The first problem I had to solve arriving in Vietnam was the food. I realized that I didn’t know anything, if I ever was going to buy something to eat, I had no idea what to ask for or what to expect.
My only experience with Asian food was the Chinese restaurant on the corner and some California sushi … but I had a feeling that reality was quite different.
Luckily, I came to the house of the teacher who offered me a volunteer teaching English at her school in exchange for food and accommodation. There they waited for me with what looked like a banquet.
Before sleeping I was informed that the next day I had no students, so I decided to go out and explore the city with a Food Tour that I hired through the experiences of Airbnb.
The next day I met James who picked me up and took me on his motorcycle to taste the delights of Vietnam. James is a 23-year-old boy, a tourism student.
I had been advised not to eat anything before the tour because it was going to be intense and it was. I ended up with the food up to my eyes, but it was delicious!
Stop N ° 1: Xôi Mặn (Sticky Rice)
To start the tour, my guide took me through some small streets in the center of Ho Chi Minh City for a snack. We got off the bike and headed to the post of this lady who spends her days in front of her grill preparing Chuoi nuong (grilled banana). It is the most common Vietnamese snack, it can be found anywhere.
Basically, the dish consists of pieces of banana wrapped in its leaves and put on the grill. They are warmed, the leaf is removed and it is served with a coconut milk cream, a rice of a sweet and sticky consistency, with a topping of cinnamon and crushed peanuts.
There is a variation that has mango instead of banana, it is also known as sticky rice.
I found the combination of fruit and rice a bit strange. The banana one had a few smoky touches thanks to the grill, I liked that.
The texture is very smooth and not too sweet, in fact, I think that because of my western palate, used to excess sugar, I found it a little tasteless. It was not my favorite.
Stop N°2: Nuoc Mia (Sugar Cane Juice)
At the second stop, we headed to Ho Chi Minh’s largest flower market, located in the 10th arrondissement, where food also has an important place.
Here I first tried Sugar Cane Juice, which along with green tea is one of the most popular drinks in Vietnam. It is sold everywhere, it is very tasty and refreshing.
Stop N°3: Cơm Tấm (Broken Rice)
At the flower market we also had Com Tam (Broken Rice). It takes the named because the grains were damaged in some part of the harvest or transportation process and did not pass quality control to be packaged as normal rice.
It does not mean that it is dirty or that it is bad for human consumption, just the grains are not whole. Usually, as these are faulty rice grains, it is cheaper, which is why it is historically known to be preferred by low-income people.
The first to start cooking this rice are the farmers who could not sell it, as it was “defective”, and the people couldn’t afford to buy the normal rice. It is a typical dish from Ho Chi Minh City and from all over southern Vietnam.
It is usually served with grilled pork, vegetables, eggs, fish sauce and all the salads you want to add.
I thought it was good, except for the fish sauce, which I don’t like too much.
Plato N°4: Pho (Noodle soup)
Leaving the flower market, we headed to District 3. This place is famous for being an important civic and administrative center, headquarters base territory, and even the United States Embassy and also from other countries during the Vietnam War.
Today it is a commercial district that plays an important role in the development of Ho Chi Minh City, and has some incredible food markets.
After parking the bike, we headed to a small stall with only two tables, to try Vietnam’s most famous dish: Pho.
This delight comes in two versions: Pho Bo (Beef Soup) and Pho Ga (Chicken Soup). This was one of the few things I learned to say in Vietnamese, very easy xD.
“The secret is in the broth” is what people tell you when they see your face of impression when trying this dish for the first time, and it is incredible.
Everything starts with the broth base. From what they told me, they put the animal’s bones, ginger, salt, anise, a little sugar, fish sauce in a pot and leave all that on the fire for at least 8 hours.
The aim is to get every last drop of flavor out of those bones. The meat is added in small pieces, only at the last boil before serving and the rice noodles at the end of everything.
The final touch is given by the fresh green leaves and the juice of a lemon. In Vietnam it is common for people to add chili and eat it very hot.
Although I was already feeling full with what we had eaten before, I did not leave anything on the plate. For some reason, this hot broth, in an environment where the temperature is already very hot, it always comes in handy.
Before proceeding to the next destination, James informed me that there was another dish consisting of a meat sandwich hand after that, finally dessert.
As he saw I could barely finish the soup, he suggested to go for dessert, because there is obviously always room for dessert, and then order the bread to take away and could save it for dinner or rather for two more days when he could eat again.
Stop N°5: Fruit Salad
There were two options for dessert, he asked me if I wanted Vietnamese flan or fruit. Since I have a little problem with lactose, I decided to go for the fruit, I didn’t want to end my first day in Asia badly.
So we went to a small stall where they gave me a fruit salad with yogurt and ice. I tried dragon fruit for the first time, and it was a bit disappointing, I think it’s a lot of name and the fruit tastes too mild, almost imperceptible.
Stop N°6: Banh Mi
The last dish of the day was this sandwich, better known as the great Banh Mi. There is something for everyone, vegetarian, with meat, I even saw some with meat balls and fish. The traditional one comes with a first layer of pork pate, which gives it a very special flavor.
This is James, thanks to him I learned a lot that day, I was able to handle myself better and be able to approach the food stalls knowing what I was going to order and the prices.
I paid $ 22 USD for the tour that included all meals and motorcycle rides.