Vietnamese food is unfairly overshadowed by Thai food in Western countries, I think, and what we get at home bears little resemblance to the cuisine as the locals know it.
Before this trip Bernd and I ordered dinner from the Pho chain in London. At the time I thought it was perfectly nice but I now realise it was a disgrace. It was a run of the mill stir fry without the flavour, spice or pungency I’ve come to appreciate in Vietnam. Of course the right ingredients are hard to come by in London especially Vietnamese herbs such as their special varieties of mint, coriander and basil.
Banh Mi baguettes are a favourite and so is Pho – beef noodle soup. The southern version is very different to the northern dish. To the basic bowl of stock, beef and noodles you add lime juice, Vietnamese coriander, Vietnamese mint, rice paddy herb, sawtooth herb, fish sauce, chillies, pickled garlic, ginger, beansprouts and spring onions. There is a separate dipping sauce containing hoi sin and chilli sauces. Hanoians consider Saigon Pho excessive, even vulgar (hilarious) but I love it. We westerners appreciate a bit of vulgarity and excess.
I think my favourite dish of all is a green mango salad with chicken, chilli, peanuts, mint and crispy rice crackers (top photo). I ordered it twice in 2 days, it was so good.
At home I rarely have breakfast but here it’s been all too easy to have 3 full meals plus snacks, especially on long days full of sightseeing.
A few days ago I thought to myself “right, I’m going to crack down today and eat sparingly”. I ordered bánh xèo for lunch expecting a small crispy filled pancake. What arrived was 3 large pancakes topped with prawns, beansprouts and quail eggs. These were to be rolled in rice paper with lettuce, green mango and cucumber and dipped into a peanut sauce. So much for the light option.
Ah well, there’s always tomorrow, right?