Our guide took his time showing us one of the MANY fresh food markets in town. You can get every ingredient you need in one stop – produce, meat, seafood, spices, sauces, rice, noodles, herbs….
As with all Asian markets, there were some unique offerings, like these small rice paddy crabs (would fit in the palm of your hand). A few types of insects and more than one size of frog, including huge live bull frogs. The gal from China that was also in the tour group mentioned that for frog legs, smaller frogs taste better.
Vietnam being “moto nation”, they of course roll right through the skinny aisles of the market, right up the stand they want. A little bit different way to buy your chicken thighs!
Our guide, Hung, talked about how to select a superior fish sauce. He is partial to sauce made in Vietnam. Shake the bottle….if it makes tiny bubbles at the top, that’s good – means it is high in protein. If there is no sediment floating around – also good. Buy it!
Our first food stop was for the all mighty, ever popular Pho, practically the national dish of Vietnam. Now that I’ve had a bunch, there are some better than others. It seems so simple, but some folks make it to die for.
I went for the beef instead of chicken. I hear it tastes better. This is basically what they eat for breakfast every day.
You eat them with a dipping sauce and sprinkled with dried shrimp and fried shallots. Delicious!
Hung asked if anyone was game for trying this- a kind of water bug/beetle. The gal from China and I said yes, but in the end everyone tried. We just got the ball rolling. It helps that they taste like green apple. Yes! That’s right! I said green apple. A lot of people just use the juice that is squeezed out of them as a flavor added to dipping sauce. It’s very strong so they just dip their chopstick into a vial of it and stir it around in their sauce or soup.
Hung gave it to the cook, who threw it in the wok for a minute or two to cook it. The he sliced it into our dipping sauce with scissors. A small bite packs a ton of flavor. It’s like super concentrated green apple liqueur. There’s a small amount of soft “meat” and then the shell, which I did not eat- it was sort of like eating a sunflower seed where you take the nut with your tongue and spit out the shell.
Next stop was for for bia hoi ha noi. Any place that has this on the sign serves the local brew, Hanoi, on tap. Bia hoi is “draft beer”.
It was nice and cold, with some raw peanuts on the side.
We stopped here for fried spring rolls – pork and crab.
Again, you get a delicious dipping sauce, a beer (this time on ice since they served it in a bottle unchilled), and a plate of greens. You can just eat the greens as is, maybe dipped in sauce, but Hung showed us that the large pieces are also great for picking up your roll if you’re not so good with chopsticks. Travel tip: practice with chopsticks before you come. Sometimes it’s all you get!
The dish on the right was some amazing pork – almost carmelized. You added your own rice noodles.
Snail, noodles, green banana (which to my disappointment only tasted like potato), tofu, tomato, onion, peppers.
The last stop was for Vietnamese coffee. It’s basically the strength of espresso I thought. So, however you like to drink your “un cafe” in Europe, you can enjoy it here. The flavor is a bit different, but very rich. This is an iced coffee with condensed milk drizzled on top of the foam.
As nice as Vietnamese cooking is, I am still craving the food in Thailand…. I did have a great smoked duck salad at Highway 4 restaurant in Hanoi, though!