“It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy. Let's go exploring!”
2013 Travels: #20 Vietnamese Cuisine
If someone asks me to recommend a place in Southeast Asia for good food, I’ll send them to Malaysia. Of course, that’s my nationality bias speaking but if there was a second choice, it would be Vietnam. Yup. Not Thailand. Not Indonesia. And certainly not – God forbid – Singapore. (Sorry Singaporeans, no hard feelings!) This blog and its glorious photos will show you why.
Newcomers to Vietnamese cuisine will first be surprised by the amount of greens served at almost every meal. Raw green vegetables and herbs are stacked highly on a plate, either to be eaten straight away or plucked and mixed into the main meal. Where herbs like coriander seem like an afterthought in oriental cooking; in Vietnam it’s a major component in certain dishes. This is something you need to get used to and understandably, not everybody favours it. If you like it though, you’re in for a treat.
If you care to look for it, you could trace foreign influences in the dishes, ranging from the Chinese to the French. Meats like pork, chicken, fish and shrimp could be found in the local diet while ingredients and herbs like fish sauce, basil, tamarind, coriander, spring onions are common. The French left its influence as well, with baguette and pate seeping through the daily diet.
The great thing about dining in Vietnam is that street vendors are everywhere at any time of the day, especially in cities like Hanoi and Saigon. However, not all of them are brilliant and a good number of them serve mediocre food. To uncover the really good, you need to dig deep inside the winding back alleys, either through sheer luck or through a local in-the-know. If you’re unsure, always observe. The number of locals dining is usually correlate to the quality of food. A high turnover rate also means the food is fresh, and you’re less likely to come down with food poisoning.
I’m willing to bet that if you could find one of those stalls that serve only the best meals, your tastebuds will never be satisfied. And long after you have returned to your home country, you will soon yearn for a good Vietnamese fix and be tempted to fly to Vietnam on impulse just for the gastronomy. I know I do.
(The following is a list of dishes I’ve tried during my 3-week stay in Vietnam. Although it barely scratches the surface and not every one of them were memorable, it should give you a good picture of what the cuisine is about.)
On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series.
I was in Vietnam from March 20 to April 9. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone.