Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dear Phil

We said from the beginning that we were coming here for the food. And we have eaten of the food, and found that it was good.

Vietnam is such a lush, rich, fertile country. It is difficult to believe that this country was crippled by famine in the 1980s because the country is so alive. Everything is growing. When you drive through the countyside, it seems as if they crops are all growing faster than they could possibly be harvested. Little plants shoot up through every crack in every pavements, and wall, and roof. And we have certainly seen no evidence of famine now. Though I am sure there are people in this country who are starving, it is economic starvation – due to a lack of distribution and not to a lack of abundance.

So, there is food everywhere you look. And Vietnamese people understand flavor. Vietnamese people are not going to settle for soggy chips and over-boiled vegetables.

Let's start with the sauces. At every table there is a little jug with fish sauce, and usually jars or bottles of soy sauce and chili sauce. The more expensive cafes and restaurants will have their own sauces, and the cheaper ones will have bottles of stuff you could buy in a supermarket. There is sometimes salt and pepper at the table as well, if they are expecting foreigners, but not always. Salt is a problem in this climate – it is hot and damp and the salt always clogs up in the salt shakers.

When it comes to dipping sauces, one is NEVER enough!

Usually at the table you will also be given a moist wipe for cleaning your hands. Vietnamese food is often intended to be eaten with fingers. In a more expensive establishment you sometimes get a real facecloth, which is folded nicely and moistened and chilled.

Unlike in NZ, water is not always given at the table, and I have occasionally had the server look at me like was a nut case for requesting water. Ice is not a concern – most restaurants buy ice that is made from filtered water and is perfectly safe to drink. Quite often they serve sweet iced green tea for free, in the same way that NZ restaurants would give you a glass of tap water.

The food that we have eaten the most regularly has to be spring rolls – in various forms. Fresh, thick rolls filled with rice noodles and fresh herbs and slices of pork, or prawns, dipped in sweet chilli and vinegar based sauces. Smaller, deep fried spring rolls filled with minced beef or vegetables. Do-it-yourself, deconstructed spring rolls – where you are served with a plate of herbs and meat or fish and crispy circles of rice paper the soften as you dip them in the fresh sauces they are served with.

Spring rolls from Hoi An -
we went back to this cafe 3 times!

And then there is the noodle soup. Martin is beginning to fall in love with pho. It starts off so simple, a bowl of rice noodles and broth, with a few slices of beef. But then on another plate you are given a fat pile of herbs – usually basil and mint and mung beans, and other things I don't know the names off. And a few slices of chili. And wedges of lime to squeeze in. And then the sauces – fish sauce, and soy sauce, and chili sauce if you want it to bite. Then you add as much or as little of the herbs and spices and sauces, and push it all under the broth with your chopstick and spoon and let the flavours infuse. Martin is always impatient with this step, wanting to eat it straight away, but it's worth taking it slowly and letting the flavours mature in the broth.

And don't forget the salads – my favourite. Tart and fresh long shredded strips of green mango and papaya, mixed with lime juice and mint and dried shrimps. Fish sauce and chilli and sugar. And beautiful fresh seafood tossed through it. Served with thick slices of cucumber to cleanse and cool the palate.

So we're eating well.


  1. Excellent stuff. I had thought the phở at Ponsonby Food Hall was good, but then tried it in LA, served with the side of basil, mint and mung beans as you describe, and it's a whole new level of dirty bath water enjoyment.

    Nice work.


  2. Pleased to hear you are eating well, makes me hungry!