I was looking forward to being back in Vietnam and eating healthy, fresh food. And, I was doing so well....until my American friends came over. Case in point. Have a look at these photos:
This is Elizabeth, former chef from San Francisco, at lunch-Com Binh Dan in Hanoi, which literally means "common people's food".
And here I am with Mike and Nancy at fancy Mango Rooms in Hoi An-excellent and original plates made from fresh local ingredients.
Here I am with Joel, Jorge, Ric and Deanne. The later two being newly adopted into the American eating family. This was lunch at the base of Hai Van pass. Another Com Binh Dan.
You see. All we do is eat. Sure there are the sights to see like Hue's ancient Citadel, Ha Long's amazing grottos and Hoi An's architecture, but each and every person has uttered the words, "what are we eating next?" And shortly thereafter complete carnage ensues.
This was lunch at Bale Well. A great local bbq place in Hoi An, where pork skewers, fried spring rolls and banh xeo-vietnamese crepes are served with a garden of fresh greens and rice paper to individually wrap and dip into a tangy, full-bodied fermented soybean sauce.
And this is what happens after the American invasion. Only if the American army had the ferocity of battle as the traveling Americans did with their devouring appetite of the vietnamese food.
Truth be told. Bale Well did serve all you can eat meals. Phuong sandwiches on the other hand, sells banh mi, vietnamese baguette sandwiches one at a time for 10,000 vnd each.
These are made with the most exquisite bread-crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. It's filled with pork of all varieties-sausage, boiled and stewed, mayonnaise, fresh pate, greens, hot sauce and the juice from the stewed pork. And at a bargain price we, the Americans, rarely ordered just one. In the picture above you can see seven-a normal amount for 4 people.
Often when we're ordering these at the stall, there would be the lot of us and a hungry throng of Vietnamese locals waiting their turn.
To our credit though, we were told that the more food we ate the better our hosts would feel.
In the Hoi An market we met Aunt Lan. She runs one of a handful of food stalls there. Mike A and I wanted to try the local favorite Cao Lau. We sat down at her stall. Ordered a couple bowls. Looked at what else she was serving and kept ordering-roasted chicken, fried and stewed shrimp in bacon and several kinds of fried greens. She loved us so much that she invited us over to her house for a family meal later that day.
Gluttony. And then some.
In Hue, Vietnam's ancient capital, I got hungry for dinner a little earlier than the others. So while I waited for their appetite to return I ventured out to withdraw some money. On the way back I spotted this Bun Bo Hue stall across the street from our hotel. I couldn't help it! I sat down and inhaled a bowl of this central region's version of pho. It's made of a beef base broth, spiked with lemongrass, tamarind and pineapple juices. The meat provided are pork slices, sausages and hocks. The noodles are big, round and ever so slightly al dente. It is my all time favorite vietnamese dish, one that my mom used to entice me home for dinners.
I liked it so much that later that evening, a mere 30 minutes after having my first bowl, I took Joel and Jorge back for my second bowl. The proprietor simply looked at me.... and smiled.
By now you're probably thinking that it's not just the American appetite but the great Vietnamese food. You're right! Sure the food is fresh and delicious, yet the amount I've consumed is over the top.
Vietnamese food and Americans-the two together will be the death of me...and you. All my American friends, You have been warned!