eating everything in sight

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you'll think all I do is eat out; and when I do eat out it's only Western-style food. That's a pretty fair assumption, and we have done a boatload of eating out.  Most places here are terribly inexpensive, unless you go to some of the restaurants in District 1, especially one which is a great favorite of mine, a Japanese-Peruvian place called Blanchy Street. Notice how I don't use the words 'Japanese-Peruvian fusion' here because fusing reminds me of a soldering iron; and I once got burned pretty badly by one. That word has no business being used in food writing. 

But some of the best food I've had is the street food. Yeah yeah yeah, i'm sure you're over it, ever single Trip Advisor entry on every SE Asian town bleats out to its sheep that one must eat the street food. But the thing is, you really ought to.  And the street vendors tend to be the nicest, friendliest, and most beautiful people you'll ever meet.

pho-in' it around the country

When we first landed in Vietnam, we arrived in Hanoi.  I had never been to SE Asia before. The furthest i'd been from home was India and South America, and that was more than 25 years ago.  I was mentally ready for this adventure, or so I thought. I honestly didn't quite know what to expect. At first, Hanoi was overwhelming. I didn't think I could take it all in. But then we strolled around the city and started to notice things, little things.  Like this lady selling pho and chè đỗ đen (I believe it's a sweet black bean concoction) right off the back of her bike. I firmly suggest that someone back in the States ought to get on this mobile pho delivery service, seeing as more than one person, including myself, would have killed for a bowl of it delivered right to me on a hairy morning.

mobile pho vendor

Street vendors are everywhere.  In Hué, they sold grilled corn on the cob, setting up a little makeshift grill right on the street.  I ate far too much while we were in Hué, and was too full by the time I'd emerge from a meal to even consider eating another bite.  This is an omission that will be rectified one day.  We also took a cooking class while there, from the most charming woman who's husband's family ran the classes and restaurant.  These types of classes are fairly popular here amongst visitors.  You usually start off at a typical Vietnamese open air market and go shopping, then head back to some central location and cook.  For us, it was our first time shopping true Vietnamese style, and I loved it.  I saw things that would raise an eyebrow or two from Health Inspectors back home, but things like that go unnoticed here.  A lot of the vendors sell out early, so if you get there late it's pretty wise to not buy meat or fish or something that you just know has been sitting out for more than four hours. Common sense is your friend here; respect it.  But if you put all that aside, and shop in the mornings (or sometimes at night, the vendors come back with fresh, sometimes different products), you'll be rewarded with a vast array of things you'd never even heard of but want to get in your belly immediately.  

baskets and baskets of fresh straw mushrooms

We got back to the restaurant and immediately set about making a four course menu.  The highlight was a fried banana flower salad with prawns and fried shallots, and a stuffed pancake.  I really want to make those pancakes again. First you make the pancake in a small crepe type pan, then brush the inside with a duck egg that has been gently whisked. The ones we made were then filled with sautéed straw mushrooms (which you never want to eat raw unless you want a nice case of indigestion, or so said our guide who mimicked what indigestion looked like). It also had pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts stuffed in, then you fold it over and fry it.

stuffed pancakes, Hue style, frying up

For the first month after arriving in Saigon, we lived in Go Vap, a northern working class district. A lot of people (mainly expats but some locals as well) were shocked. "Why on earth are you living there?", they all exclaimed. The thing is - now that i'm no longer living there, I really value that experience.  The people were friendly and amazing. For example, we went to get roast duck from a street vendor and discovered we didn't have enough money on us.  With a big laugh and lots of arm movements, the vendor basically told us it was no problem and we could pay him back later - which we immediately did as soon as we could (and the duck itself was a delight).  The street food is amazingly good and cheap, and an average lunch - such as this stuffed squid with braised greens and rice (and a banana on the side) - costs approximately 88 cents. 

best 88 cent lunch around

I ate some pretty decent banh mi as well. If you can, if you have a choice, find a vendor that has a bowl of pâté hanging about, and get them to slather that on to the bread first. You will not be disappointed. 

Since moving into this new more southernly suburb (which I find particularly sterile and uninviting and can't WAIT to get the hell out of), I haven't been doing much street food eating, so I have cooked more at home.  This kitchen doesn't have much going on, but that toaster oven, with a capacity of maybe 8 inches by 5 inches, has seen a lot of usage. I've roasted garlic in there; roasted peppers; broiled chicken thighs, toasted innumerable slices of bread, melted many a things. 

the little toaster oven that could.

The fridge is always full of little goodies, like this bowl of persimmons. Ripe, jammy, putting any persimmon I ate in the U.S. to shame. That whole bowl (minus one because I'm greedy) cost me about 58 cents. 

There's a Whole Foods in Mill Valley, Ca near my parents house that I've affectionately dubbed "Whole Shed", since it's about the size of one. And then one day while wandering down Hai Ba Trung Street, we came across the Shed's Vietnamese equivalent, a place called An Nam. It's expensive for Vietnamese standards, but really cheap for American standards. They sell a lot of American, French, and British packaged foods, as well as Australian and American beef. But they also sell a really great selection of unpasteurized French cheeses, which I leapt upon yesterday, and which we had for dinner last night. 

An ashy tomme, a slab of veiny morbier, and a raw goat's cheese wrapped up in grape leaves. The goat's cheese was so incredibly fragrantly stinky and running out to sea. It was marvelous.

So the point is, there is no shortage of food here in Vietnam, whether you want to eat typical or Western. It's an inexpensive place to live, and so far I'm crazy in love with this country and its people. 


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