I expected many things to happen when I went to Vietnam, but being forced to a healthy diet wasn’t one of them. Apparently, Vietnamese like their vegetables, so much that it’s in their every dish; breakfast, lunch, dinner, hell even in their street food. No wonder they are lean and slim. I didn’t think I’d miss Filipino dish because I’ve always been a little adventurous when it comes to food, but I did. Don’t get me wrong, I eat vegetables, but when the nutritionists say “Eat pork in moderation,” I probably misheard pork for vegetables. So I eat veggies in moderation, . Anyhoo, one of the things that I document during my travel is the food that I eat and today we are dabbling on the authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
One thing I noticed in Vietnamese food is that they are not big on rice. What they do like to eat is this noodle dish called, Phở. It’s soup with bánh phở (rice noodles), veggies, and meat (either chicken or chicken). The first time I tasted it was at Elegant Inn where I had the chicken flavor while Bing had the beef. Pho is not exactly what I would recommend to anyone who likes their broth rich and salty. Pho is what you would have if the chef forgot to put in some salt. Pho is what you should have if you want noodles but need to be on a diet.
The most popular pho place in Ho Chi Minh is Pho 2000 because this is where former US President Bill Clinton dined during his visit. The thing that I liked about pho is the rice noodles. It is white, almost translucent, and really soft.
In English, salad rolls, Gỏi cuốn is herbs with small pieces of meat (oftentimes, shrimp) rolled in rice wrapper. It is served with nước chấm, a dipping sauce that accompanies just about every Vietnamese dish. I’ve tasted the worst and the best version of it. The worst version is from a side-street vendor in Bùi Viện. It was so awful, Bing and I weren’t able to finish it.
The best version is from this restaurant where the Happy Tour Guide, Andy took us for lunch during the Mekong River tour. We were even able to make it ourselves and it was so fun! [Read: The Not so New Story of a Mekong River Cruise]
Sorry, I wasn’t able to get the name of the restaurant. I find the Vietnamese alphabet confusing so I didn’t want to ask people about what they call a certain place or a certain thing anymore because more often than not, it involves asking them to spell it out for me. It’s tedious, and I’m lazy.
Cá Kho Tộ
Probably the most flavorful dish I’ve ever tried in Vietnam is the caramelized fish or what they call locally as Cá Kho Tộ. It’s cat fish braised in a clay pot, simmered in caramelized sugar. It has a perfect balance of sweet and salty that appealed to my taste buds, so much that I almost finished it all to myself.
Like I said, Vietnamese like vegetables a damn lot and Goi is one of their common salad dishes. I tried one from an obscure restaurant that was recommended by Mercy, the Filipino teacher based in Ho Chi Minh that Bing and I met. It is a mountain of banana flowers, papaya, cilantro, some bits of duck meat, and other veggies that I couldn’t even name.
Deep-Fried Sticky Rice Balls
Rice is not as popular in Vietnam as it is in the Philippines, but when they do rice they do it with style. I mean just look at this yellow round thing that when you break reveals, well, rice. It’s Hainanese rice only deep-fried. Was it good? You bet your A it is! In fact, if only I wasn’t too stuffed already, I’d probably finish the entire ball.
There is one food that I really loved in Ho Chi Minh and that’s Banh Mi. The name is derived from bánh = bread and mì = wheat. It is basically a baguette sliced in the middle and filled with cold cuts like chicken, pork, or beef, vegetables, mayonnaise, liver pâté, etc. It’s really good, so good it’s the only thing that I wanted to eat during my stay there.
While Filipinos love chicken, Vietnamese people love duck. And because they like it healthy they roast the friggin’ duck. Duck meat is not as tender as that of chicken’s but I loved it all the same so it was one of the food that I really enjoyed during my stay.
And Other Greens
Bing and I had dinner with Steve and Phil (those guys that we met during the Mekong River tour). The food there is expensive but really good. I remembered two things from this resto, 1) the deep-fried rice 2) the garden on our table. Because there are too many greens I almost planted a tree, joke!
Speaking of greens, I’m not sure if Vietnam has such a thing as a national vegetable, because if there is, I’m guessing it’s cilantro. It’s in almost all of their dishes that its smell wafts through the air in just about every resto that I entered. Maybe one of the reasons I had a hard time appreciating Vietnamese food is because of cilantro, you see, I happen to hate it.
I was not crazy about Vietnamese cuisine because it’s too healthy. Yeah I know, my reason sucks. Maybe because I grew up eating salty and greasy food, which is mostly what the Filipino cuisine is about. By the way, I’m not advocating unhealthy food, of course, it’s always better to be healthy. It’s just that when it comes to healthy eating, I’ve a long way to go.
But when I went back home, I found myself craving for some of their food, particularly Banh mi. Banh mi is one of the best things that I remember whenever some people ask me about my Vietnam trip. So if you too are not big on healthy eating and you happen to visit Vietnam, get yourself a banh mi. You can never go wrong with Banh mi.