Four days in Ho Chi Minh City were spectacular.
Living in Thailand, the thing that always amazes me is how different Vietnam is even though there are so many superficial similarities…Asian culture whose roots are Chinese, developing nation with a high poverty level, similar cultural customs, etc. But where Vietnam separates itself is with the people. This is a place where people have seen war, hunger and extreme communist regimes. This is a country where the work ethic approaches that of New York or Hong Kong and seems to be driven by a real feeling that they can advance and are not limited by their social status at birth. They are grateful for everything they have as they have worked hard to earn it. Ho Chi Minh city, formerly Saigon, is a prime example of this.
As the largest city in Vietnam it is the bustling commercial center for the country. And this is not lost on the Western world – many companies are moving their overseas manufacturing operations out of Thailand and China, not because the cost of operation is tremendously different, but because the commitment to quality and efficiency are vastly superior. Companies like North Face, Patagonia, some of Nike and running their global manufacturing facilities from HCMC.
And beyond the corporate world, there is a inspiring art scene with everything from serious painters to talented fashion designers. It really is unusual to see such original thought in SE Asia. This will sound jaded and no doubt will raise some eyebrows, but the region is not known for original thought….SE Asians are masters of copying and with clear instructions they are wonderful do-ers. But art and culture as we know it (original musicians, galleries with artists, fine arts museums, operas, symphonies) are simply absent in SE Asia. This is generally because of the government and resulting education systems which create followers rather than leaders. Original thought is squelched as that is the stuff of questioning minds and protests. But somehow, despite the current communist regime in Vietnam, there is a thriving art scene in HCMC. And while this certainly exists at a high brow level, it also exists on a more approachable scale – Vietnamese designers trained by french tailors during the colonial times turn out incredibly unique and inspired silk dresses in the most dazzling array of colors and patterns. This is just another example of how the Vietnamese persevere and create their own destinies.
Likely this is resulting from HCMC’s long history. It was actually part of Cambodia until it was annexed by the Vietnamese in the 17Th century. Colonized by the French in the 1800′s, the city became so Western and cosmopolitan that it was known as “Paris in the Orient.” Today, the city is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards , French colonial buildings and lovely little bistros and cafes making breads and pastries in the French tradition.
Au Parc was one such example. Easily the most delightful cafe I have had the pleasure of dining in, in all of SE Asia. A French cafe, it offers the standard fare (omelets, croque monsieur, pates, cheeses, cafe au lait) but also offers French North African fare (hummus, falafel, chicken tajine). What impressed us the most was the quality of the food – the freshest ingredients, prepared absolutely correctly. It was so good, we ate there twice! Sampling once from the French items and the second time from the North African menu. I will say that sometimes one stumbles upon gems in Asia – and typically these gems are qualified by the fact that they are “good” for Asia – meaning….well it is not NYC pizza, but not bad for Bangkok. Au Parc however, would have a welcome home in any major metropolitan city in Asia or the West. It was just that good.
So by day, aside from our visits to Au Parc, we explored the city on foot. It is actually quite small and completely manageable for a weekend trip. In one day we managed to see the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. Two must sees,for sure. But mainly we took in the city with long walks….popping in a lacquer-ware shop here, stopping for a Vietnamese coffee there. Funnily enough a large part of the one rainy afternoon was spent in Annam Gourmet Store. If you have lived or spent any time in Asia this place will blow your mind – the array of imported foods and wines is simply dazzling. Copolla Cabernet Sauvignon’s for $15, a wide selection of Belgian ales including Duvel and Chimay, organic flours and grains, imported cheeses and pates, imported chocolates and heavenly sweet treats. We emerged with a couple of bottles of Californian wine, organic buckwheat pancake mix and dried cranberries. Yum.
So back to Bangkok we go….with pancake mix, memories of a well spent weekend and a deeper appreciation for Vietnam.
by Joanna on March 17, 2009
Nuoc mam, fish sauce, is the most essential ingredient for everyday meals and cooking in Viet Nam.
It is a signature aspect of Vietnamese cuisine, and distinguishes it from Chinese cooking, which is marked by its prominent use of soy sauce. This inimitable, Vietnamese sauce is obtained through the maceration of saltwater fish and their fermentation under sunny, natural conditions. The ingredients and climate are readily available thanks to the country’s lengthy coastline and tropical forecasts.
The best nuoc mam comes from the islands of Phu Quoc and Cat Hai, respectively on the southwestern and northern coasts, and from the central province of Phan Thiet.
There’s a Thai variation of nuoc mam, but it does not compare to the original Vietnamese product. Nuoc mam is rich in amino acids, sodium chloride, histamines and organic and mineral phosphors.
