Food on Foot

18 Sep

Now, it has come the time to address the big question: What have I been eating? And, if I’m being honest, the answer is a lot of French fries. BUT, before you criticize me, I will say that I have had plenty of traditional food since I have been here, specifically on the Mai Chau and Halong Bay trips (blogs coming soon), where we had plenty of spring rolls, rice, and unknown meats and vegetables of all shapes and sizes. But here in Hanoi we had been really reluctant to try any food on the street because of the intimidation factor. How do you know what you’re going to get? How do you order it? How do you know it won’t make you sick? You don’t. So, we paid 25 dollars each to get a tour guide from Food on Foot, a tour I had read about on another blog. Along with another girl from Korea, we hit up 5 different places, trying 6 different traditional Vietnamese meals. Our guide, another precious Vietnamese twenty-something, picked us up and brought us to our first location, a small unassuming shop off one of the main streets for some Bun Cha. Bun Cha is a pork dish made from three different types of pork formed into sausage shapes, grilled and served in a broth with green papaya slices and a hefty amount of garlic. To eat it, you take some of the rice noodles served on the side and dunk them in the broth, grabbing the pork before shoveling it into your mouth. The meal was absolutely delicious, especially alongside a cold Vietnamese beer.

Our second stop was an extremely small shop on a side street that specializes in Ban Cuon, rice rolls filled with pork and mushroom. They can be best described as a not fried spring roll, in my amateur opinion. The woman poured a batter like substance made with a rice base onto a heated plate similar to that used for crepes, and covered it to quickly steam the rice roll until it looked like a jelly. She then moved it onto a bamboo plate where another woman filled it and wrapped it up. Repeat about 20x until we had two heaping plates of Ban Cuon in front of us, served alongside carrots and cucumber which you can add for crunch and a dipping sauce with shallots garlic and of course, fish sauce, which is basically in every Vietnamese meal.

Our next stop was at a more upscale restaurant. Here, we were served grilled fish in a sizzling pan topped with peanuts, sautéed vegetables and a lot of delicious dill. On the side we had banana flower salad, which I didn’t totally love due to some unidentified taste in the dressing. I had never heard of banana flowers before, but apparently they are edible and used often in Vietnamese cuisine along with banana leaves and actual bananas. To properly eat the fish, you are to take a rice paper roll, lay the fish in it along with some rice noodles, and herbs, wrap it up and dip it in the sauce. The fish was absolutely some of the best I have ever had.

Our last food stop was for banh xeo and some sort of grilled beef. At this point we were getting pretty full and Angela pretty much gave up. But me and my bottomless stomach carried on. Banh xeo, better know as “pancake” comes out looking like an omelet, which we thought it was until our guide informed us that it’s made of some rice flour, turmeric and water, giving it the yellow, eggy appearance. This was stuffed with pork, shrimp, green onion and bean sprouts. While it didn’t look particularly appetizing especially after the beautiful fish dish, it was actually delicious. You also wrap the pancake into rice paper, or you can eat it alone. I had one piece with rice paper but definitely felt rice-papered out afterwards and picked at it with my chopsticks alone. The beef came out looking like a classic Asian presentation of grilled beef, topped with sesame seeds and served alongside a sauce that tasted similar to soy sauce. A plate adorned with slices of cucumber, pineapple and banana accompanied the beef as well. While I certainly prefer my beef in larger and more rare portions, a piece of that beef wrapped around a pineapple slice was a fantastic bite.

Our last stop was for egg coffee at the most insane little cafe that you would never even know was a cafe. It was located within someone’s house, down a really long thin hallway. We passed a room with an extremely old woman watching TV and a small area of tables occupied by some locals, into a small area of benches beside the kitchen where we sat to be served. The egg coffee is comprised of bitter coffee topped with some sort of egg and sugar whip that, once stirred, takes on a custard consistency and a tiramisu-like taste. It was an excellent sweet end to a ridiculously excessive yet delicious meal.

The following morning we left early for Mai Chau, a very rural area three hours south of Hanoi for a home stay, for three days and two nights, where we met some amazing people, ate some amazing food, and had a few motorbike incidents. Full report to come.


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