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Published: March 10th 2010
Our friend Hang hit the nail on the head when she said that generally when you go travelling the first thing you do is see the sights, second you normally try the food (then you meet the people). If you have not noticed we love food! On the top of the list of our favorite cuisine is definitely Vietnamese food. It is generally made from the freshest ingredients, and is full of flavour and life.
A fellow member of Travelblog, theRedRiver, used the following quote in a blog which she wrote titled “My favorite food in Hanoi” ….
"I loved a lot of things about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people, but what struck me most was their obsession with food, cooking and eating. I was reminded over and over again of Italy, where the same obsession obtains. Conversation with strangers doesn't revolve around discussions of the weather, but just like Italy revolves around food - what I ate today, what I'm going to eat tonight, what I'm planning to eat tomorrow. The Vietnamese are a bunch of Asian foodies." You can read the full story about the wonderful food of Hanoi here.
We definitely share the Vietnamese enthusiasm
for food. We wanted to share some of the highlights and experiences we had with food and wine during our recent visit. Rather than try and write too much about the tastes, etc. we thought a pictorial, with some explanations would be the best way to share this with you.
Photo 1 - is fresh spring rolls at Little Hanoi. We prefer these to the deep fried spring rolls.
Photos 2, 3 & 4 - a Lau or Steamboat restaurant. Hanoi is full of streets that specialise on various things. So, in this street all the restaurants serve Lau, so if you are after steamboat this is the street you head for. If you are looking for BBQ chicken then you find the street filled restaurants specialising in BBQ chicken. A bit like the Sydney food scene (if you want Italian you head to Norton Street, if you want Chinese you go to Dixon Street) but even more specialised.
Steamboat is an amazing dish. If you have not tried it, find a Vietnamese restaurant that serves it and give it a try. It is essentially a big soup boiled on your table. You add ingredients as you
go along and the flavour builds. Like all Vietnamese food it is meant for sharing so try it with a group of friends or family.
Photos 5, 6, 7 & 8 - our friend Hang wanted us to try foods that her family would traditionally have during Tet (New Year). As you can see in the photos there was plenty of choice and again the meal was designed to be shared. The squid was the most tender I have ever tasted. The pork pie type item in photo 8 was originally wrapped in banana leaves and is something like pork pate. The fresh noodles in the same photo, just above the pork pie you cannot get in Australia. We can get a dried version but not these delicious fresh ones.
Photo 9 - Hang and Rob enjoying some mountain goat. This is a specialty of the Ninh Binh area.
Photo 10 - You will notice beer alongside many of the meals in our photos and it goes very nicely with a lot of Vietnamese food. If you prefer wine try a Gewürztraminer or a nice Riesling will suit many of the dishes. There are some great wine
shops in Hanoi so you will have no problem finding some great wines to match with your foods while dining out.
Photo 11 - Tofu and tomato with vegetables. We had this same dish in a few paces we ate at, a nice alternative to meat dishes.
Photo 12 - Fried mountain goat. Accompanied with some fresh salad and vegetables, plus a cold beer … very nice. Hang told me that when the farmers around Ninh Binh plan to eat some mountain goat they simply push one off the side of a hill and pick it up at the bottom ready to butcher it.
Photo 13 & 14 - simple food served at Cuc Phong National Park. It was simple, but very tasty and fresh. Note the dipping sauces, these are very popular with Vietnamese food. A lot of the dipping sauces have a fish sauce base.
Photo 15 - Ga Ri (Running Chicken) on the menu. The first time I heard the expression “running chicken” used was when our friend yen asked us once of the chicken dish we had cooked was made with running chicken or not. At the time I thought it meant
was the chicken a free range one as opposed to one raised in a pen. On this trip I found out that “Running Chicken” is actually a particular breed of chicken that is much leaner than the ones we are used to back home. It is the smaller variety chicken you see running around all the villages in Vietnam.
Photos 16 & 17 - Fresh food vendors on the streets of Hanoi. We are probably too anal about food in the west, loads of food gets sold like this all over Asia. Sure, the cleanliness could be improved but then South East Asia would look no different to Sydney would it.
Photo 18 - A Pho eatery, the soup that keeps this nation running, it can be for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it is always good to eat. Pho Bo is with beef, or Pho Ga is with chicken.
