How We Love Eating in Vietnam: Crickets, Cobras and Crusty Baguettes

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Fi and I eating in Vietnam — An Epic Education

I’ve eaten a lot of street food in my life, and out of everywhere I’ve visited, few places come close to the experience of eating in Vietnam. The quality, the flavors, the variety…just listen to Bourdain: this place can change your life. I’ve written a few entries that were Vietnamese food-related: our favorite juice stand, our cooking class and I mentioned our mid-ride lunch while riding the road from Hue to Hoi An. But before too much time passes, I wanted to share a few more pictures from our eating adventures there.

HCMC Street Stalls: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t have a single decent picture of a Bánh mì, the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich served everywhere in stalls like the one seen above. Crusty baguettes are filled with pork, liver pâté and various veggies (pickled, simmered, raw or combinations of the three), and we found the quantity and variety astounding. I think the only reason I have so few pics of the sandwich is because we just ate them too damn fast.

Spring rolls in the window — Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

One of our favorite places to eat in Ho Chi Minh City were the restaurants that set up shop next to the Ben Thanh market in the evenings. Promptly at 7pm, a once-empty parking lot quickly transforms into a number of fairly sophisticated pop-up restaurants of remarkable quality — at least the ones we tried. The spring rolls were quite good, but I found the grill to be where the real action was.

Stir-fried snails in Ho Chi Minh City — An Epic Education

The kids gorged on shrimp cooked inside a coconut, while I ate my weight in snails. Some were steamed with lemongrass, while others (like those seen above) were stir-fried in ginger and coconut milk and served with chiles and shredded cilantro. Perhaps this is where should I mention how Vietnam is MUCH easier to eat with our kids than in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, because the chile peppers are mostly served on the side, or at least not already cooked into dishes, which makes my spice-averse kids very happy.

BBQ pork. Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Another favorite was the barbecued pork, which was topped with peanuts and green onion and served on a bed of warm, gauzy rice paper, with a bowl of fresh leafy herbs (such as mustard greens) on the side.

Sbails in HCMC — An Epic Ecucation

There were places serving shrimp, snails, crab and other shelled creatures all over, and I loved just plopping down somewhere for a snack and seeing what we could get.

squid & okra — Vietnam with kids: An Epic Education

As for snacks, Keiko quite liked these skewers of octopus and okra, dipped in a firey sauce. Octopus gets tough when it sits around or is cooked for too long. These delicate chunks were teeth-sinking good.

Deep fried crickets — Vietnam with kids: An Epic Education

My face might not show it (the above pic was captured at first bite) but I quite liked the crickets I tried. There were a variety of bugs for sale (I skipped the scorpion). Deep-fried and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce, the crickets seen above were the nicest of what I tried — not as delicious as the Oaxacan style in Mexico, where the roasting brings out their naturally nutty flavor and crunchy textures. Here the crunch came from the breading.

pancake snacks — Vietname with kids: An Epic Education

We had some sweet stuff, as well. The kids really liked this pancake sandwich snack — essentially two silver-dollar pancakes with your choice of filling in the middle: mango, honey, chocolate and other flavors.

bánh bèo: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

The food gets really interesting in Hue, the ancient capital nestled in central Vietnam. It’s here that you get the best sampling of what was once considered Imperial cuisine during the Nguyễn dynasty, up to the 1880’s and beyond when the country came under French control. Our favorite dish was bánh bèo, small, one-bite rice cakes with ground shrimp and other savory goodness on top.

bánh bèo: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Scoop these out with a spoon, add some fish/chile-sauce and instant yum. The chewy, gummy textures of the rice cake are offset by the crackle and crunch of dried shrimp, fried shallots and baked mung bean paste formed into something akin to a crouton.

Ne Lui: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Then there was Nem Lui, a special kind of sausage where ground pork and beef are mixed with fish sauce and spices and then spread over stalks of lemongrass before being grilled on open flames. Wrap these babies in rice paper and chow down.

Banh Loc: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Another food unique to Hue is Banh Loc, a small tapioca dumpling filled with a shrimp and a chunk of pork and then steamed in a banana leaf.

Stir-fried cobra on the Mekong — Vietnam with Kids: An Epic Education

All new and interesting foods are welcomed here at An Epic Education, but perhaps the most interesting one for me was….cobra. While in the Mekong Delta, I saw it on the menu and thought I’d give it a try. We had seen the snakes at the market, but I wasn’t sure exactly how it would be served. I thought I had ordered it as satay-like skewers, but it arrived about as exotic-looking as your local diner’s special of the day. It was pretty good, though. The meat was tougher than I expected — somewhere between eel and chicken.

Pho in HCMC: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Let us not forget the almighty pho. Cheap, delicious and filling, pho was easy to locate and always comforting. Eating in Vietnam involves lots of bowls of pho, and we had our share on this trip.

Pho on the Mekong: Vietnam with Kids — An Epic Education

Most pho we ate had a beef base or involved shrimp ground into meatballs, but my favorite was a particular bowl I had while in the Mekong (see above). A clear, chicken-based broth, the toppings included fresh octopus, wontons, beef tripe, pig liver and a few other organs that I couldn’t properly identify. I could eat that once a week if it was available.

Eating in Vietnam is such a treat. What dishes do you like? What have you tried? Can you get decent Vietnamese food where you live?

Comments

  1. LOVE this article! My husband and I just returned from Vietnam last week. The food was phenomenal. We sampled locusts, frogs, scorpions, balut and cobra! I can’t wait to go back!

    • Hi Cherri. Thanks for chiming in. Yes, Vietnamese food gets a lot of votes in our family. I love sampling the more exotic fare (bugs and such), but the standard noodles and rice paper dishes could sustain us for months. Love it all…except perhaps for a “special” thrice-fermented fish sauce I tried somewhere between Hue and Hoi An: for this, I recommend caution.

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