And after Part 1 and Part 2 we have now reached Part 3, the final part of my Tribute to Vietnamese food!
Ready? Let’s go!
The hotpot in the header image was served in a budget restaurant in Da Lat. The pot was placed at the centre of the table and kept simmering while the ingredients were cooking. Not being familiar with the cooking technique, I kept staring at the pot wondering when it would be ready and safe to eat. I must say, it tasted very good.
The rolls and dumplings above are from Hoi An, a town whose reputation as the ultimate gourmet getaway is steadily growing. Great food and lovely composition on the plate for this dish!
Cao lau is one of the most popular Hoi An specialties, and its ingredients are noodles, slabs of pork, bean sprouts and fresh vegetables. The noodles are quite different from any other Vietnamese dish: thicker, quite chewy and with a firmer texture. The dish tastes delicious!
Last but not least, here’s the highlight of my food experiences in Vietnam: a fully homemade meal which I helped preparing when in Hanoi! Noodles, vegetables, and rice paper rolls. Very tasty.
See also this post for the full experience.
And this is the end (for now) of my Vietnamese food memoirs.
I hope you enjoyed it!
Vietnam is a country of waters: hundreds of miles of coastline, rivers, and huge delta areas characterise its length. Fresh fish and seafood are readily available, and therefore such dishes abound in the Vietnamese cuisine.
Here are some of the mouth-watering seafood dishes that I savoured during my trips:
The one above was my first meal at the night market in Phu Quoc, a great place to be. The squid looked fresh and tasted great. The sugarcane juice went very well with it too. The fact that my stomach was not upset at all after the meal (I am sadly prone to food poisoning when in the tropics) made me return to the same market a few times during my stay. And more seafood dishes were tried.
This steamed squid dish was nice and fresh and served at one of the cheap seafood restaurants on Ang Bang beach in Hoi An. A pile of morning glory was my choice of side dish as usual…
This shrimp and squid combo was actually made of two separate dishes but when put on the same plate they fit very nicely together. Again, all seafood looked and tasted very fresh. As you would expect on an island like Con Dao.
The mackerel soup above was prepared using a mackerel that had been caught under my eyes in Con Dao and then immediately taken to the restaurant kitchen. It couldn’t have been any fresher! The mackerel was cooked in three different ways, and the soup version is the only one I took a photo of. Very colourful and yummie!
One more from Con Dao: fish in garlic sauce. A bit too much garlic maybe, but it supposedly helps keeping the mosquitoes away. Regardless of any mozzie repellent properties the dish tasted good, the presentation on the plate was very nice and it was incredibly cheap (I don’t remember ever paying more than 180,000 dong for a seafood dish, which is equivalent to less than £5!).
Last but not least in my seafood tribute is nuoc mam, the notorious Vietnamese fish sauce! Largely produced from fermented fish in smelly factories in Phu Quoc, the fish sauce is an ever-present ingredient in the Vietnamese cuisine.
More images and comments about Vietnamese dishes are still to come. Keep following me!
AKA: the ascent to heaven is best not done wearing flip flops.
The Marble Mountains are marble and limestone hills located between Hoi An and Da Nang, about 20Km from Hoi An. You can visit them independently, and reach them by motorbike/xe om/ local bus, but I chose the lazy option and joined a tour. Lucky enough I was the only person on it, so had a private guide and driver for half a day!
So, back to the Marble Mountains: there are five of them and they are also called the Mountains of the Five Elements (water, metal, fire, wood, and earth). They are of great importance to the Vietnamese and are dotted with Buddhist and Hindu temples and pagodas.
They were also a base for Viet Cong fighters during the war.
Nowadays the most visited peak is the Water mountain – Thuy Son – which is also the tallest.
After visiting a couple of cave pagodas there, my guide told me that we would follow the path to heaven and led me to the very top of the mountain through narrow, slippery and steep tunnels. Caving and rock climbing in flip flops!
(Now I know how I will go to heaven, I thought at some point…).
When I reached the top I felt like I had climbed the Everest! This was also an opportunity for lots of photos of the coast and the other four mountains.
I also visited the largest and most impressive cave on the Water mountain (Huyen Khong cave), where a huge Buddha statue towers over everything and stalactites resemble animals and human faces. Sunlight streams enter the cave from the roof, and create a very dramatic atmosphere.
The Marble Mountains are also famous for their stone engraving activities, although marble now comes from other areas of Vietnam instead of being extracted locally. Several souvenir shops located at the base of the mountains will try to sell you marble objects of any sorts, the most popular being the “Happy Buddha”. Rubbing its belly supposedly brings good luck!
And no, I didn’t buy one but under my guide’s advice I made sure that I gave a good belly rub to one of the big Buddha statues on the Water mountain :-).
I had already got used to the question, soundtrack of my evenings along the riverfront in Hoi An. Children and old ladies sell you candles for 20,000 dong (Happy Hour: two-for-one): you buy one, make a wish, then place the candle on the river and let it float.
This is when millions of people across the world switch off lights for one hour – to celebrate their committment to the planet.
Given the key role of lights and lanterns in Hoi An by night, the effect of switching them all off was very dramatic. At 8:30pm everything became suddenly very dark, pitch black. I was walking along the riverfront and there must have been thousands of people there, mainly youngsters. The area around the bridge to An Hoi island was completely jam-packed.
