vietnam special 2014
i returned from a two week break in vietnam not long ago. we tried to make it our mission to eat all the traditional viet dishes but with family events and excursions we couldn’t tick off everything on the list but we got round to trying a few. we spent a week in hanoi first…
best pho in town
we had one afternoon left in hanoi before flying to nha trang. as i’ve not yet had the opportunity to eat pho on the streets i wanted to make sure that i chose wisely! a quick google and tripadvisor later i was excited about visiting pho thin south of the hoan kiem lake. do not judge a book by its cover! outside doesn’t scream much or tantalise the tastebuds but the food is 100% on point. the interior doesn’t leave much for the imagination either (perhaps nightmares) but you know it’s going to be good when the lady asks you how many bowls as soon as you walk in. you don’t have the option to pick and choose what you want. there is only one dish on the menu and there is confidence it’s pretty darn tasty.
there were eight of us and not long after we had sat down, the bowls started to arrive. fully loaded bowls with extra extra herbs (not like other places where they are so stingy) and a side of dough breadsticks. the bread was so crispy and the only way to eat them is to chuck them into the bowl and have them soak up the flavoursome soup. we were given beef so i’m not sure if other meats or vege is even an option. at 40,000 VND (£1.11p) it was too good and if it weren’t for the generous portions, i would have gone for a second round. got to give them credit for using very little m.s.g as well ha!
cha ca la vong
no trip to hanoi is complete until you’ve tried their infamous cha ca la vong. again, this is another place that has only one dish to offer, all you’ve got to do is tell them how many portions you want. it’s turmeric fish fried in a pan at your table with plenty of dill and complimented with vermicelli noodles, peanuts, chilli and fish sauce vinaigrette. for the daring, you can ask for their smelly shrimp paste sauce (mam tom which literally translates to sauce prawn). i avoid that like the plague. we first visited this place eleven years ago and except for the new paint job, the food standards have not changed: it is still as good as i remember it.
fish wrap in tuyên quang
every time any of us visits vietnam, a trip to tuyên quang is in order. why? our ancestors are buried in a cemetery there and so is our grandfather whom we laid to rest last year (RIP). it was also where our parents were born and raised. i doubt you’ll ever take the time out to visit because it’s not touristy at all. it is however a very peaceful and naturalistic place, i’m sure there are some eco friendly resorts. after a long three hour journey across bumpy roads in an air con deprived van, dinner was had on a boat along the river. i don’t know what this dish is, it was mY first time trying it but i couldn’t get enough of it! the rice paper felt like paper so it was quite crunchy to eat. the fish was oven baked to crispiness and i reckon turmeric was a key ingredient (it’s becoming all about the turmeric isn’t it?). i rolled so many and ensured all the extra bits were included; vermicelli noodles, cucumber, red peppers, dill, carrots and ginger.
hanoi street food tour
this tour is definitely catered towards first time eaters of vietnamese food but if you have a spare evening, do it for the fun of it. they weren’t able to introduce us to new dishes (i guess we’ve tried them all) but it was good to wander the streets of the old quarter and try out new places as we usually have our go-to restaurants. a tour costs $20 for three hours and it works out cheaper if you pay in usd than in vnd. we tried mangosteen from an old lady selling them out of a basket on the street, bún thịt nướng (grilled pork vermicelli), bánh cuốn (rice pancakes with pork), kem cốm (like best ice cream ever! green sticky rice flavour), a selection of nem (vietnamese spring rolls) some seafood brown noodle soup and cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee). the coffee was so good, it had frothy whipped egg whites on top. it did keep me up all night though, i didn’t sleep a wink that night (no joke!). thuy, our guide was funny and would shout out “sticky rice!” whenever we crossed the road to ensure we stuck together… like rice for our own safety. that wasn’t the last we heard of that phrase!
a week later we flew to nha trang. this was definitely a week of just letting go and eating anything and everything. the only disappointment is that they add a lot of sugar in their soups down south so i did mY best to stay away from noodle soup dishes.
