From Vietnam with love: Vietnam’s Lively Food Scene — Mychi’s Travel Blog
Posted on December 26, 2019
The Vietnamese love food. Can’t get enough of it. Day or night there’s a local spot sure to satisfy your cravings. From traditional street stalls, rolling carts, to high end modern Vietnamese restaurants, it’s a food and fruit lover’s paradise.
(Image on the left is of Alex eating a banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe); the middle images are of bun dau mam tom, a shared dish of fresh herbs, steamed pork belly, fried tofu, fish cake, and pressed noodles dipped in tasty and pungent shrimp paste. Lower middle image is street food scene with banh trang nuong, quail eggs, and rolls. The image on the right is of Mychi at Blanc, a restaurant that employs hearing impaired people.
Street food here in Saigon is on another level. Get it fast, cheap, and delicious. Fast food chains like McDonalds or Burger King may dominate in other parts of the world, but they have a hard time competing here. Vietnamese “fast food” will be faster, cheaper, and healthier than its western counterpart. Food will even come to you. Relax in your pajamas and scroll through the various app platforms like Grab, Now, Vietnammm, Foody to have your pick of delicious street foods, meals from local family restaurants or larger domestic and international chains delivered to you.
(With a little one, delivery to your doorstep is heaven sent. Here are images of Banh Trang Tron, a variety of snack foods, and Collin with his fav banh mi)
If you are out and about meandering in traffic and feel thirsty or have a hankering for something sweet, salty, or crunchy, swing by on your motorbike, sometimes you don’t even have to hop off. The vendors will serve up your drink or snack in a neatly packaged takeaway container. Prefer to watch the world go by? You can sit street side on a low plastic stool tucked away in an alleyway gem, a bustling sidewalk with the noise of motorbikes passing by or find a quiet spot by the river. The urban sounds mixed with an array of aromas of charcoal grills means there’s something delicious ready for consumption. For a special treat, chill on one of the many rooftop decks and see the amazing skyline. The sounds, smells, and sights will bring all the urban ambience to complement your meal and cold beverage.
(Image on left with friends for night out to eat snails and seafood. Right bun cha
As much as the Vietnamese love to eat, they also like to drink. There’s even a term to drink and eat called nhau. The main goal is to drink. The eating is just so you can continue to drink. You sit drink some cold beer and eat various small delicious snacks of grilled meats or seafood, crunchy stuff with friends late into the evening. Not meant to be a full meal, more of a way to relax and drink, eat some small tapas style dishes so you can drink some more and enjoy life and the cool night weather after a long hot day at work. Not into alcohol? No problem, there’s a colorful array of fresh squeezed tropical fruit juices, smoothies, tea, bubble tea, coffee of course, and my favorite fresh ice cold coconuts to help you stay hydrated.
(There are SO many types of juices and drinks in Vietnam. Here are images of a passionfruit, lemongrass, orange juice drink, a fusion spicy cocktail, and Collin with a giant coconut with his thumbs up)
Vietnamese food is colorful, bursting with contrasting textures and flavors to excite adventurous palates. Pretty healthy with tons of fresh herbs. There’s a balance to the food. There’s hot and cooling elements, spicy, sweet, salty, sour, and the essential umami to any dish the ubiquitous fish sauce.
There will be different vendors and rotations serving food to the masses throughout the day. Your morning breakfast crowd will hit the noodle or banh mi trail, then there’s the snackers, and as the afternoon turns to dusk, the stalls and streets get energized to welcome the lively night crowd. There’s an electric energy and the feeling of eternal summer.
People are out eating, enjoying each other’s company. Vietnamese cuisine is rich, complex, full of history. Not sure if we’ll ever truly know the true origin story of the famous dishes, it’s complex, it’s political, it’s colonial, it sometimes took a tortured and nonlinear path to get here. Some dishes are uniquely regional, others have traveled and transformed with the migration of the Vietnamese diaspora. The food has Chinese and French influences due to its colonial past. Even though there are foreign influences the food is uniquely Vietnamese.
(Thanks to my sister, we had the rare opportunity to have my mother come back to Vietnam (after 37 years), here are some images of a taste of home. She loved it!)
The Vietnamese used their resourcefulness and at times took scraps of unwanted product and turned it into culinary legend. What we do know is that Vietnamese food is freaking delicious and is getting more attention from the world at large. For the locals, they don’t care about your TripAdvisor reviews of their food, they will make their signature dish their way, they want you to know what you want, order it quickly, pull up a seat and dig in. Try not to take too many instagram photos of the food and enjoy!
(Collin’s fav dish is Bun Cha, a dish from the north and made famous when Anthony Bourdain and former President Obama shared a meal in Hanoi… here he is VERY excited to dig in)
Food is so personal, emotional. Want to start a fight just ask which pho is better north vs south, or if you believe that hot sauce and hoisin should or should not be added to pho. There’s no way to fully represent all the richness, labor and love that goes into each dish and also tell the story behind it. Of the food, of the hands that made it, and if it truly represents the authentic dish. Each family has their own nuoc cham (fish dipping sauce) recipe, heck each individual in the family makes it their own way. It’s the way that food is made and shared and the experience that surrounds eating the food that makes it so special. Forget following the Anthony Bourdain trail (why you ask? you may be disappointed like me-Vietnam is changing at an incredibly fast pace, the food scene competition is fierce, there’s so much delicious food to eat, those reviews are years to a decade old, sadly sometimes fame affects the quality, price, and authenticity of the food)… dare to blaze your own trail. I would like to think Anthony Bourdain would have wanted it that way. He gave Vietnam a spotlight and introduced a broader world audience to Vietnamese cuisine which the Vietnamese already knew that their food is beautiful, delicious, and worthy. In the western world we still don’t treat it as such. We want the food to be hella good, but also to be extremely cheap. It’s complicated. Exploring local Vietnamese food allowed me to meet people, be humbled, make mistakes, get messy and dive into the culture. I once yearned for pizza and spaghetti when I was young wanting to be like all the other kids, what I truly yearn for now is a taste of home. A nice bowl of pho for the raining days, the hard days, the sad days. Heck any day. I’m truly grateful to sit and eat and enjoy the food of my motherland. Taking a sabbatical meant a break from inhaling my food in front of a computer and going outdoors to find food that nourishes my body and soul. Tasting new food, new flavors, meeting new people and hearing their stories has been an incredible adventure. Finding the local banh mi lady and the trying random stuff on the street that smells good and taste amazing is pure joy. Go ahead, talk to some of the people that make or deliver your food, discover your own neighborhood gems when traveling, make your own memories. You will fall in love…
Food is woven into the language, culture, literature, and ways of greeting. Have you eaten is as familiar as how are you? To show care, express love and emotion. Asian families may not directly say I love you, but they will show love by nourishing you with delicious food. Thank you to our wonderful new Vietnamese friends, extended families, and our teachers who have opened their homes and showed us Vietnam through the eyes of locals, fed us, and shared their love and favorite foods with us. We are forever grateful for these special moments.
Finally… here’s a sampling of our eating journey….!
Fruits in Vietnam — Saving the best for last, you cannot beat the fruits in Vietnam…