Nuoc mam may have a strong smell for the uninitiated, but it is no more intense than a Roquefort cheese or a gamy meat. Plus, there are ways to lighten the odour, namely by not using it when cooking over an open fire.
By flavouring it with a variety of condiments, nuoc mam can be used to enhance a number of different dishes. When ginger is added, it is perfect for boiled duck; vinegar, lemon, garlic and onion are added for fried fish; and a smashed, hard-boiled duck egg may be added for boiled cabbage.
Nem, spring rolls, require a very light sauce seasoned simply with vinegar, sugar and pepper, while banh cuon, a plain or stuffed rice wrap, goes particularly well with a wee bit of natural belostomid essence.
In Phan Thiet, home to one of the country’s most famous brands, nuoc mam is garnished with pineapple slices, while house wives in some other parts of the South boast a more exotic recipe: nuoc mam in boiled coconut milk.
But the ingredient that tops all others is chilli, fresh or powdered the hotter the better and lots of it. In addition to nuoc mam, there are paste products, generically named mam, also made from macerated marine fish and crustaceans and believed to have been introduced by the Cham and other ethnic groups of Malayo-Polynesian origin.
The most common of these other products is the shrimp-based mam tom, notorious for its strong smell but irreplaceable in regards to dog meat, pig organs, grilled tofu and fat pork. Mam tom, called mam ruoc in the central regions, is a must-have for certain Hue specialities, such as bun bo, beef noodles, and com hen, mussels with rice.
Still, there’s nothing like mam tom chua, sour fermented shrimp, the crown jewel of Hue cooking. Farmers in the Hong (Red) River Delta have their own special brew, which they make from small, fresh-water shrimp and call mam tep. It’s unforgettable once you’ve tried it with a little fat pork, noodles and some aromatic herbs.
Chung cake is a traditional and irreplaceable cake of Vietnamese people in the Tet Holidays and King Hung’s anniversary (10th March Lunar). For the Vietnamese, making Chung cake is the ideal way to express gratitude to their ancestors and homeland.
The legend of Chung cake
Chung cake was invented by the 18th Prince of Hung Emperor in the contest of looking for new Emperor. According to the legend, 3,000-4,000 years ago, Prince Lang Lieu, made round and square cakes, the round Day cake symbolizing the sky and the square Chung cake symbolizing the Earth (under the ancient Vietnamese perception), to be offered on the occasion of Spring.
In the ancient conception, the Earth is square, hence Chung cake’s shape is square, too, to reflect the Earth shape. Since the cakes he offered were of special meaning and delicious taste, Lang Lieu was selected to be the next Emperor. Since then, in honor of this 18th Prince, Vietnamese people always make and have Chung cake in the Lunar New Year. Up to now, Chung cake has become the most famous and irreplaceable traditional Vietnamese food in Tet Holiday. This legend aims to remind the next generations of the ancient tradition as well as the primary of Chung cake. Besides, it emphasizes the important role of rice and nature in water rice culture. Read more of this article »
Similar to rice noodle (Pho) and chicken or pork soup (Hu tieu), My Quang is a variety of Pho (rice noodle soup), because the noodles are made from rice and soused with soup as serving. The soup sauce, which is added, comes from a mixture of flavor from beef or pork bone, shrimps, crabs, chicken and duck. The noodles are yellow, somewhat distinct from Pho. However, the main reason for having this color is to be in hannony with the colors of shrimps and crabs.
The best My Quang is made from rice in Phu Chiem, shrimp in Cho Dai and spicy vegetables in Tra Que. As a strict selection of substances to prepare, My Quang has been dominant in almost all of culinary markets in the Central provinces and expanded to Ho Chi Minh City with a high qualification of a Quang Ngai’s specialty
Source: Vietnamese Food
“Com hen Song Huong” is a dish served at room temperature, made with mussels and leftover rice. It is a complicated recipe that includes sweet, buttery, salty, sour, bitter and spicy flavors.
Com hen Song Huong (or Com hen in short) is the very simple and low-priced specialty of Hue, the ancient citadel of Vietnam. Accordingly, the way of serving this special kind of food is of great ancience, simplicity and deliciousness.
Com hen has a sweet-smelling flavor of rice, onion, and grease, as well as strange tastes of sweet, buttery, salty, sour, bitter, and peppery-hot. You have to arrive to Hen river-islet in the Perfume River to have the original Com hen. However, you can find out the dish on some streets in Hue City. It requires 15 different raw materials to prepare for the dish, including mussel, fried grease, watery grease, peanuts, white sesames, dry pancake, salted shredded meat, chilly sauce, banana flower, banana trunk, sour carambola, spice vegetables, peppermint, salad, etc.
