Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vietnam Saga: Street Food, Rewarding Experience

To me and to many people I met in South-East Asia, Vietnamese cuisine is the best. It is, really. Not only is it super tasty, but also varied and spectacular. They cook almost everything on Earth and everything in their hands becomes delicious. Probably even rats, but I was not that curious.
Nha Trang Beach, Vietnam - Ladies selling grilled seafood.
Early morning until early noon, you'll find Banh Mi vendors on practically every corner. Banh Mi is a crispy baguette sandwich filled with grilled meat, eggs, cillantro, pickled radish and carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, various cold cuts, ham, chili peppers, fish sauce, mayo - or all of the above, for only $0.50-0.75$. Seriously.
Almost "all-inclusive" Banh Mi. Photo by noodlepie via Flickr.
Yet, most Vietnamese prefer soup in the morning - Pho - which is basically a flavored beef soup. You'll easily find pho at various food carts around the cities. The most curious thing is the fact that the soup is "put together" on the spot, right in front of you: a handful of noodles, some bean sprouts, very thinly sliced beef, various other vegetables - mostly chives, and the hot flavored liquid:
Friends and family waiting for their daily soup @ Lunch Lady.
Put together right in front of you.
After breakfast, you'll have to wander a lot around the city, so you have to keep yourself hydrated. Many available options here as well: young coconut water, sugar cane juice, fresh orange juice, cold water, beer. Make sure you don't miss out  Bia Hoi (draught beer) - 16 cents a glass. The most poplar canned/bottled brands are Saigon Red/Green/Special, Tiger, 333 (Ba Ba Ba). 

Waiting for some refreshing sugarcane juice. $0.25/glass.
Young coconut water on the beach.
For lunch, Vietnamese will have pho again, but also various types of Bún (noodles): Bún bo (beef noodle), bun chay (vegetarian noodle), Bún chả (grilled pork noodle), Bún riêu (crab noodle), Bún ốc (snail noodle), Bún đậu (tofu noodle), rice dishes, springrolls, grilled meat, salty or sweet crackers, fresh fruit. 
Grilled partridge in the street.

Bun chay and pieces of fried spring rolls.

The feast is in the evening, when they add to all of the above: hot-pots (Lẩu) - meat, seafood, and vegetarian options, grilled seafood, and many other dishes, that could easily make the object of a culinary encyclopedia by themselves. On a holiday with friends and family in Vung Tau, our guests became familiar with grilled squid and octopus and grilled sweet potatoes. Sitting on tiny plastic chairs, they gulped everything in a second, washed the seafood down with a barrel of beer, smacked their lips, then wiped their mouths (and whole face) with some toilet paper offered by the owner of the food cart. Awesome!
Grilled squid, on the beach. $1.75 / helping.
Now, when you go to the beach in Vietnam, the feasts are guaranteed - right on your sunbed. What do they sell on the beach? Well, lots of things: snacks, refreshments, beer, seafood, expensive seafood, fruit, donuts, fish, and so on. It happened to us many times that we felt like we couldn't have dinner anymore because of the food on the beach. Yet, we never skipped dinner. :)
Freshly grilled lobster. $5 / piece.

She was laughing her heart out, as some Russian tourists were trying to bargain, even if the price was ridiculously low.

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