There were groups running around holding hands, groups playing guitar and singing songs, groups creating environmental-related paintings on large sheets of paper. The atmosphere was happy and lots of cheering was going on.
And then there were the kids and the old ladies selling candles.
Most of us bought one: some people just used them to create light as they walked, while others (me included) placed them on the river.
In the complete darkness the effect of hundreds of flickering candles on the Thu Bon river was amazing!
At 9:30pm the sound of a siren announced the end of Earth Hour and all lights and lanterns were switched on again.
This was such a different way of experiencing Hoi An compared to the previous nights (click here for my blog post) and I am very lucky to have been able to live Earth Hour here :-).
You will be pleased to hear that Hoi An has made it to the top of the “Chiara’s favourite places in Vietnam” chart!
This UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1999) is incredibly charming, picturesque, and laid back. And it doesn’t lose its appeal even with the hordes of tourists that flock its streets day and night.
I love the Old Town and its traditional houses – most of them now shops and restaurants – each one with colourful lanterns that create a dreamy atmosphere after sunset. There are also plenty of museums, Chinese Assembly Halls, family houses and various temples and pagodas – they can be visited by buying a daily ticket that gives access to five sights of your choice. Choose wisely – I ran out of my five options in no time :-S.
I love the Thu Bon river, full of traditional boats. I love the bridges and the views over the town.
I love the town market, which offers never ending photographic opportunities.
The ladies carrying fruit baskets will be the ones asking you to take photos of them! I have even seen some running towards tourists once they realised that photos were being taken…
I love cycling around Hoi An, even better than walking. As long as you avoid the busiest streets, or your manouevring skills will be put to test!
I love Hoi An by night, with its colourful lanterns and their reflections on the river.
There are no toilets on the bus.
And I am the only Westerner on board.
And no one speaks any English.
These were the first thoughts that crossed my mind as I boarded the Phuong Trang (Futa) bus from Da Lat to Da Nang. Not before having had a major argument with the Futa staff who refused to tag my suitcase and give me any form of receipt when they stored it in the luggage hold.
This 14-hr bus ride is going to be fun. Not.
I had reserved a seat on the sleeper bus via my hotel in Da Lat and I hadn’t really bothered with many questions. I got picked up at the hotel and dropped off at the Da Lat bus station, where my ticket was waiting for me. Once I got to the bus I realised it was going to be an eventful overnight ride…
My seat/bed was actually quite comfortable and having booked on the “upstairs/window” I had a nice view. We went through mountain villages and stunning scenery, until the sun started setting and I feel asleep (courtesy of the travel sickness tablets).
Three hours into the journey we stopped at a restaurant. I think we were in the Nha Trang area, judging by some road signs. All announcements were made in Vietnamese only, though, and the rude and unhelpful Futa guys on board ignored any of my requests to explain how long we were going to be there. Great: I am completely on my own here! Roll your sleeves up, Chiara, I thought.
Back on the bus, we followed the road along the coast for some time. In the darkness surrounding us, the lights from the fishermen boats looked like a huge number of fireflies. It was stunning.
Then the bus started climbing up towards some mountain pass, overtaking on hairpin bends seemed to be common practice.
When we stopped again a few hours later – the Futa guys needed a smoke… – a few men got off the bus so I followed. Toilet break, yay! Only to find out that there were no toilets: we were in the middle of nowhere and the men were all standing on the nearby bridge with their legs apart. “Toilet for women?” I asked the Futa guys in my total naivety. They stared at me showing no understanding of my question, then looked at each other and started laughing. Their attitude was really getting on my nerves at that point. Then one of them pointed at the line of men standing by the bridge. Great: bush toilet, but with nowhere to hide. All I could do was going to the other end of the bridge and hope that the darkness would protect me. Not happy.
Back on the bus I fell asleep and slept most of the night.
At 6am we arrived in Da Nang. The bus dropped us off and left. This was not a bus station. And now where do I catch the bus to Hoi An? I was suddenly surrounded by ten men saying “Motorbike! Motorbike!”. No, I don’t want motorbike: it’s 30Km to Hoi An, I want the local bus. Tired and dehydrated I walked to the ticket office and asked for the bus. A heaven-sent guy told me to follow him, and walked me all the way to the bus station, which was 500m away, and left me in front of bus #1 to Hoi An. I got on board and was asked to pay 50,000 dong. No! I know the real price is 20,000 I said. I had read enough internet forums about this scam. The price dropped immediately to 30,000 and I agreed to that. Too tired to argue any further. After all, we are talking about 50c difference here…
An hour later we arrived at Hoi An bus station, which happens to be out of town. On for the last fight! Surrounded again by “motorbike!motorbike!” men, I got asked for 50,000 dong for a ride to town. No! You gotta be kidding. I know the price is 15,000 I said. “Oh town very far” they replied. I stubbornly stood in front of the town map with the GPS on my phone switched on, trying to work out how long it would take me to walk to my hotel and which direction to go.
And I didn’t give in to the motorbike men pressure. And I walked all the way.
Half an hour later and completely covered in sweat, I arrived at my hotel. Shattered.
It was 8am.
I had left Da Lat yesterday at 4pm.