Vietnam is a food lovers paradise. There’s no need for fancy restaurants, although there are plenty of them. Sidewalks are packed with people eating at small tables on chairs suitable for 4 year olds, slurping down noodley concoctions that you may or may not like. Beef broth and vermicelli noodles, yes! Pork heart and blood broth with noodles, no thank you. The system of picking the fullest place may not work here since people have many interesting palates. Thanks to Shane and Arielle we had some recommendations already, but exploring new foods is our favorite hobby so we were thrilled to venture out for more.
Hoi An gave us an introduction to one meal restaurants. Balewell has been open for 22 years and has served the same exact 4 item menu, that is printed on their napkins, each and every day. You actually don’t order, you sit and are served each item. We had a lesson in proper eating techniques by the sister of the owner who treated Amando like her son, even feeding him. Rice paper, herbs/lettuce/cucumber, chicken or pork off the stick, shredded carrot and radish, finish with spicy peanut sauce. Repeat all of that but add an omelet made with bean sprouts and you’ve now got what sort of resembles a taco.
It was pretty hot the entire time so we didn’t eat pho as much as I would have thought, but nonetheless when we did it was better than anything we’ve ever had at home. In Hue, they are known for Bun Bo, which is a beef based broth as well. It is prepared by cooking beef bones for a long period of time, as well as a large variety of different spices including lemon grass and chili. Shrimp paste is also a very important ingredient. It’s commonly served with mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro sprigs, raw onions, and thinly sliced banana blossom.
Hanoi, that lovely capital city, was good to us. We had 3 of the most memorable meals from our whole two weeks. First was steak and eggs with pate, served both on a piping hot cast iron skillet or in a banh my (sandwich). The amount of oil and butter used along with the pate and double fried french fries made me feel incredibly unhealthy afterwards, but I’d got back in 1 second.
The second was the best dish I’ve had in Vietnam, hands down. The restaurant, which I’m hoping is the name of the dish, is Bun Bo Nam Bo. Vermicelli noodles sit on a bed of lettuce covered with thin slices of beef, sliced carrot and some sort of radish and finished off with sweet chili vinegar. Add lime because it makes everything better. Accompanied with that they serve pork and chicken “sticks” cooked in banana leaves with a spicy sauce that completes the whole thing. If we could post the video you’d see me having 4 bites in less than 30 seconds.
Third was a discovery purely by chance. Motorbiking down Bai Trieu in Hanoi, having no purpose or direction, the scent of spiced pork wafted into our noses. We immediately pull over to discover the Vietnamese version of Donner Kepab. We ordered one and split it, with an “oh my goodness” between every bite. We finish, stare at the meat for a little bit and thought, how silly, we should have each just gotten our own. “One more please.” That gets eaten with equal pleasure and enjoyment. And then as we watch two girls in a taxi pull up and they receive theirs through the window we decide that another one won’t kill us. I mean this is our LAST day in Vietnam. Sandwich #3 ordered. And it was the best one. Freshly cut meat, warm toasty baguette and the combo of chili sauce, crisp vegetables and something like a dill mayonnaise made this one of our favorite finds.
Outside of the center of Hanoi you can find dog. I actually saw a dead, skinned and somewhat crispy one on the back of a motorbike on our ride from the airport. We decided we weren’t up for that, but Amando wanted to head out to the snake village to see if he could finally look a cobra in the eyes. What we found was not a village, but a neighborhood, and not the expected snake shows or viewing areas, but restaurants where you order an entire snake they kill, gut, and cook it for you right in front of your eyes. However, a cobra is expensive and Amando is the only one who would have eaten it, so there was no sense in killing a perfectly friendly cobra for one dish. Next time.