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Published: July 25th 2018
My hostel was on the far northern end of China Beach (yes, that China Beach but My Khe in Vietnamese), near the Lady Buddha statue, where the fishermen still matter. I shared my run on the beach with a fair amount of garbage and defunct nets in the dark sand and a ubiquitous rotting fish smell.
A half mile toward the scores of lounge chairs on the better, lighter swath of sand, and I've never seen so many pickup soccer games in the early evening when the sand cools.
I turned around at the skyscraper hotels and resorts and lounge chairs that you can only use if you buy a drink, saving that stretch for the next morning.
This was a day after getting mild food poisoning (the fish bowl photo in my last entry) in Haiphong, so by dinnertime I wished I'd stayed closer to the main tourist strip, so I could get a simple Western meal. There was nothing like that around, and likely no non-pork Vietnamese food, so I walked to a crowded seafood restaurant nearby.
I spent the first ten minutes trying to make some sense of the ordering procedure. Are there waiters
or do I order at the counter? There were people delivering plates to tables but they wore no uniforms and many were smoking cigarettes. About a dozen others walked around selling shelled peanuts, big flat pieces of fried bread, and chunks of fruit in cups.
I found a table that had just emptied. The floor was covered with seafood scraps, peanut shells, beer bottles, and napkins. Two women used hand brooms to sweep it all into bins and moved onto the next table. I couldn't fit my legs under the table, so I sat halfway into the aisle, scrolling through a Vietnamese food dictionary to make some sense of the menu. Frogs, snails, small clams, and only a couple of fish options. I couldn't go with a whole fish because it would be impossible to communicate how big I wanted it to be. A waiter abruptly grabbed the menu from me and gave it to someone else, before bringing a different menu back to me.
When I finally met eyes with a waiter, I ordered grilled fish with chilies. Ca Nuong Ot, or something like that. The waiter held up his thumb. For some reason in Vietnam everyone
asks, "Just one?" no matter what I order - a coffee, a juice, a liter and a half bottle of water. I guess one isn't implied here. I ordered a beer along with it. Yes, just one please.
He brought me two completely warm beers, and then a bucket of ice. So I forced one down warm. It's already bad beer crisp cold. While I waited I decided to buy some peanuts. I opened the first one to find they were slimy and raw.
Everyone was very friendly as they came to my table to ask if I needed the extra chairs, then the extra chopsticks, then the spoons, napkins, glasses, small bowls - all that I didn't need.
Eventually one of the cigarette guys brought out the dish (see photo). Perhaps I should have ordered more than one. I saw someone else walk past with bread, the one thing I know how to say, so I asked the cashier for some banh mi, and he gave me two loaves.
The eels were pretty good. I won't get into the paying procedure or searching unsuccessfully for any kind of socola (chocolate) on my way home.
The next morning I biked to the nicer end of the beach and found peanut butter banh mi! There are several more photos below.
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