Wednesday, November 12, 2008

excited over Vietnam (the food!)

I just got here in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam after 2 ½ years of absence. Was it that long already? I checked and indeed, I last was here in May 2006. I remember a lot about the country but what stayed most in the inner recesses of my memory is food, the glorious food.

First, I was impressed a lot by the general sweetness of the fruits in Vietnam. I am not talking about a couple of fruits or three but most, if not all, fruits were remarkably sweet. Fruits would also be sweet in the Philippines but often, only if they are in season, and not simultaneously like what I experienced in Vietnam. Maybe I was just lucky in the generous spread of the hotel’s breakfast buffet but I would find this out soon enough...

Tourists attacking the durian
tourists enjoying the delights of durian in the Ben Thanh market, Ho Chi Minh City

For local color, I had fun eating fruits in any of the stalls around Ho Chi Minh. One time, we raided a night market stand and ended up with a loot of star apples, rose apples, lanzones, custard apples, mangosteen and the dragonfruit. These would last us for three days.

dragon fruit, a common produce in Vietnam, is quite colorful, but generally bland in taste

Another local food I enjoy in Vietnam is their rice noodles. I admit that I am no noodle fan, especially if they are egg noodles (too greasy for me) but the rice noodles – and there are a lot of variety in Vietnam from round to flat – are to my liking. Less fat calories too!

dried food stall, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon, Vietnam
dried goodies at the Ben Thanh market

Then there’s street food. I never have been one who is shy about the earthly pleasures of food cooked in the open. I know a lot of foreigners get turned off by the less than ideal hygienic conditions but I’ve been reared with more than my share of good and bad bacteria in my stomach, thanks of course to the rigorous training that is regular Filipino childhood. Certainly, I stay away from raw or half-cooked delicacies, but anything grilled, fried, steamed or broiled I would like to try, at least once. If they were desserts or snacks, especially those dripping with sugary syrup or brimming with cubed fruits or sweet beans, like the sticky rice cake below, I could not say no.

rice treat vendor, Saigon, Vietnam
this rice treat’s name already escaped me, but it was deliciously sweet

Sometimes, I buy other stuff that I do not necessarily eat or drink. Take coffee for instance. Vietnam is famous for its coffee. It is the number two producer of coffee in the world, after Brazil. On occasion, I have brought home some dark roasted beans, not for brewing but for decorating candles which we used to make at home.

smelling the coffee
my good friend Dinh selecting and inspecting roasted coffee for me

Of course, never last on my list are the pasalubong goodies. Already, I am taking note of the dear delicacies that I would like to bring back home in this trip:
rice papers. They are actually not common in most of Southeast Asia save for Vietnam. I prefer to fill them at home with veggies or meat and then have them steamed or deep-fried.
prawn crackers. For me, the Vietnamese versions still pales in comparison to the krupuk that I can get from Sidoarjo, Indonesia but they are nifty travel gifts back home.
soft sesame cakes. These are to die for. The mixture of the peanuts' brittleness, the white sesame's flavor, the roll-in-your-mouth elasticity and the sugar's rush are a divine combination.

Vietnam delicacies (what I brought back today from Zamboanga #3)

Now let’s see what tomorrow brings. I just arrived here after all.

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