Vietnam Food Tour: Part 3 (South)
Parts 1 and 2 of Vietnam were written in less than 2 weeks...and 3 months later, here comes the final part. It has been a very busy autumn. After Hoi An, we went south to the Mekong Delta before ending in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. We flew from Danang to Saigon and then took a taxi + 5 hour bus to Can Tho, only to find out that we could have flown straight to Can Tho...oops! Can Tho is the largest town on the Mekong Delta, although it doesn't look too impressive on the surface. People go there for the floating markets and most tourists do this through a day tour from Saigon. However, staying in Can Tho provided a more authentic experience, which was incredibly refreshing after a few days in Hoi An. The streets are also less busy (aka. scary) than Hanoi, slowing down the pace of the day.
We also had some of our best meals here. For starters, this Vietnamese hot pot at a local restaurant was one of the best things we ate. The lemongrass flavored hotpot broth looked clear and mild, but was surprisingly spicy. It came with an abundance of vegetables and frog legs. There are fond memories of this restaurant because we made a Vietnamese friend who explained the menu to us, very thoughtfully describing the grilled cow penis as the "front of the butt". She also let me try her grilled snake, which was literally a whole snake grilled at the table. It was not very good. I'll stick with the frog legs thanks.
After being spoiled by fresh beer the entire trip, we were searching for the same in Can Tho, only to realize quickly it's not as common. Determined as we were, we eventually found this place we had read about, Phong Dinh, where you can get fresh beer in 2L jugs. Oy.
Another awesome street food find was Vietnamese popiah, which of course uses rice paper wraps. Just like most popiah, these were filled with strewed radish, but came with a bunch of toppings that made them taste distinctly Vietnamese. At $0.15 each, this could have been dinner.
But of course it wasn't, because no meal is complete without a bowl of noodles on the side of the street. It doesn't get better than this.
It's definitely worth it to do a floating village tour, even though it means setting off very early to catch the sunrise. The Mekong River at sunrise is so calm and serene. At first I wondered why the riverside hadn't been more developed, but of course my western trained mind would think that. I quickly felt ashamed for the thought, realizing that it is much better this way. One by one, tiny houses that hang on the side of the river start to rise, people begin to move about, washing their clothes, brushing their teeth, smiling and waving. It's just so crazy to think that the same path could take you into China.
Slowly the market starts appearing, each boat specializing in one thing only.
We also stopped by a "noodle factory" (which was not so much a factory as it was someone's backyard) where I learned how to make rice noodles. It was so easy, I gotta get one of these at home.
Going to Saigon after Can Tho was a little shocking, suddenly we were in a big city again and there were skyscapers (huh?), billboards (huh?), and alot more motorbikes (ahh). In our final 3 days, this was also around the time when exhaustion starts to settle in and the desire to see places is overshadowed by laziness.
|Please stop taking pictures and buy my shoes|
There were of course the obligatory visits to the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace, which were enough to bum anyone out for a few days. All I needed after that was a piping bowl of noodle soup, which I could not even take a proper picture of. One night we checked out a great seafood restaurant called Quan Oc. The grilled octopus and scallops on the shell were both cooked really well and were very tasty. The restaurant also specializes in a variety of snails, but we mistakenly chose the Thai flavored one that was a little too plain.
And on the last night we went to a nice restaurant called Monsoon that serves up a variety of Southeast Asia dishes. This Cambodian eggplant is one of the best things EVERRR
Annnnnnd that concludes the 3 part post. For anyone thinking about going to Vietnam, my advice: 1)do it, 2)try to spend 2 weeks or more and 3)eat everything in sight. I have never been to a country with such consistently good food. Every meal, every dish, every snack was spot on. I am amazed how they can turn such simple ingredients into fresh and flavorful dishes. And the best part is the food is generally pretty healthy and nutritious too, so it takes out any post-vacation guilt factor.