Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eating in Vietnam

I am amazed by the diversity of rice products in the Vietnamese diet; from the most popular rice noodle (pho) to rice paper rolls (all kinds of rolls use steamed rice paper as the skin of the roll, the most popular one contains lots of different fresh vegetables and sea food/pork, all ingredients then rolled in a sheet of steamed rice paper and dip it with fish sauce) or the royal food (all kinds of Hue style rice dishes served in a small portions; raw chili and garlic are provided and expected to go with the food), it's a guarantee that you would have at least one dish made by rice if you are having Vietnamese food.

Sea food is another "staple" in Vietnam, at least in HCMC. Shrimp , fish, clam, crab, squid ... anything, you name it, you can have as many as you want till a gout attacks without having your wallet slimmed.

Restaurant in HCMC

Tau Ben Nghe, the restaurant itself is a 3 level boat docked at the port near the majesty hotel. Neon lights decorate the boat with fish shapes. Departing at 8:00PM daily for a 1.5 hour cruise on the Ben Nghe river, the boat opens for boarding at 6:00PM. Karaoke (on the first and the second levels) and traditional Vietnamese music (on the third level) provides entertainments before the voyage. The menu on board is written in 3 languages which are Vietnamese, English and Chinese. We ordered BBQ squid, fried beef with onion, water spinach, seafood hotpot, steamed rice and 4 colas for about 490,000VND (less than 1,000NTD). Hot girls dancing with fire brings the cruise to a climax on the way back at the end.

Bo Tung Xeo (31 D Ly Tu Trong) is one of the Vietnamese restaurants recommended by lonely planet. I tried the speciality of this restaurant which is tender marinated beef (75,000VND). As you can see in the picture, salad is served with a plate full of beef soaking in a mixture of soya sauce, oil, and garlic. When grilling over the charcoal, the oil brings up the fire and smoke giving the BBQ beef a final touch of flavor (I know it has lots of carcinogens but that's what makes the BBQ delicious). The menu is written in Vietnamese and English, only one man speaks English in the whole restaurant.

Another lonely planet recommendation is the Lemon Grass (4 D Nguyen Thiep) located in a small alley near the grand hotel. Female staff dress in traditional costume and according to the book two women play musical instruments while you eat, which didn't happen to me while I was there. The photo menu makes ordering easy, however the price is relatively much higher than other restaurants. I ordered a seafood noodle in clay and a cola for 110,000VND, 10% of service charge and 5% tax included. It tasted almost the same in Uncle Long, where you can get the same product for half price. You can find Uncle Long, a franchise in Vietnam, on the top floor of big supermakets or department stores such as the Parkson mall. The advertising of Uncle Long, 'good rice' is in many languages, tells you what's best to order from its variety of dishes. My personal favorite is the seafood rice in clay, 32,000VND.

Vuon Pho (93 D Nguyen Du, District 1) serves all kinds of Vietnamese delicacies for a very good price. I was looking for a nice restaurant as a treat on moon festival and my choice was Quan An Ngon(138 D Nam Ky Khoi Nghia). Before I made it to that restaurant a suddent rain soaked me instantly in front of the Vuon pho restaurant. I was worried, being the only foreigner in the restaurant, it seemed nobody could speak English at all. With help of body language and an English menu, I orded french fries (a dip with butter and sugar), seafood salad in Thai style, steamed shell-fish and a pineapple juice for 107,000VND. The food was delicious. I was too full to have more dishes in the menu. One special dish served here is made by sticky rice in a ball shape(see photo), when serving, the waiter first flattens the rice ball then cuts it into small pieces with scissors. The deep fried fish with scales is another Vietnamese delicacy that you can order here.

Restaurant in HCMC on Google Map

Tau Ben Nghe, Bo Tung Xeo, Lemon Grass, Uncle Long, Vuon Pho

Restaurant in Dalat

The Blue Water Restaurant is situated on Xuan Huong Lake. Customers can choose to sit indoors or outdoors, both providing a spectacular view. I felt like I was disconnected from reality by Xuan Huong Lake and everything moved in slow motion on the other side of the lake. This surreal perspective unveiled the secret of how French influences and local cultures blend in harmony. The menu is written in 3 languages with nearly one hundred dishes of Vietnamese, western or Chinese cuisine to choose from. I ordered a seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, a coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110,000VND, 220NTD. Unlike the onion rings I have had, they use whole onions coated with a layer of flour and taste fresh.

Check the article posted ealier Vietnam-Tourism for more restaurant information in HCMC and Hanoi.

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