I’ve been told by many locals that street food is the way to get the real Vietnamese experience – restaurants are fine and all, but if you want to eat like a Viet, you eat on the street.
This edition brings another dessert cup, a whole bunch of fried things, rice in all forms, and even a surprise cream puff. Did not expect the cream puff.
Here’s my second round-up of treats from the streets. Enjoy!
Sticky Corn with Sweet Coconut Sauce
Average Cost: $.25 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Skip it
Best Attributes:

-It’s traditional, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to my western palette, even one that’s been saturated in Vietnamese tastes for 7 months. Instant regret. Not even a rumbly tummy kept me from throwing this one away.

-The texture and taste of what is essentially creamed sweet corn with coconut sauce is just not my cup of tea.

Xôi Gà (Chicken Sticky Rice)

Average Cost: $.45 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Completely, Absolutely Mandatory
Best Attributes:

-Soft! Sticky! Crunchy! Fresh! Spicy! Sweet! Savory! It’s UNNATURAL how tasty Chicken Sticky Rice can be with all these complementary TASTE SENSATIONS in your mouth. Yes, taste sensations – I know, it’s like the nuclear option of food description. It’s the height of my street food experience so far.

-Every preparation (naturally) is at the whim of the stand manager, which leads to different looking and tasting Xôi Gà across the city.
-This preparation is my favorite. A bed of freshly steamed sticky rice, soy sauce, pate, marinated shredded chicken, fried pork skin, pickled carrots, egg shreds, chili sauce, fish sauce?, peanuts, and cilantro. 
-I’ve actually stopped buying it elsewhere because it’s just so good outside my school. I mean, look at that baby. Don’t you want it in your tummy?!
Xôi Mặn (Salty Sticky Rice)

Average Cost: $.40 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Almost as great as Chicken Sticky Rice, but not quite
Best Attributes:

-Ham parts. Delicious ham parts, both marinated and non-marinated.

-Semi-hard boiled quail egg! MMM Creamy!

-This is largely an identical dish to Chicken Sticky Rice – most vendors that make one also make the other.

-There’s usually a meat on this that I don’t like – it’s kind of astringent-y in flavor. In the picture, it’s the reddish piece in the upper right corner. I have no idea what it is, but I aim to find out, and then avoid it forever.

Banh Kem (Cream Puffs)

Average Cost: $1 USD/10 pieces
Mandatoryness Level: Unless you’re craving cold sweets, meh.
Best Attributes:

-Very sweet – considering they were from the street, they were pretty good! Unfortunately, I thought I was ordering something savory for lunch, not a dessert. Oh well.

-As you can see, they were very small and had been kept refrigerated.

-Came in a 10-pack – way, way too many for one man who already eats too much! I suspect that they’re intended for the nearby middle-schoolers to share on their breaks, because it’s a newly offered product. The woman seemed anxious for me to try (I usually get rice or a sandwich here on my way to office hours around the corner) so I was happy to acquiesce. I like both of the women that operate out of this housefront and their food is never bad, and always very cheap. Still, wouldn’t buy again – I need something real for lunch.

Batter-Fried Banana Slices
Average Cost: $.20 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Best Savory/Sweet Combo
Best Attributes:

-It’s fried… but it’s bananas. Fried… bananas. Batter fried… bananas. I must confess I got this for dinner thinking it was fish (which would have been totally what I expected!) but got… bananas.

-If you’re looking for sweet and savory, soft and crunchy, BUY SOME! It was AWESOME. Unexpected, and very, very good. Not the dinner I wanted, but the dinner I needed, perhaps.

-Whenever I see a fry-cook coming down the street with her (and it’s almost always a her) selections, I definitely slow down a little and see if I can identify something new she’s selling – you never know what people will fry next (looking at you, American state fairs! Iowa… Wisconsin… Texas… you frying crazies, you. In America, if you can put it on a stick (And sometimes not even that!), it’s waiting to be fried. It’s a similar situation in Vietnam (NOTE: I went to the New Year’s Fair last night, and you know what? Fair food is FREAKIN’ AMAZING in Vietnam. Fried things that are not normally fried – just like America! I felt right at home).

