Vietnam Food TourReading Time: 5 minutes
As a lover of food, it is not surprising that I ended up on a food tour that took me round the inner streets of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in search of some of the best food spots not necessarily frequented by tourists, but more predominantly enjoyed by locals.
What is surprising is that I found myself at the back of a motorcycle riden by my lovely tour guide, Lina, on this food adventure. If we rate adventures between 1-10 with 10 being high risk of death but amazing adrenalin rush if you survive the experience, this was surely a level 8. Most people in Ho Chi Minh city socialise, and are therefore out and about, at night, to avoid the sun, thus the traffic was heaving and chaotic.
A fly could have laid eggs in my mouth when my jaw dropped after Lina led me from the comfortable hotel reception from which she met me and showed me that the vehicle we were to be using for transport was not on four wheels but two. In hindsight, I should kind of have expected it, I guess it was the ‘real Vietnam immersion’ I had been wishing for, but my maybe my wish should have been more discriminate of the elements that I supposed to be too risky.
For the first 15mins I held on to Lina like a priced possession. She was really lovely, but insisted on turning her head to talk to me, asking what I deemed untimely questions like ‘where are you from’, ‘how long have you been here’, ‘how are you liking Vietnam’-surely these questions could wait until we were sat down rather than as we were trying to weave through traffic and negotiate round-abouts. Everyone on these roads believed they had the right of way, and it felt like, if you blinked, you could be lying horizontal to the road and act more as a hump to oncoming traffic rather than a real reason for them to stop moving.
Our first stop was at a restaurant that served some gorgeous Pho Bo, Beef noodle soup. As a first timer in authentic Pho, Lina told me about all the herbs that could be added to the dish, together with lime and chilli. It was such a rich, aromatic and fresh tasting dish with a slight kick (due to self-added chillis). I washed my Pho down with what became a bit of an addiction-Vietnamese coffee(D-E-L-I-S-H).
After taking this meal down we were back on the bike. I was now a bit more confident and loosened my hold like a little child taking her first steps. I managed to peel my eyes off the road and actually enjoyed looking around as we passed the brightly lit shops heaving with people.
Next stop, was Banh Xeo, Vietnamese pancake, which is made up of carrots, beansprouts, mushroom and prawns (amongst other things) wrapped in a crispy fried batter, again there was a selection of herbs and rice paper to accompany this dish which was eaten like a spring roll and dipped in a sweet chilli vinaigrette.
After we finished eating, I then watched as the chef made a couple more batches, in the hope that maybe I would be able to recreate this delicacy once I returned home….mmm I don’t seem to have the right equipment:-)
I was starting to feel a little full when we stopped for Banh Mi which is a fresh baguette filled with all sorts of meaty, spicy, garlicky and fresh herbie goodness (in taste not health benefits).
In addition to that, there is a secret sauce whose ingredients I failed to decipher which enhanced the flavours of the contents and gave it a kick that defied the messages that came from my tummy screaming ‘ENOUGH! Bread is too much!!!’
Our final stop was a local seafood place where there was only a handful of tourists but packed with people, which to me signifies good food. Entertainment was occasionally provided by individuals walking to the front of the restaurant with large speakers and karaoke-looking equipment, at the end you were supposed to tip. Some of these guys sang way too close to the microphone it pierced the ear, if I was not so averse to tipping for the sake of it, I would have dropped some money in their kitty to get them to stop. I opted out of the prawn option and went for the nutty mussel looking things which were accompanied by the introduction of Saigon Beer to my usually beer-hating palette. Surprisingly it was light and actually a very good accompaniment to the meal.
I ended the meal off with a crème brulee dessert which was creatively served in an eggshell.
This was a beautiful introduction to the light textures and fresh herby flavours of Vietnamese food at its best, and it set me up with some foods to look for as I continued my adventures in the country-a girl’s got to eat. Sadly I cannot direct you to the specific places we visited as most of the the food stops wherewere hole in the wall type restaurants and I was a bit disorientated from the night time bike ride to recognise where we were. However, if you are in Ho Chi Minh, and this foodventure appeals to you I highly recommend that you look up Saigon by Night food tour.
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” George Bernard Shaw.
What are some of your favourite Vietnamese dishes?