Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fun Foods of Ho Chi Minh City

Pho Bo
Bun Bo Hue

One of the great cultural interests of Vietnam is it's unique cuisine. Many people are most familiar with the steaming bowls of beef noodle soup Phở.

There are several variations of Phở, but our favorite is the raw beef version. When your bowl first comes to you, the thin strips of raw beef on top are literally cooked within seconds in the piping hot broth. Cost? $2.90.

But did you know there are literally dozens and dozens of rice noodle soups of various names and with all kinds of ingredients?  Like Bún bò Huế , pictured to the right. Each soup has its own special name and flavor, though to many Westerners they all look like - well - like noodle soup!

The other all time favorite in Vietnam is Chả giò - a fried spring roll that is completely unique from other countries versions of fried rolls.  Traditionally you wrap them in greens and dip them in nước mắm (fish sauce). When I was little and lived here in Saigon, we'd have 100 of them made up and eat them as the main course. These are a family favorite of ours. courtesy of Katarina

But what else is there to eat here in Vietnam?  It's time to go exploring! That's when the fun begins!

Bánh mì - which really means bread - is the Vietnamese version of Subway. Probably the most popular food item in the country. Cheap, fast, and available everywhere. Motorcyclists stop by the little carts to order their take-away Bánh mìs. They come neatly wrapped in used paper and a rubber band. When the food is gone, the cart owners close up shop and the cart disappears down the street or into a nearby shop. Cost?  About 65 cents.


Bánh xèo, or sizzling cake - made with rice flour, water, tumeric, seafood and vegetables. We ate our first Bánh xèo with one of the other senior couples here in HCMC. This particular restaurant was made "famous" by chef and food author Anthony Bourdain.

 Here is the kitchen where they make this famous dish. 

Sinh Tố - the most delicious discovery here.  Fruit smoothies of exotic flavors - mango, soursop, papaya, strawberry, coconut, or our all time favorite - avocado.  And if you haven't tried an avocado smoothie yet, Google it and try it.  You are in for a real treat! Commercial cost?  About 90 cents.

My homemade avocado smoothie - yum!

Everywhere we go, if they have smoothies, we try them.  Our good friend showed us where there was an especially delicious smoothie vendor - tucked down a little alley where we sat on the popular tiny red plastic stools and sipped away under the canopy of an old fabric awning on a sweltering humid day. Chickens, cats and geckos mingled aimlessly around us - and the enjoyment of the smoothie was only topped by the aesthetics of the surroundings.

Pork kebabs are not exactly Vietnamese, but they come right off the street vendor carts and we love them. Street vendors are an endangered species here, as the government tries to keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians, and sometimes the carts get forcibly removed.  Somehow, the carts reappear within a few days. Cost?  About $1.25.

Another non-Vietnamese treat here is Bing Su - a delicious blend of finely shaved ice and packed with your choice of fruit or other flavors.  Elder Coffey goes for the mango and I go for the chocolate - both are delicious! Cost? About $2.95.

But back to traditional Vietnamese fair - the cơm gà (rice chicken) is the street food of choice for many - including us.  On Tuesdays when we run out to District 6 to teach English conversation, we usually make our way to the little shop across the street where their cơm gà is the best we have tasted anywhere. 

Our cơm gà dinner - with broken rice, seasoned deep- fried chicken, and a few veggies, costs a whopping $1.20. Each. To the right is our cơm  lady - whipping up a plate for us.
Eating cơm  with the branch builders of District 6.
The banana paper lady.  I don't know the real name for her treat - but it involves smashed paper thin dried bananas dried over coals.  We bought from her a couple of times, and now she cheerfully invites us to continue the habit each time we pass her spot.

We could go on and on about the interesting foods we have discovered here - but let's end this post with two of the most unusual.  The red dragon fruit is a tropical fruit of Southeast Asia - looks similar inside to the kiwi fruit - but lower on the flavor scale.  Still, it's beauty makes it a popular gift or dessert.


And lastly, the frogs.  A cage full of patiently waiting frogs.  Cheap protein.

Uhhh - no - we did not try the famous frog porridge. 
 Though I'm told it's delicious....

As good as these foods are, when we tire of them, we always fall back on our American recipe of homemade zucchini bread!

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