Photos 19 to 27 - Taken at lunchtime at Quan An Ngon a very busy eatery in Hanoi that serves dishes from all over Vietnam. You can make a culinary tour of the country at lunch time. We ate here with Tai and Quang from the Hanoi Kids
Club and a fellow visitor Verena from Germany, via China. A great place for lunch and very, very busy with locals (located at 18 Pahn Boi Chau, Hanoi).
Photo 28 - Lorenza enjoying lunch at Koto, the training restaurant started by an Aussie/Viet guy to help street kids get started with a career in the hospitality industry. Their food is adventurous and very good you can get their full details at their website here.
They also run cooking classes and you can continue to support them even when you return home.
Photos 29 to 32 - Hoa Sua is also a training restaurant for underprivileged youth. The building it is housed in to me looks very french. The menu is a good mix of asian, fusion and french cuisine. They have a reasonable wine list and we enjoyed the dinner we had there very much. You can find out more about them at their website here.
Photo 34 & 35 - Sticky rice cake with bean paste inside. This sweet little snack left your teeth looking like you had been eating something made of tar or axle grease. It was very tasty, the being washed on the
roadside was probably one of the ingredients in the cake.
Photos 36 to 38 - Has anyone else noticed that some Vietnamese people love to have a drink? They like beer and also some hard stuff too - like vodka and other spirits. These photos were taken in the restaurant of a provincial town and it was obvious by the stockpile of vodka that a lot of serious drinking took place there. More on drinking habits soon.
Photo 39 - Crispy little fish and more dipping sauces.
Photo 40 - Simple food at our guest house at Ba Be. Eggs, chips, rice, chicken and pork. All washed down with a beer or some traditional wine.
Photo 41 & 42 - Traditional wine drinking, the alcohol content is about 30 to 40%. It is served in shot glasses. The system is simple, the host fills the glasses, we talk a bit and then he proposes a toast, we down the shots and all shake hands. Our glasses are refilled and we continue talking and then the next male takes a turn at proposing a toast and so it continues. You have to be careful because you do
not want to be rude and say no to a drink, but you also do not want to rush and consume too much too fast. Lorenza soon found that women are not expected to keep up with the men with the shots. The quality of the home made wines was surprisingly good. We tasted rice wine, corn wine, some with ginseng added and another with some kind of parasitic medicinal plant that grows in the branches of trees added to it.
Being an avid winemaker myself gave me something in common with the folks we drank with on our trip. The Vietnamese winemakers were very interested to know what alcohol level my wine contained and the basic methods I used for making it. It gave us a talking point and helped build our relationship.
Photo 43 - we shared a wonderful meal while at Ba Be with some local people from the Tay ethnic group. They consider that vegetables are poor peoples food and therefore do not offer them to guests. Instead, they cooked a lot of meat dishes for us, including some homemade sausage, pork that had been stored and preserved in ceramic jars filled with pork
fat, plus chicken gizzards and other delicacies. The meal was prepared in a concrete floored kitchen area, and cooked on fires fueled by bamboo wood.
We shared our meal with these people sitting on a large mat on the floor. Sharing food and drink with people is one of the most basic things that humans can do together. In all cultures it is the natural thing to do when visitors arrive. As you can tell by the photo, I am not so used to sitting on the floor to tale my meals but I must admit it was a very intimate position to sit in to share the meal. Rather than having a big dining table between us, we all shared the same space and it seemed to draw us all closer together. That was a very special meal for us!
Photo 44 - Hang buying some corn from a road side vendor, there is no better way to buy fresh produce than direct from the farmer who grew it. We can do the same in the semi-rural area in which we live back in Australia, minus the conical hat.
Actually, come to think of it some
of our local farmers wear the conical hat also.
Photos 45 & 46 - Haute Cuisine at the Hoa Sua hospitality school restaurant in Hanoi. We liked the presentation and service at this restaurant, plus the elegant surroundings. The prices were very reasonable for the quality of food and service. We met some of the kitchen staff the previous day when we dropped by after visiting the Hoa Sua Chef Collection shop just around the corner, which sells beautifully embroidered napery.
No wonder I am gaining weight!
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