Vietnamese cuisine – our top five from under the sea

We have to admit: the Vietamese know how to grill pork. In sandwiches, with broken rice, on rice noodles – if the spot is right, Vietnamese-style grilled pork rocks! Well, it’s another thing really. I am distracted by the meal I just ate. After all, we’re here to talk seafood. So, we admit: pork in Vietnam is really good. Seafood! Seafood is really good. In Poland seafood isn’t that fresh and we always long after it. Here, it can be super-fresh and very cheap. Apart from Saigon, you can get a three plate seafood dinner with a few beers at a non-touristy restaurant for around 15 dollars. So this one, dear diary, is to the meals we loved.

Number five. Saigon. Food is a few times more expensive than elsewhere. I get an awful cold, so we only roam our area, Pham Ngu Lao, which is rather touristy and unattractive. Because we’ve been overeating, we’re sticking to sushi. But I discover the existence of a dish that joins my favourite elements – delicious crab meat and clear noodles (usually made from the mung bean). I try it at two different places. Crab vermicelli (mien xao cua) with fresh coriander (always a plus) is really good. At least according to my cold-stricken senses.

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Number four. Phan Thiet. A place close to the hotel, where we go when not in mood for exploring. The owner is really nice and and suggests we try the loaded version of hot pot, with fish paste. If you’ve just come to the country, the odor may seem lethal, but it grows on you after a while. We’re already a bit desensitized, and heck, that fishy smell can even be a bit of a turn on sometimes. We eat a whole platter of fish and seafood pieces and a basket of greens. Still, by Vietnamese standards, it was a light meal.

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Number three. Phan Thiet, by the picturesque port. A typical outside resto with miniature chairs and tables. Full of people. On the opposite sidewalk a guy sets up a loudspeaker and his half-naked girlfriend does her gangnam style dinner entertainment routine. Menu gives only translations of ingredients. We have to point out what we want. We go for thin rice waffles with sesame and squid pieces with herbs because they’re on the other tables. Than we pull a straw, that is order a la carte. A “smelt salad”. The smelts are served raw with chillies and onion slices. A spring roll thing again. So there’s rice paper, cucumber and an assortment of green leaves. We roll and dip. As fresh as it gets. The rice waffles turn out to be freshly grilled rice papers and make a great appetizer or a snack. Everything tastes good but the portions are (as per usual) too big and we can’t finish it all. We also have too many beers and remember scenes rather than the story.

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Number two. Long Hai, a quiet and absolutely empty “resort”. A moto driver takes us to the hotel and insists we just leave our stuff and go with him. We end up at an empty parking lot. There are a few stalls and hundreds of empty, kindergarten-sized chairs. The camera is back at the hotel. We choose crab claws in tamarind sauce. It’s more fun than food but the taste is amazing. The claws are covered in a thick layer of sticky brown sauce. There are fresh herbs. There are cold beers. The sauce is sour, sweet, spicy and gets on our hands and faces. My hair, flailing it the wind, also gets some sauce. It’s utter happiness.

The next day we come across delicious spring rolls with shrimp, at another restaurant. We want to try their version of crab. We make an appointment for dinner but instead of tamarind sauce, we get the crab steamed, with lime and salt. Our driver shows up and without asking permission sits at the table and instructs us how to handle the crustaceans. The  claws are not broken and necessary tools nowhere to be found. It turns out quite simple, the tools redundant, since you can place the claw on a hard surface and just smash it with your fist. My fist does not seem to work at all but our new friend comes to the rescue and serves me best morsels. It’s all real basic and tastes amazing again.

Number one. Ben Tre, the Mekong Delta. In a quiet street we find a pleasant restaurant set in an old villa. There’s no menu but a good waiter who speaks a little English listens to our suggestions and chooses the dishes for us. We get the classic Vietnamese claypot fish, which is always served in a very thick and sweet sauce.

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Next comes the Delta specialty, sweet-sour fish soup (canh chua). It’s light and yummy, with tomatoes, pineapple, okra, tamarind and other vegetables and herbs. The soups here are often served with pieces of spongy stems (bac ha), which tastes awesome after soaking in the broth. I can swear to that.

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Finally, we get the restaurant’s specialty, white clams. They’re served in an iron pot with hot coals and lemongrass underneath. When served, at the table, the waiter pours a concoction into the bowl and closes the lid. The clams quickly open in the steam and are ready to eat in a matter of minutes. We use chopsticks to separate the clams from the shells and then dip them in coarse pepper with salt and calamansi lime. Simply genius. I’ve seen these clams in many places and I think this version is worth seeking out during a stay in Vietnam. Ahhh!

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