Sunday, September 18, 2005

Vietnamese Food - Very Tasty

Golden Buffalo Hotel - Hanoi, Vietnam

I have gone on record before regarding my affection for Vietnamese food. Spending time here has only further warmed my feelings. Read on for a dish by dish account of notable grub.

* Pho - This is surely the national dish of Vietnam. It can be eaten for any meal and is never hard to find. It usually comes as a large bowl of broth filled with slices of beef, onions, scallions, rice noodles, and sometimes garlic. You also get a bowl of leaves (lettuce, basil, mint) and something spicy (chili sauce or oils or just plain chilis) to add as you see fit. There are variations that include chicken, beef tendon, tripe, and rare or well done beef. I have had most of them and never been unsatisfied.

* Com - This is the second most popular sign to see outside of a restaurant. It means "rice". The usual meal is tea, soup, and a plate of rice. The rice comes standard with some greens (usually a stringy, spinach-like plant) and any number of side dishes that you select (by pointing, in my case). Like pho, com is usually eaten seated on a small plastic chair at a small plastic table on the sidewalk or in an open shop front. It is not a formal affair. Com is always easy and often tasty.

* Eel - The first time I had eel in Vietnam, it was served breaded and fried pieces on a plate. The second time was not quite so simple. Our Mekong tour guide, Le, ordered an eel hotpot. The waitress brought out the usual gas burner and big dish of broth and set them simmering. I thought should would them bring out a plate of eel bits for us to cook up. Not so. After the water hit a boil, Le pulled an entire gutted eel (head, tail, and skin intact) out of the broth and started breaking it into sections. You eat the meat and skin right off the bone, then cast the spine aside. The whole thing was served with a plate of water lillies on the side that proved to be a yummy companion to the tasty eel flesh.

* Snake - This was more of a theatric than a culinary adventure. A large snake (not sure what kind - at least a meter long) was killed right in front of us. The blood and bile were drained into separate containers, mixed with strong rice liquor, and served up to drink. The still-beating heart was put in a small glass with a bit of liquor and given to the guest of honor (Jarah E in this case) to eat. We were then treated to a six (or so) course meal of snake-based dishes. The only notable bits among the dishes were the crispy fried snake skin and the spring rolls. Everything else was fairly mediocre. Our snake was chewy with an unusually slight flavor,

* Crocodile - We tried to get bull penis and testicles, but had to settle for croc. It was served as a hotpot with the uncooked meat and a pile of leaves (spinach?) on the side. We dumped in the meat a little at a time as it tends to get overcooked and quite chewy very quickly. To me, the crocodile tasted like chicken with a hint of fish. I am not sure I would seek it out again in particular, but I can recommend the restaurant, Highway 4 in Hanoi, with enthusiasm.

* Dog - An unfortunate terrier was served up in thin, barbecued slices and eaten with rice and a spicy/salty sauce. The meat is okay but each slice also had a healthy bit of fat and chewy skin attached. I could have done without the latter bits. Later on in the trip, we (Jarah and I) also had dog liver, but I do not want to discuss it. On the balance, I do not really care for dog.

* Cat - Jarah and I had a healthy section of cat at perhaps the dodgiest restaurant in Cat Ba City. It was served stir-fried in onions with a side of leaves and a lemon/salt/chili sauce. The cat flesh tasted like chewy beef and did not have anything in particular to recommend it. I think maybe the bit we got was overcooked.

* Fish - We ate a lot of fish in and around Hanlon (sp?) bay. The usual thing is to fry the entire gutted fish in oil and cut it into a number of sections equal to the number of eaters. Some lucky diner gets the section that includes the head. The fish itself is excellent. Eating it is somewhat more trick because of numerous small bones. As long as you are careful, Vietnamese fried fish makes for a very good meal - especially with cold beer. We also had a bit of a fish stew, but I think this was really fried fish dunked into a vegetable broth. In either case, it was also delicious.

* Coffee - The Vietnamese brew a strong cup of joe from domestic beans. I prefer mine with ice and condensed milk. The combination is a fatty-sweet mug of java with a characteristic and hard to describe taste (presumably from the indigenous beans). Coffee in Vietnam is consumed all day, but I find it best in the early morning.

* Mystery Meat - We had at least one meal containing some unidentified animal part. In the most memorable instances, guesses to the identity of the part varied from dog liver to cow heart to cat kidney to goat brain. Miscellaneous parts have a tendency to make me sick. This case was not an exception. Two spring rolls down to meals that end with uncertainty and an urge to vomit.

In general, Vietnamese food is fresh, delicious, and exotic. I love it and so will you. Unless you are stupid or something.


Blogger jason said...

That was some good-ass dog, I must say. Fatty and delicious.

9/18/2005 2:29 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum Yum. We have a vietnamese place here, where the waitress tells us every thing tates pretty much the same. -- It pretty much only serves pho. The serving sizes are huge, took us at least two hours to finish it.

9/18/2005 7:59 PM gmt

Blogger jason said...

From what I could tell, it's closer to a british person saying fur. Maybe Hau will chime in and give us the actual pronunciation.

9/19/2005 6:51 AM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's tasty noodle soup.
i just spent almost six hours on phone with our verison DSL tech support, with NO solution. i finally came to my senses when treated with such philosophical gem as rantings of 'oh the fragility of modern technology' (referring to a new dell, NOT verizon itself), and asked to cancel the service. but of course tech support cannot do that for me. Mofos.

9/20/2005 8:38 AM gmt


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