April 17, 2014

Fooding in Vietnam

I came to Vietnam for two things: family and food. If I had my way, I would have gone to little restaurants every day and ate Vietnamese classics like phở, hủ tiếu, and cơm tấm nonstop. However, I didn't have any money, and the plans weren't up to me. We stayed at my aunt's house in the countryside and ended up eating home-cooked meals most of the time. We'd get invited to dinner and eat at a family friend's house, or just eat a bunch of seafood at home. But I still got to eat plenty of Vietnamese food.

In the mornings, we bought small snack-like dishes to eat for breakfast.

Vietnamese hominy, eaten with sugar and sesame seeds
Corn in Vietnam is much chewier and almost glutinous compared to American corn.
Also, check out my Vietnam look! That matching top and bottom...classic.
These are three flour-based cakes eaten with a sweet coconut milk sauce.
This sweet rice had such a nice presentation. The edible white wrapper made it so easy to eat!
Beautiful and delicious!

We ate so much seafood. Lots of clams, and my mom likes snails. Yeah, you read that right.

Snails are not a common dish in America, but you can steam them like clams and pull out the meat with toothpicks. They taste kind of briny, and okay, a little slimy. I remember eating smaller ones when I was younger, and those were good! These big ones though...not my favorite, that's for sure.

At least they look kinda pretty. Right? ...right?
Pulling out that meat! 
I got the whole thing out! Woohoo!

When you go over to someone's house, they offer you snacks. Boiled peanuts were common. I guess in America, these are only common in the south, because most everywhere else, our peanuts are roasted. If I was at a baseball game (though why would I ever be at a baseball game?) I'd rather eat these than roasted peanuts!

Boiled peanuts
Table setting

After the meal, there was always fruit, the perfect fresh and easy dessert. Many Vietnamese fruits like guava, green mango and water apple are accompanied by chili salt for dipping. Why isn't chili salt a thing in the US? It's good!

Green mango slices with chili salt 
Water apples. My mom loves these so much.

I got involved just a little bit in home cooking. We made banh canh, a soup with tapioca flour noodles similar to udon noodles. There was a unique, old-school process of putting the noodle dough on a glass bottle and slicing it off into boiling soup, noodle by noodle. Naturally, I sucked at it.

That Asian squat. 
The finished product. (Vegetarian version. Mine had seafood)

Thankfully, we did go out a few times to eat. I love the experience of sitting on those little plastic stools and having a toilet paper dispenser instead of napkins.

Bò viên, beef meatballs in broth
Bún riêu, crab-based vermicelli soup

Going out with Noel, we had some very tasty bò lúc lác ("shaken" beef), gỏi (salad) and stir-fried squid!

Bò lúc lác
Gỏi, squid, and the remains of the bò lúc lác

Of course, nothing is so refreshing as a cold drink in hot and humid Vietnam!

Nước mía, sugarcane juice
Nước rau má pha sữa, or pennywort juice with milk.
Never had the juice with milk before. It was so good!
Victoria + sugarcane juice 4ever!

Looking at what's for sale in the market is always fun. Always.

Grilled bananas 
All sorts of goodies

And still, there was no shortage of random snacks to be had!

Boiled water caltrop/buffalo nut/devil pod. So many names for this thing. I wasn't a fan.
Plus they scratched me through the plastic bag they were in.
Chuối chiên, fried banana. yum!
Rau câu, gelatin. also yum!

And that's just about all the food I ate in Vietnam! I'm sure everyone found me weird or annoying, pulling out my camera before every meal, but so be it. I hope you saw something new or interesting or both in this post!

Next, I'll share a real Vietnamese pho experience! Thanks for reading!

April 5, 2014

Welcome to Vinh Long

My mom left Vietnam thirty years ago, but much of her family still remains there. When we go visit, we fly into Saigon (excuse me, Ho Chi Minh City) and take the 2.5 hour drive over to the rural city of Vinh Long.

Vinh Long has a lot of water, which means a lot of mosquitoes. I got eaten alive on my first day, as those damned insects persistently created ugly patterns on my legs. It was really hot there, too, and the humidity made us sticky and sweaty so quickly. We showered to feel fresher and to cool off...which meant I was showering like three times a day. This wasn't anything new, though. It was the same way when I went in 2003 and 2007. The heat and bugs are part of the experience, and the highlight is being with family.

Speaking of 2007, remember this cutie patootie? He's 8 years old now, and there's a new baby to play with!

It was really great to be with family and friends. I spent some quality time with my friend Noel, who might be immigrating to the USA soon. She's older than me by just five days, and her English is way better than my Vietnamese. She met me for some studio photos (can't wait to get those!) and then we had a night out.

Things are spread out in the countryside, so it's hard to walk from place to place. Cars are rare because they're not practical, and the transportation method of choice is by motorcycle. "Xe Honda" (Honda vehicles) is a blanket term for all the motorcycles and mopeds that people drive. If there's one thing I would want to share about Vietnam, it's the feeling of riding xe Honda through the streets.

No matter how hot it is, you'll feel much cooler once you're whipping down roads on a xe Honda. The wind blows into your face but not many people wear sunglasses or helmets with visors. The women tend to cover up with hats and face masks because they don't want to get dark, and the men go without. But 90 or 100 degrees, the people of Vietnam have no problem wearing pants and long sleeves. To this American in shorts and tank tops, that's insane.

In the countryside, many roads will never be paved. Riding down these dirt roads, feeling yourself move the stagnant air, crossing crazily narrow bridges, and watching the scenery change is delightfully exciting for me. The steady clank of the motor is perfect background noise, low enough that you can have a conversation from one bike to the other, if you're driving next to each other. I won't drive, though. I'm always behind a cousin or uncle or friend. I like it there.

In my next post, I'll share all the food I ate in Vietnam! But for now, here are some pictures from Vinh Long.

nước mía (sugarcane juice) press
Squeezing all that deliciousness out
A typical store/restaurant