Com hen is always attractive to many customers since it is tasty and, at the same time, economical to anybody.
What makes this simple kind of food popular is revealed in the great endeavor to adopt and process its main ingredient – mussel. Mussels are sea species, which must be dipped in water for a long while before being processed. Accordingly, people often say that com hen somehow expresses the strenuous work of the maker.
Where to find it? Very easy as it is popular everywhere in Hue and these days, elsewhere in Hue restaurants in Vietnam. More favorably, it is a low-priced specialy, thus you could eat it in luxurious restaurants in Hue or even in vendoring mobile shops on the streets.
“Visiting Hue could not miss Com hen, or else you have not come to Hue ever!” is the most common remark of visitors elsewhere to Hue. So, please come and enjoy it yourself!
Source: Vietnam Food
Pho, a typical dish of Hanoi people, has been existing for a long time. Pho is prepered not only in a sophisticated manner but also in the technique which is required to have sweet but pure bouillon, soft but not crasded noodle, soft and sweet smelling meat. Only in cold days, having a hot and sweet smelling bowl of Pho to enjoy would make you experience the complete flavor of the special dish of Hanoi.
Boil 10 cups water. Burn the whole fresh onions over high heat until golden brown. Add beef spareribs or ox tail into the boiling water. Skim while cooking to make a clear broth. Add browned onion and carrots after 1 hour of boiling. Cook another hour. Then remove meat and vegetable. Strain the bouillon, season it with spices, salt, fish sause as indicated and keep boiling to server very hot soup. Add boiled water, if necessary, to have 6-8 cups of bouillon. This broth is very spicy and a little salty.
Slice tender beef finely and cooked beef coarsely. Soak dry rice noodles in hot water 10 minutes before cooking. Coolk rice noodles sparately until done (about 10-15 minutes), drain in hot water to remove the starch.
Server at once into bowl.
Beef soup, rare: cooked rice noodles 1/3 bowl, raw beef minced on top. Pour over them one cup boiling bouillon. Add bib lettuce, green onion and onion rings.
Beef soup, done: cooked rice noodles, cooked beef, bib lettuce, onion rings, green onion in top. Pour over all ingredients 1 cup boiling bouillon.
Provide the guests with spoons and chopstichs to take the soup.
Source: Vietnam Food
Cha ca La Vong is one of the most delicious spcialities of Hanoi Food. Hanoi now has several stores selling Cha ca La Vong, but none of them can be equal to the Cha Ca Road’s in terms of quality and flavor. As a popular dish, La Vong grilled fish pie is indeed a remarkable culinary invention.
The long history…
In ancient days, there was a street selling paints, called the Paints Street. The Doan family, located at house No, 14 of this street, hit upon a new idea that sold fried fish pie served with soft noodles and seasoning. Encouraged by the appreciation of customers, the family specialized in this trade and the shop was called as “Cha ca La Vong store” as a wooden statue of an old fisherman (La Vong) holding a fishing rod and a string of fish stands at the door. As the specialty grew famous with every passing day, the street was renamed by the people as Cha Ca Street (fried fish pie street).
Imagine that you are one of the guests…
While you sit down at the table, the waiter starts laying there some seasonings includes a bowl of well – stirred shrimp paste sauce mixed up with lemon. After dropping the liquor, he will decorate the bowl with a few slices of red fresh pimento, a plate of grilled ground nuts of gold yellow color, various species of mint vegetables onions in small white slices.
To many customers, the sight of such seasoning already greatly stimulates their appetite. A few minutes later, fried fish, yellow in color and flagrant in smell put on a plate of anethum vegetable, is brought in. But that is not all. A few seconds more, as soon as a cauldron of boiling fat is brought in, the waiter starts pouring it on each bowl of grilled fish, thus producing a white smoke and sputtering noise.
Now, this is the time for picking and choosing what you like from the dishes on the table; sticking them into your bowl. Everything in all dishes should be eaten together. Let’s taste…
In the whole of Vietnam, there are 3 suggested Cha ca La Vong restaurants:
- N014, Cha Ca street- Old Quarter in Hanoi
- N087 Nguyen Truong To street, Hanoi
- N03 Ho Xuan Huong street, Ward 6, District 3, HCMC
Source: Vietnam Beauty
For what it lacks in frills, Bun Bo Nam Bo compensates with its namesake’s well-crafted taste. Julie Ginsberg confesses to a new addiction.
At Bun Bo Nam Bo, the name says it all. That’s what they do, and they do it well.
One should not visit this tiny establishment, basically an expanded street vendor, seeking a classy meal. One glance at the banana leaves and napkins littering the floor gives that away.
