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Gluttony (and now for more bourgeois concerns)

Who knew that I would so quickly develop a demanding audience – more modern stuff!  Less history!  We’re not interested in reading about crossing the road!  I thought you were going to write about food!

I guess I have rise to the occasion, but while I’ll take such requests into consideration, I will not let them dictate my blog content.  As the iconic Pastaqueen would say, blogs are something like a fascist regime.  While commenting is encouraged, and cheeky remarks welcome, don’t forget that I can always delete you if you start talking smack!!!

This is a post just about food.  Despite several highlights, on the whole, our gluttonous escapades were a little on the mediocre side for the first few weeks of travel.  But as we’ve moved up the coast of Vietnam, the food has gotten better and better, or maybe, we’re just better at hunting down the good stuff.  This post, then, is a homage to the gastronomic specialties of Hoi An and Hue and not (only) an attempt to satisfy my audience.

Hoanh thanh – a Hoi An specialty at the excellent Faifoo restaurant. These are a type of wonton with madly-crisp pastry, salty-spicy pork filling, topped with a sweet and sour vegetable sauce. Utterly to die for and totally worth the cholesterol.

Cao lau – another Hoi An dish comprised of thick noodles, sliced roast pork, and topped with squares of dry pork crackle and salad greens. While the hoanh thanh was amazing, it was cao lau that I couldn’t stop thinking about after eating it. The noodles are thick, a bit like udon, but chewier and with a pleasing rough-ish texture. The greens were a mix of delicate lettuce and herbs that added freshness and a little pungency. The pork crackle sealed my fate as an ex-vegetarian.

Vietnamese pork sandwich from a street stall in Hoi An. Hot, crispy baguette, stuffed with sliced roast pork, salad, and several unidentified sauces and pastes. The vendors didn’t speak any English, so we weren’t able to identify the sauces, but we could taste chilli, lemongrass, garlic, lime, salt…a party in your mouth/taste explosion kind of thing, and only 10,000 dong each (about 65 NZ cents)

Banana and chocolate pancake in Hue – empty calories were never more worth it. Pancakes appear frequently on the menu in Vietnam as you move north, and I have succumbed repeatedly. This was the best one so far – it was quite thick and substantial, but not doughy in the slightest. Chewy, moist interior, mind-blowingly crispy exterior (the texture of good fish and chip batter), fresh banana and the perfect amount of cocoa. Hell yes, it was good.

Banh beo – a Hue speciality with the dubious English translation of “bloating fern-shaped cake”. Banh beo is rice flour steamed into little cakes, topped with crumbled, dehydrated shrimp and chewy garlic fried until caramelly.  You eat these dipped into a mild fish sauce.  A well-deserved afternoon snack after exploring the citadel.

Hue fresh spring rolls, made by Colin and I at a cooking course (run by Missy Roo’s). Many of the fresh spring rolls we have eaten elsewhere were disappointingly bland, but these were not. The mixture included lots of garlic, shallots and chilli, with black mushrooms and vegetables, dipped into a sauce made with more chilli and garlic, fish sauce and rice vinegar. No kissing for a while after eating these.

Colin making Bun bo Hue – beef noodle soup. This soup is the Hue version of Pho that you can get all over Vietnam. The broth is flavoured with lemongrass, black pepper and chilli (whereas the milder Pho is typically flavoured with ginger and cinnamon). To cook the beef you place it in a ladle and lower it into the boiling broth for a matter of seconds. Fresh lettuce and herbs are incorporated at the table. While eating this, I happened to ingest a herb that tasted just like the pungent smell of a minty-earthy weed that grows by the river at the bottom of my parents property (a Proustian moment perhaps?)

Iced Vietnamese coffee at the infamous Cafe Nang in Hanoi. We have become addicted to coffee made in this style – black, lightly sweetened, very strong (I mean, gives-you-a-zing-before-you’re-halfway-through-strong), and served in a water glass with chunky ice. The coffee at this cafe is especially good, with delicious undertones of bourbon and caramel. The tiny cafe is usually packed with locals from early in the morning until late at night.


  1. Kerry

    Well, that’s better. Check your tag cloud — FOOD is the biggest entry — keep it up. We (collectively) are all salivating back here. And forgive me for asking, but were the neat fresh spring rolls made by you and the more messy ones by Colin? Just wondering.

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