August 27, 2012

Wanderlust: Vietnam

Despite what ya'll think, I do other things beside eat. I know, shocking! I also love to travel, and if I can combine eating & traveling, I am a happy camper!

Wanderlust will be a new series on the blog documenting my escapades in foreign countries searching for the most decadent, scrumptious, lip lickin' delicious meals. First stop, Vietnam!

hot pot
Around this time last year my sister and I decided to take our parents to Vietnam. This was our first trip back in ten years and we were all looking forward to it!

This was our first meal off the plane. It is about a four hour drive from the airport to my mom & dad's village so we stopped half way to eat. We'd been on a plane and in and out of airports for about twenty four hours at this point and I was looking for a bed but I guess I'll settle for a hot meal instead!

Hot pot - the asian version of fondue is very popular in Vietnam. Just like fondue, there are plenty of broths you can use and about just as many dipping components. Here we have fresh herbs & lemon grass in a clear chicken broth. We also ordered noodles on the side to cook in the hot broth. 

Ice Coffee and Fresh Coconut water
Scraping out the coconut meat
Banh Xeo
We spent most of the four weeks eating and drinking fresh coconut water and Vietnamese coffee. I don't even drink coffee in Canada but the way Vietnamese people do it - it's soo addictive! They use a strong black coffee, add ice and condensed milk and voila - modern day crack! Having access to fresh coconut anytime you want was a dream too. I love coconut, on anything & everything. The best part about being in a third world country is that no one judges you when you ask the server to bring it to the back and hack it in half with a machete so you can scoop out the meat! Recognize these?

Fresh snails 
Vietnam is full of "fresh markets". People set up stalls and stands and sell whatever they've caught or grown. Because very few people have refrigerators in their home, almost everyone goes grocery shopping at least once a day. When you think about it, someone caught it this morning, you're able to buy it a few hours later and have it prepped and ready to eat in no time. It's amazing how fresh everything was.  Of course it's not always sanitary but just like in Canada, you have to trust your gut, use your sense of smell, taste etc and of course, trust your supplier.  

Shrimp & Crab at the market - still alive too!
Dried fish & chorizo style sausage 
Rambutan, Mangosteen, Green Mango, Persimmon and Longan
Stinky Durian! 
Rose Apples - tasted like  crisp apple. Similar to the pink lady apples.
Sweet Sop/ Custard Apple, Green Mango, Dragon Fruit and Longan

The fruit markets was my favourite part. I was like a kid at a candy store. Everyday my cousins would drive me in and we would buy pounds and pounds of fruit. By the time they're picked and shipped to Canada the quality has deteriorated drastically and they're often way over priced! So you see why I had to take advantage of the cornucopia of tropical fruits here! 

When we'd get home my cousin would wash all the fruit, prepare all the appropriate dipping sauces and we would lay out in a hammock just stuffing our faces. That was the life...

Of course you can't go to Vietnam without having a bowl of pho or two, or three ... lets say by the time we came back to Canada, I was pho'd out! There were plenty of varieties out there, but my favourite was the "everything" edition. You have some pork, some intestine, some liver, a little bit of it all! 

Even before we made it to Vietnam I told my mom there was one thing we had to have once we got there. I had this once while we were in Vietnam ten years ago and I have been dreaming about it since. I have tried about a zillion similar desserts here but none could compare to the real deal!

It was a baby banana wrapped in sticky rice, lightly toasted over an open flame and them drowned in a milky coconut sauce. I am drooling just typing this up! There wasn't exactly a restaurant that served this up so my cousins and the ladies drove around just looking for a street vendor who makes it. Finally we found these two sweet ladies and to be honest, I don't think they had so many orders come in all at once! We each ordered one or two to devour on the spot and then ordered about a dozen more to take home to enjoy later!

Here I am sitting on the side of the road in absolute heaven!

Fresh Veggies and raw fish waiting to go into the Hot Pot Broth. 
Bittermelon and thinly sliced beef sizzling plate
More hot pot! Once the broth is boiled, the lid is lifted and the meat on the outer rim of the pot gets pushed in.
Freshly boiled shrimp with lime, salt & pepper
One of the best parts about visiting with family is the home cooked meals. We were lucky enough to enjoy plenty of delicious, mouth watering meals on both sides of the family. Some days we just sat around waiting for the next meal! It sounds silly but a lot of the socializing and drinking happens around the dinner table so people couldn't wait to invite us over for dinner, or snacks or just tea and fruit!  That was when everyone got to see our faces and talk to my parents and just overall enjoy each others company. Its been ten years since my parents and their siblings saw each other,  so it would be an understatement to say we enjoyed a few good meals! 

Summer rolls, whole fried fish and crispy pork

This ice cream man was also one of the highlights of our trip. He was peddling around homemade durian icecream. You had the choice of having it on a cone or between two wafers. He would lightly drizzle it with condensed milk before he handed it to you. They cost almost next to nothing so my sister and I would call for all the neighbourhood kids and pretty much bought as much as we could carry and eat before we finally let him leave. I don't think he ever sold that much ice cream to one household before. 

So that pretty much sums up our trip to Vietnam. We haven't been back in ten years and I am hoping the next time we go it'll be a lot sooner! Oh, and yes, even in third world countries teenagers spend all day txting with each other! 

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