best pho in town
i can’t say i’ve tried many places if at all so again, a quick google later i stumbled across this place, phơ ̉hồng. it’s no special place either, an open plan restaurant with long tables for sharing and tiny stools. there’s only two options on the menu, big or small 45/40,000 vnd. the beef is rare before boiling soup is poured all over it leaving it tender for you to eat. the noodles weren’t quite how i’m used to them as well and it was too sweet for me but after a little touch up (plenty of fish sauce and chilli sauce) i was able to appreciate that this was really good by southern standards.
mY cousin thanh arrived in nha trang a day earlier and said he tried a really good tofu curry in a restaurant called lanterns. if one of us says a place is good, it is good full stop. tom (the new boy.) was going to meet mY cousins altogether for the first time here, eek! the food was definitely of a higher standard than some places we’ve been to. it is so much better than the night before yen’s restaurant which is actually ranked #2 on tripadvisor (me thinks not). i’ve not even bothered writing about it. it was good to be reunited with tom again after three months apart! it meant that #doubledinners was back on =D between us we shared the beef papaya salad, tofu curry and fish in clay pot. i could have ordered a lot more but one laugh from tom and i knew it was a bad idea.
the curry was mild and packed in a lot of flavours – it was very fragrant. i like mY curries hot but thanh was right advising me not to have it spicy. the beef salad was just ok. i’ve had better elsewhere and i felt the fish sauce vinaigrette lacked zing. the fish was really good but because it came out last, we struggled to eat it. i’m pretty sure we ate it all in the end though.
truc linh 2 was just a few doors down from where tom and i was staying. we’ve walked past it a few times and the smell of seafood grilling away on the bbq always caught mY attention. i knew we had to eat here! i booked a table for the ten of us and we enjoyed ourselves a banquet! it’s unbelievable how cheap seafood is outside of europe! i went for the mixed grill seafood with lobster which cost me 998,000 vnd (£27.72p). it consisted of lobster, clams, scallops, mussels, quid, prawns, snapper fish and served with french fries and vegetables. let’s not forget the “and many kind of sauce” – love it! a few of us ordered the same thing while tom ordered the tuna steak which was by far the best tuna steak i have ever tasted! it came with polenta, vegetables and a creamy sauce with cheese. mY sister emily went for the open seafood ravioli which was just divine. i ordered this the next time we visited but on the second occasion we were fairly disappointed as i think they rushed our meals because we arrived near closing time.
a break from the city to the countryside
i wasn’t well on one of the days and missed out on a trip to vinpearl’s water park =( nevertheless, people gotta eat right? tom did some digging and found a place that was highly reviewed in the countryside of nha trang. nha trang isn’t a big place so getting there was only a fifteen minute taxi ride. nha trang xua is an outdoor restaurant located in between rice paddies. it was a nice little retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
the bamboo like structure you see in the middle of the photo is actually a bridge/footpath. tom and i walked across it after our meal which was a bit worrying as we were both bearing food babies and i’m sure weighed a few kilos more between us. i went back out into the middle to snap up the panoramic shot.
the food here is very traditional and made fresh. i felt very comfortable with the menu and there was so much i wanted to order. tom had to take me down a peg or two but even so, we still managed to order too much! the banana salad with pork and prawns was by far the best dish we had. it was so light and refreshing. the black sesame cracker that came with it just made it perfect! the pork and prawn pancake (banh xeo) was too oily but it was nice and crispy. the summer rolls were very disappointing! the rice paper was too thick and chewy. we struggled to bite it off and it didn’t help that we were fast becoming full. the lemongrass pork was very good, and with a generous amount of lemongrass in it, the dish was very fragrant. the sauce went well with the rice. i wish we could have cancelled the fish clay pot dish. by the time it came out, we were pretty much KO. this is definitely a place for family so that you can share the dishes. they were very generous and mY only regret was not going when the rest of mY cousins were free. no worries, it was a nice lunch date and great spending time away from the family.
among these vietnamese dishes, we had a break from time to time and gorged ourselves on international food i.e. pasta, pizza, nachos, kfc *ahem*, greek and sushi. i’ll definitely be back in vietnam again so be ready for me!!!