Many of the other travelers I've met that have been to Vietnam said all they ate when they were there was pho; what a shame. I haven't eaten pho once since I've been here though I do plan to get some before I leave. I just spent 4 days in the food and ancient capital of Vietnam, a charming city named Hue with delicious feasts for both the stomach and eyes. Vietnam, like every country, has food that varies greatly from region to region so what follows is mostly a report about the cuisine in central Vietnam.
I seem to have moved out of fruit country and into vegetable country. I don't mind the change though I do miss the fruit. They still have fruit here but it's different varieties and unlike the rest of Southeast Asia it's not sold in shallow pyramids on street stands which somehow were never being plowed into by renegade vehicles like in the cartoons and movies despite the statistically large number of automobile accidents.
Vietnamese food pops wish freshness; I feel like it's always spring when I'm here. A heavy use of mint and lime juice add zest and is often paired with fresh lettuce and cucumber which contribute crunch to most of their food and acts as a textural contrast to the soft noodle, rice gluten or bread base of many of their dishes. Sweet vinegar and spicy peppers play a measured but important roll as well. Thin rice cakes accompany many meals like the omnipresent kerupuk of Indonesia.
Roadside food stands aren't nearly as common in Vietnam as in other parts of Southeast Asia but delicious food can always be found. Hidden amongst the bustling cross streets of major tourist thoroughfares are narrow alleys leading behind the hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners. Finding these hidden pathways to magical lands of taste takes a wizards powers or insider knowledge.
The best food in Vietnam is from restaurants that don't have a menu and is eaten while squatting on a tiny stool situated dangerously close to the curb. On my last night in Hue I asked T something that had been on my mind for a while: how do locals know what these restaurants serve? During my last culinary excursion my friend and food expert Loon seemed to know exactly which street stands were selling what for the entire city of Penang. T said that you can usually tell from what the people sitting near the street are eating. Otherwise you have to ask. Most of these restaurants only sell one or two different dishes so the menu isn't long. There seems to be a real benefit from this specialization of labor; each restaurant does one thing and they do it well and when that's what you want to eat, that's where you go.
Vietnam seems to have more varieties of macro-brewed beer than any other country I've been to. The vessel of choice here is the can while in the Philippines and Myanmar beer usually comes in large bottles. Thailand and Cambodia on the other hand push small bottles. Beer isn't widely consumed in Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei being Islamic nations and is too expensive in Singapore for me to give you an accurate report.
Hue was a pleasant change from Da Nang. I think the plethora of parks with statues and people in them made a big difference, as did the weather which reminded me of Wisconsin fall. On our first day there T and I rented bicycles and explored the Forbidden City and a nearby pagoda. The next day we rented a motorbike and traveled to three slightly more distant tombs. The first tomb was situated in a heavily foliated large complex with a pond-verging-on-small-lake. The second tomb was in better condition and built up into the mountains offering a great view from the top. The third tomb was slightly less impressive but also situated in a large complex with a sizable lake and a variety of trees.
I just spent the weekend in Cambodia for another frisbee tournament but now I'm headed back to Ho Chi Minh City(Saigon) to apply for my Chinese visa and meet up with T again. I'm really looking forward to trying the food in southern Vietnam especially since T has been telling me all about her favorite dishes which we plan to try when I get there.Soundtrack: Substitute (The Who)