Some Rice Waffle Thing?
Average Cost: $.45 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Walking Tour Energy
Best Attributes:

-Looks like waffles. Looks like crunchy toastedness. Looks light and airy. In reality is none of these things.

-Is rice (surprise!). Maybe. No sign on the cart, so I’m not sure what the VN name is. Presumably everyone already knows what it’s called and it doesn’t need identification.

-Surprisingly chewy! Didn’t really taste like much, beyond a faint savoriness. The texture was more like eating a dense, toasted version of Polyfill, that polyester material that you stuff pillows with. But better tasting, obviously (at least, I assume. I’ve never eaten a pillow… to my knowledge).

-A good quick energy boost. Not a whole lot to say about this one. It wasn’t my favorite. If I need something to keep me going, I’m going to get a banh bao or a banh mi, not a chewy false waffle prophet.

Typical Takeaway Lunch
Average Cost: $1 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Pure Energy Replenishment
Best Attributes:

-This was pork meatballs over rice (with the rest of her cucumbers thrown in, as they were just about to close down for the afternoon). As with virtually every ground meat product here (prime offenders: SAUSAGES), there was quite a bit of fat in the meatballs. I’ve had the ribs and chicken from this stand before, though, and they were really good.

-So yeah – many of these places have a bigger stand than is normal for street food, and they offer a proportionally larger number of selections. You can get things like sautéed vegetables, cuttlefish, chicken, prawns, pork, beef, mushrooms, and beyond, depending on what the house preparations are for that time and day.

-If you sit at this particular stand, you’ll also get some sauces and a bowl of Hot Cabbage Water (watery, but with a smack of cabbage!) with your meal. Somewhat surprisingly… the soup has grown on me.

Fried Seasoned Rice Wedges, Probably
Average Cost: $.50 USD
Mandatoryness Level: WTF IS THIS
Best Attributes:

-I literally do not know. I am guessing.

-Rice? Probably. Almost without a doubt. Some kind of sticky rice, I think. Very glutinous.

-But also, there were seasonings – they left a slightly warm tingle on the tongue.

-They were also dotted with chives or lemongrass (my bet is on chives – faint oniony taste, I think).

-I do not understand why they are shaped like this. Maybe the mixture is made into a ball, and sliced into six or eight pieces?

Confession time: I thought I was buying potato wedges. Another dinner mixup. I’ll never learn! In a perfect world they would be hushpuppies.

Fried Taro and Banana Slices


Average Cost: $.30 USD
Mandatoryness Level: Good, But Fried Bananas Were Better
Best Attributes:

-It is fried. Very good. This fatty approves.

– The taro made it a little bit more substantive than the straight-up banana version.

-I think the batter was different too – not as sweet as the banana ones. It suffered a little bit because of it – Taro is notoriously adaptable, but it sometimes needs an assist to give it a profile.

-Still, pretty good. I mean, it’s cheap, delicious, and fried. I don’t always eat fried things… but when I do I want them to be crunchy and awesome and full of surprise. This fit the bill, I guess.

-This is the last time I fall for “Hey! Fried Fish!!” NO MORE.

JOHN HURT SAYS NO MORE FRIED FOODS THAT LOOK LIKE THEY SHOULD BE FISH.

I mean, I won’t trap our planet in a pocket universe if it happens again… but just one of these days, please make it beer-battered cod. You would THINK it would be fish – fresh seafood is everywhere here. But no. The universe is a cruel and uncaring place.

Just kidding! Life is ridiculously good, battered fish or no! I hope you enjoyed this installment of my trek through the street food scene – keep your eyes peeled for the next part soon…
Only the cruel and unusual universe knows what strange and wonderful (except you, corn cup) things I’ll find!