Vietnam for foodies

Hoi An boasts some of the best food I’ve eaten on my trip thus far. For whatever reason, this little town claims a few delectable dishes as unique to their town alone. The first is White Rose, a simple but outstanding meat and shrimp dumpling steamed in a rice dough that somewhat resembles a white rose.

White Rose dumplings

Second is Cao Lau, a noodle and beef soup with bean sprouts and fresh herbs mixed in when it arrives at the table. The noodles are only available in Hoi An because they are made from a particular water source that gives them their unique texture. The noodles are a bit doughy but the dish is truly delectable because the meat is marinated and tastes a bit of cinnamon. And the fresh herbs are amazing…mint and basil, I believe.

Cao Lau served with rice crackers.

Finally, crispy rice pancakes, known as “Banh Xeo”, which consist of a fried pancake, kind of like a rice crepe, with bean sprouts and shrimp inside. The dish is served with all sorts of fresh herbs which you put inside the pancake and then wrap in a thin piece of rice paper. It’s topped off by dipping in an amazing spicy peanut sauce. To die for.

Crispy rice pancake with fresh herbs, ready to be rolled

A rolled pancake, ready for dipping!

Hoi An also makes a delightful fried won ton, showing the Chinese influence on this old port town. I for one am glad, because they are darn good.

Okay, they look a bit funky, but are basically fried yumminess wrapped around a meat center with veggies and sauce on top

During this trip I’ve also grown a slight obsession for squid, which I eat nearly every day. I’ve tried just about every type of squid you could imagine and my favorite thus far came from a food stand in Hoi An called “Mr. Hung.” I ordered squid grilled in a banana leaf with onions, garlic and lemongrass. It was so tender and delicious that I ate the entire thing. The ladies cooking the food made fun of me and said, mostly through sign language, that if I ate squid like that everyday I’d get fat!!

My squid is somewhere in that banana leaf, which is in a wire basket being grilled on an open flame….heaven.

The final dish…

Both Betsy and I agreed that Morning Glory was the best restaurant we visited in Hoi An. The food was simple, fresh and absolutely amazing. The proprietress of the restaurant cooks family food the way her mother taught her. I want to live at her house! She said that fresh herbs are such a strong cultural influence that many Vietnamese will start to feel homesick if they cannot have fresh herbs everyday. It’s true that most food comes with a plate of herbs which makes a huge difference in the quality of the dish.

Betsy ordered this interesting dish at Morning Glory…a shrimp coconut curry actually cooked in a young coconut. The sauce was slightly sweet and unbelievably flavorable.

The Vietnamese do not eat sweet breakfasts like we do in the states. One staple of their diet is “congee” which is a rice porridge with either fish, chicken or pork. It’s savory and quite good! The coffee here is also fantastic, albeit a little strong. It will seriously put hair on your chest so they dilute it with sweetened condensed milk! And it comes with a little coffee filter perched on the cup. Seriously delicious.

Congee for breakfast with a cup of coffee in the background. I love the little coffee filter so it can brew right at the table!

Another item that is everywhere in Vietnam is “pho,” pronounced “fer.” This is a simple noodle soup, traditionally with beef but you can get it with chicken or veggies, that is once again served with a pile of bean sprouts and fresh herbs you mix in at the table. Fantastic.

“Pho”, aka noodle soup, with a plate of fresh herbs and some fresh coconut water. You can’t get much healthier than that!

Finally, I tried a traditional Vietnamese dessert called “Che” which is basically a sweet green bean soup. It’s actually made with mung beans and is only slightly sweet but quite good! No wonder the Vietnamese are so slender! They even eat veggies for dessert!!

Eating my sweet green bean soup, served cold in a glass

I reluctantly leave the food of Vietnam behind…and will seek out Vietnamese restaurants in the states as soon as I return!