Hopefully my next installment will tackle some more diverse dishes, including more substantial meals (almost everything I’ve gotten on the street so far has been ‘eat on my bike’ food as I zip between jobs and home) – there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of specific, common dishes that I haven’t tried. They seem to appear out of the woodwork the longer I’m here, and it’s always a surprise. Why is it a surprise??
Average Cost: $.50 USD
Mandatoryness Level: WOAH
-DO YOU GUYS HEAR THAT GUY’S HEART? I CAN TOTALLY HEAR HIS HEART. WOW THIS IS GOOD. HOW IS IT GONE ALREADY? DO YOU THINK I HAVE TIME TO GET ANOTHER? WOULD THE KIDS LOOK AT ME FUNNY IF I CAME IN WITH TWO? HOW COME YOU’RE NOT DRINKING ANY? DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS? I JUST REALIZED YOU CAN GET THIS ON MY BLOCK, OH MY GOD. WHAT TIME DID YOU SAY? OOO PUT YOUR HAND HERE, IT’S LIKE I’M A HUMMINGBIRD, I WONDER IF VIETNAM HAS HUMMINGBIRDS. WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD LOOK LIKE. I FEEL LIKE THEY WOULD PROBABLY ENJOY THIS DRINK. WE SHOULD GET SOME MORE. I MISS HUMMINGBIRDS. DID I TELL YOU I CAN HEAR THAT GUYS HEART??
-It’s not that guy’s heart, it’s yours.
-Propensity to think/talk in all caps
ON THE OTHER HAND:
-The best preparations give it a twist of lime, which is just outstanding. ALSO… there are places which will prepare with half sugar cane/half FRESH FRUIT JUICE, so, YES DO THAT DO IT NOW.
Rau Ma (Iced Pennywort Juice)
-It’s fresh! It’s like a cooling, salad-y breeze that you drink.
-A key Unknown Factor is: is it always prepared this sugary for everyone? Or are we special because we’re foreigners? These plant drinks aren’t always loaded with sugar – I’ve had rau ma that was nearly sugar-free and the freshness of the plant was more prominent, almost lemony. However, the sugary one tasted better to me. So, the question becomes… what’s the standard?
-Either way, it’s a pretty healthy drink. Healthier than coffee, surely, and less intense than the sugar cane, unsurprisingly.
Mandatoryness Level: Vegetarian?
-It is vegetarian? This is a best attribute?
-Features stuffed Bitter Gourd. I ate it, because I was starving. Would I intentionally order it again? No, not really. I also have no idea what it was stuffed with. Couldn’t even guess. …I guess I really WAS hungry.
-Douse it all with fish sauce, obviously.
-Supporting cast: carrots, green beans, mushrooms (the weird button ones that are the size of a pencil eraser), cilantro, and squash. All pretty standard.
-This dish comes from the little lunchtime kitchen a short distance away from my workplace. The soup d’jour was Purple Soup. Probably purple cabbage. It was ok. Most days it’s a clear broth that I like, which is of course, cabbage.
-Some things are just too purple to eat, I think.
Shrimp, Onion, and Shredded Papaya
Mandatoryness Level: A Solid “Why Not?”
-This is kind of like a salad. Wait, I guess it’s basically exactly like a salad – veggies and shrimp on a bed of shredded papaya. But for some reason, it doesn’t feel like a salad – it feels like a regular entree. Maybe the absence of leafy greens is confusing to my brain?
-Whatever it is, it’s pretty good… but not something I’d know to seek out. The contrasting textures are great, especially after dousing it in fish sauce – salty, savory, and, strangely, faintly sweet.
Grilled Banana Rice Roll
Mandatoryness Level: DO IT
-By FAR my favorite dessert I’ve had yet! I don’t know if it’s because it looks like a cross between a potato and a burrito, or if it’s just so surprisingly delicious.
-Also, I had it for breakfast. Is it a dessert? Is it a fruit dish? Is there a difference in SE Asia (hint: no)?
-The basic composition is this: Banana rolled in sticky rice, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. When you order, the vendor cuts the warm roll up, throws in pearl tapioca, and adds coconut milk. Is it the best? It is. It is the best.
-Seriously, this even turned me around on pearl tapioca. I hate tapioca… or at least I thought I did.
-Like many of the other dishes I’d heard about before trying, these popped out of the woodwork as soon as I’d tried it. I have to assume they were everywhere all the time, and I just never recognized or noticed. Perception is weird. Now? I can’t seem to shake them (not that it’s a problem for me).
Banh Bao Chay (Vegetarian Steamed Buns)
Mandatoryness Level: If you’re a vegetarian and you can’t eat regular bao, it’s great. If you eat meat, it’s a great change.
-This was an utter surprise! I didn’t think that bao came in non-pork preparations.
-This featured sautéed cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and potato in a salty, airy steamed rice flour bun.
-It’s great… but hard to find. The only place I KNEW sold them is gone (this happens fairly frequently when your favorite restaurants are on wheels).
Sinh To (Fruit Smoothies)
Mandatoryness Level: Highest Levels of Mandatoryness
-Clockwise from far left: Durian (BLECH), Mango (my fav), Soursop (interesting, not awful), Sapodilla (like milky brown sugar, really good), Milk Apple/Starapple (WOW)
-DELICIOUS. These were the most perfect smoothies in the city… or at least the only ones that I was willing to place bets on for visitors.
-Weeks after this picture, Bui Vien experienced a police crackdown, driving all the wheeled vendors into hiding. I don’t know where this woman and her magical fruit cart went, but by god, if I have to try every smoothie stand in District 1 to replace it… actually, that doesn’t sound like such a problem.
Bizarro Vietnamese Energy Bar
Mandatoryness Level: Are you journeying by foot in the countryside of Vietnam? Stock up.
-This snack serves a single purpose: to provide energy and nutrition for long journeys. It is mainly fruits and sticky rice wrapped in a long leaf, and doesn’t require refrigeration or preservation for up to 3 days, making it the perfect long-distance food for Vietnamese traveling in ancient times.
-Basically: the bizarro VN version of a powerbar.
-This was a culturally interesting dish, but, much like it’s western cousin, the chewy, heterogenous, and mildly inedible energy bar, I would have to be experiencing a serious energy deficit to tackle it in full. It’s purely and unashamedly functional in nature.
-Weirdly: I enjoy them. Thanks to my friend Trung for the gift!! I would never have tried it on my own.
Which, really, is the story of so many things I’ve eaten here. Every time I think I get a handle on the vast array of dishes available, another Vietnamese friend is informing me that life just isn’t worth living without SUCH and SUCH and THIS OTHER THING from THAT VENDOR DOWN THE STREET… which just means that I’ll have nooooo problem filling out another half dozen of these types of posts.
It was a fairly tame entry in my street food series, but I hope you enjoyed it! I’ve been looking for a bit more ‘shock’ for my next installment… keep your eyes peeled!
Have you eaten extensively abroad? What kind of street foods did you enjoy? There’s such a wealth of options here that I can’t imagine I’ll ever get tired of it all… let alone enjoy enough of the ones that I consider the tip top!