Archive | December, 2011

SOK Goes to Vietnam: Street Food Edition

16 Dec

I have a confession: I didn’t get to eat nearly enough while I was in Vietnam, especially street food. My flu came back with a vengeance while we were in Hanoi (classic head cold type, not a stomach bug), so I spent most of one day in bed at the hotel (which was, ironically, the Hilton). Luckily, Ho Chi Minh City (née Saigon) gave me a second chance.

Communicating with the summer roll aunty in the international sign language; a stack of summer rolls

For the starter: summer rolls, of course. If you’ve had Vietnamese food, you’re likely familiar with this classic snack of vermicelli, roast pork, and more herbs than you can shake a chopstick at, rolled in a rice wrapper. This version came with a pineapple-y dipping sauce that was definitely moreish, as I thought about getting another roll just to have something to dip.

The cheapest banh mi in HCMC?

Moving on to the main: another Vietnamese classic, the banh mi. The banh mi is one of the world’s finest sandwiches, and a testament to the legacy of French colonialism on Vietnamese cuisine. Fillings can vary, but usually involve some sort of pork product, julienned vegetables, and a smear of chili sauce in a crusty baguette. Mine had paté (of sorts), some sort of cured pork fat, cucumbers, lightly pickled daikon, and a homemade chili sauce. At 6,000 đồng, it offers the highest tastiness to price ratio of pretty much anything I’ve ever eaten. (Yes, that delicious-looking sandwich above cost around 30 cents.)

The banh trang nuong vendors and the kids; a close-up

Now for the…actually, I don’t know how to fit this into a dinner course structure, but I will tell you that this pancake thing led to a nice chat with a Vietnamese student. Before I get to that, let me tell you that this item is called banh trang nuong, and it’s a rice wrapper filled with green onions, tiny dried shrimp, chili sauce, and margarine, griddled until crisp.

The hibachi thing in the photo was a common sight in Vietnam. Vendors strap these things onto bamboo poles, sort of like an ambulatory food truck; for example, if you wanted a banh mi with omelet, you’d wave one of these ladies over (and they’re almost always women), and she’d slap a pan over her little pot of live coals and fry you up a fresh omelet. (Perhaps the thought of people walking around with pots of hot coals doesn’t strike you as particularly safe, but in Vietnam, it’s one of the less harrowing things people do.)

Anyway, I joined some local kids (by which I mean, you know, 20s) and squatted on the curb to enjoy my crispy margarine tortilla. One of the girls (in the photo, wearing the fedora) engaged me in conversation, resulting in the following lesson in pronunciation:

“So do you like eating snake?”

“Excuse me?” I replied, starting to wonder what exactly had gone into my banh.

“Snake, like…I don’t know how you say…like chips.”

“Oh, snack! You mean snacks!”

And now, for a sweet ending.

Sticky rice in all flavors and colors

This sticky rice vendor was outside of Ben Thanh market, near our hotel. We tried the black rice, the rice with adzuki beans, and a couple of the colored rices. Like gelato, you can get two scoops in one package; the rice is then topped with sweetened condensed milk and peanuts. It’s a bit like the Thai dessert with sticky rice and mango. I particularly liked the black rice, which had a sort of nutty flavor and bit more texture than the average glutinous rice.

Stay tuned for the beverage edition of the SOK Vietnam tour!