, a Hoi An Specialty.  Miss Ly's, Hoi An 

Roasted Pork Spring Rolls with Fish Sauce. Miss Ly's, Hoi An

Cau Lau (Noodles with Pork, Wonton Croutons, and fresh herbs), a Hoi An Specialty.  Miss Ly's, Hoi An 

Hoi An Banh Xeo, stuffed with pork and bean sprouts and served with sliced green bananas.  Mermaid Restaurant, Hoi An

Clay Pot Fish cooked in Caramel Sauce with Pineapple.  Mermaid Restaurant, Hoi An

Squid stuffed with ground pork.  Mermaid Restaurant, Hoi An

Tea fields in the mountains west of Da Nang

Fresh pineapple growing along a trail that we walked
From Hoi An we took a two day motorbike trip through a company called Hoi An Motorbike Adventures into the mountains near the Laos border, to a town called Hien (or Prao).  We returned to Hoi An and then ventured up to Hanoi before returning home.  The cities were busy and the traffic was crazy, but we really got to see the beauty of Vietnam on the motorbike tour.  2 days of winding roads up through the mountains and back; dodging water buffaloes, chickens, dogs, other motorbikes, trucks, giving children high fives as we rode by and stopping often to take photos and get to know our tripmates better.  We were accompanied by guides Pete and Emmelie, a local mechanic named Mr. Sao, my wife's driver Mr. Hien, two Aussies named Ant and Ash, and another American named Jarred.  The group got along so well and we couldn't have been happier to go with a group of such great people.  Probably one of the more ironic things about the trip from this blog's perspective is that we had some of our best food in the cafe attached to the hotel we stayed in.  It was a small dingy cafe which was run by a small woman who was very pregnant.  We got coffees and a round of what they called "pho" for breakfast, but it was incredibly different than any pho I've ever had, and being that I was hungover, tired, and had low expectations for breakfast, I did not bring my camera.  It was a large bowl of rice noodles with a small amount of relatively spicy broth at the bottom, garnished with chicken and ground peanuts and some fresh herbs.  It was incredibly simple and it was amazing.  So amazing that I ate my entire bowl and half of my wife's as she declared that she was full.  I wish that I had taken a picture of it, but in the meantime, it will live on in my head as the pho that got away.

Beef, onion, and pineapple and egg omelette.  Hien/Prao

Fish cooked with tomato sauce.  Hien/Prao

Small sampling of local brews.  The Aquafina bottle is home made rice wine that was similar to sake but with more burning flavor.

A cafe where we stopped for coffee along the Ho Chi Minh Trail highway, South of Prao

Rice Paddies west of Hoi An

Fried pork spring rolls with fish sauce, Coco Restaurant, Hoi An

Fish grilled in banana leaves.  Coco Restaurant, Hoi An

Fried crab in tamarind sauce.  Coco Restaurant, Hoi An
 After having a great time in Hoi An, we made our way up to Hanoi before flying home.  We stayed in the historic Old Quarter in a hotel that had a clear view of Hoan Kiem Lake.  The lake is rumored to be the home of an ancient good luck turtle but we were unable to spot him.  The streets in the Old Quarter are very narrow and windy, making walking an adventure and an exercise in 360º awareness.  Nearby our hotel, we went to a restaurant specializing in Cha Ca (pronounced cha ga), or fried fish with fresh herbs.  When you enter the restaurant, they present you with a single laminated card saying that they only serve one thing and the price is 175,000 vnd.  It's a steep price by Vietnam standards, converting to roughly $9 USD per person.  Tourists bitch and complain about the price and 'what you get' for your money all over the internet, but the truth is that this was fantastic and worth every penny in my mind.  They bring out a hot pan and a burner frying fish in oil and turmeric.  Along with the fish, you are given a large bowl of fresh dill and green onions, roasted peanuts, rice noodles, other fresh herbs and fish sauce.  You fry the dill and onions at the table with the fish and fix a bowl with all of the other condiments.  It is a small bowl of heaven and I will be trying to recreate this one as soon as I can.

Frying at the table

Noodles and the bowl of dill and green onions

Bowl ready to eat
 Our final meal was a big bowl of pho before heading to the airport - we were let down by this dish but it looked nice so I kept the picture.  I got the pho "all" which included beef tendon, tripe, meatballs, brisket, and thinly sliced steak.  It wasn't terrible but I have had better, even here in Raleigh.  I didn't let it damper our final thoughts of the trip, I only wish that we had finished eating about 30 minutes earlier, because as we were walking back to the hotel I saw a little food stall on the side of the road packed full of locals wrecking bowls of rice noodles with entire pigs feet in small bowls next to them and fish sauce for dipping.  I really wanted to try it but we had another crazy cab ride in store for us before the long flight home.  I hope we get an opportunity to go back at some point... there was so much food to explore and so little time to fit all of it in!

1 comment:

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