Without a doubt most of South East Asia is blessed with a climate that enables a proliferation of fresh produce to thrive. Vietnam is no exception.
Fabulously fresh ingredients
The markets are teeming with exotic fruit and a wide variety of vegetables all temptingly displayed and inviting purchase. Many are still unidentifiable to us but our knowledge and recognition of the more exotic was certainly expanded in Vietnam. I confess we are both addicted to markets and their bustling activity and I simply cannot resist fruit I have never seen or tasted before. New taste sensations were definitely a big part of the Vietnam experience.
Invariably the central zone of the market is a cluster of stalls selling simple, cheap meals prepared on the spot and an incredible range of colourful and refreshing drinks that are concocted from fruit, tapioca, agar agar, coconut, milk, yoghurt, coffee or tea or a combination of them, blended or layered into tall glasses with or without ice and presented with a flourish seconds after you place your order. Vietnam must have the greatest variety of and be the number one producer of iced beverages.
Stunning street food
Vendors in the markets, do a roaring trade from dawn until dusk and still spend every spare moment soliciting more customers. Those without the resources to set up a table and some stools, ply their trade from 2 baskets slung over a shoulder pole and walk through the markets, streets and alleys. These baskets could contain something as simple as a pre-prepared dessert and fruit or something a heavy and difficult to transport as a small coal burning brazier and all the ingredients to cook and assemble a piping hot meal of noodles in soup in seconds, in addition to the bowls to serve it.
Oodles of noodles
As vegetarians without local language skills, we are often wary of the broth or the condiments that go into these street foods and are therefore compelled to forgo tasting what look to be delicious snacks and treats. Peddling them through the streets ensures tempting aromas waft through the air as they are whisked by, on the shoulder of someone with much more developed crowd-maneuvering skills than us. Vietnam surpassed any other Asian food culture we have ever experienced and with a bit of patience and a keen eye we were quickly able to identify what was or was not kosher for us and satisfy our desire to taste.
Ridiculously cheap restaurant meals
Restaurants were also a source a delicious new flavours. We loved the many establishments that provide training and apprenticeships to disadvantaged youth. They run hostels for their trainees and fund themselves through high class, low cost restaurants. “Koto” in Hanoi, “Baguette & Chocolat” in Sapa and “Streets” in Hoi An all impressed us as did the Buddhist vegetarian cafes where a bowl of noodles costs less than $2 and comes with as much tea as you want. Several colonial mansions lovingly restored and converted into cool, airy, open dining areas were also a delight.
Ambient eating areas
Now, even after trying to limit our intake to 2 meals a day we are faced with how to lose the weight all this delicious food has caused us both to gain! Well OK the beer to wash it all down might also have played a part.
After just one day in Phnom Penh we can see this city is also up there as a foodie destination and we may need to head out to the provinces to curtail the consumption, sooner rather than later!