Nor should anyone come to 67 Hang Dieu Street in pursuit of an ambient meal. The cacophonous din from the small TV perched in the corner in symphony with the humming fans makes that quite clear as soon as you sit down.
Couples looking for a romantic dinner had better look elsewhere; the bench seats and long metal-topped tables are in no way suited for intimacy.
If, however, you would like a warm bowl of bun bo nam bo, a concoction of noodles and beef topped with peanuts, dried onions, bean sprouts, green papaya and a mysterious blend of vegetables and herbs, then you should absolutely try this place bearing its name.
Looks aren’t everything: Bun Bo Nam Bo’s signature dish isn’t your average bowl of noodles and beef.
How can Bun Bo Nam Bo be so bold as to establish a pseudo-restaurant named after one dish and then serve only that dish? Because it’s delicious, that’s why. There’s no need to complicate matters. Just say, “mot” (“one”) to the woman at the entrance sitting behind the table covered with bowls of ingredients and grab a spot on a bench and two wooden chopsticks. When a bowl appears before you moments later, lose yourself in this delightfully crunchy, not quite sweet and slightly sour blend of noodles and tender beef in a little broth. Bottles of vinegar and chilli and soy sauces allow the diner to personalise the dish with an added sour, spicy or salty touch.
Bun Bo Nam Bo’s clientele is a testament to its stellar reputation among Vietnamese and foreign diners alike. At 6.30pm, when the restaurant’s benches are lined with dinner customers, a few foreign faces always dot the crowd.
Bun Bo Nam Bo’s longevity leaves little doubt that the place is an institution in this town. While many Ha Noi restaurants close down within a year or two of popping up, Bun Bo Nam Bo has been around since 1988. Since then, they’ve tweaked their recipe to suit Hanoians’ tastes, as the dish originates in the central provinces and is uncommon in the region surrounding Ha Noi. The small, grey-haired owner, who lives above the restaurant, can often be found sitting by the entrance next to his daughter as she settles customers’ bills.
Though bun bo nam bo is obviously the restaurant’s speciality and its only main course, customers can accompany their meals with gio, a sweet, buttery fried bread for those throwing their diets to the wind. Bun Bo Nam Bo also serves nem chua, fermented pork rolled in banana leaves, then eaten dipped in chilli sauce. According to Vu Ho Chi, my guide to all things Vietnamese, nem chua goes well with beer, the beverage of choice at Bun Bo Nam Bo. Customers can choose from a selection of beers ranging in price from VND10,000-15,000, and soft drinks are also available.
Bun Bo Nam Bo’s decor is nothing to write home about – a lone Tiger beer poster adorns the walls. Nonetheless, the atmosphere is warm and inviting both for groups of friends chatting over beers and for individuals wanting to devour their bun bo nam bo in peace. Alone or with friends, seasoned ex-pats and short-term visitors alike should not leave Ha Noi without trying Bun Bo Nam Bo and forever altering their notions about the value of VND16,000.
Address: 67 Hang Dieu Street
Comment: A delicious way to spend VND16,000
Eating in Vietnam ranges from cheap noodle soups on the street for about 25 cents to a banquet in one of the luxury hotels. Vietnamese restaurants offer a broad selection of international fare including French, Italian, American, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.
The most typical Vietnamese food is Pho, the noodle soup with meat in it. It is very cheap at around 10,000d per bowl and usually well spiced. The main types are: Pho Bo with beef, Pho Bo Tai with rare beef fillets and Pho Ga with chicken. Com – steamed white rice is eaten for lunch and dinner. Nuoc Mam is the fermented fish sauce used to spice absolutely everything in Vietnam.
Seasonal fruits such as dragon fruit, rambutans and longans, fresh vegetables and local seafood are widely available, although supply can vary by region and season. All fruits and vegetables should be cooked or peeled before eaten.
Drinking water or ice is generally not recommended, even in the cities. Bottled water is cheap and readily available, so we recommend you don’t take the risk.
Vietnam is a beer culture and Hanoi is the “bia hoi” capital of Vietnam. Bia hoi (draught beer) is one of things you should not be missed. It’s the most popular beverage throughout the country and the cheapest beer in the world, 2,000d a glass. For the higher quality, there are plenty of local as well as imported brands, such as 333, Carlsberg, Hanoi, Tiger, Saigon, LaRue, San Miguel and Heineken.
Beside beer, Vietnam is also a place to enjoy tea (Thai Nguyen tea or “Thai tea”), coffee (“Trung Nguyen coffee”) or something heavier, wine (“Nep Moi” – the Vietnamese whisky).
TIP: Tram phan tram! and Zho zho!
Remember these words well as all over Vietnam, glasses of beer or wine are raised and emptied, cries of “100%” or “bottoms up” and “cheers!” echo around the table.