The art of Street Food in Vietnam

The art of Street Food in Vietnam

As a first-time visitor to #Asia I decided to visit #Vietnam. One backpack. 1790 km. 10 days. My plan was to travel light and eat easy. It was an #adventure on a #budget with the most incredible #streetfood, overnight buses and a boat trip around #HalongBay. #GoASEAN


I was only 11 or 12 when the iconic photo of Huynh Cong Ut, ‘Napalm Girl’, caught my attention on a book cover. Lightly disturbed but yet intrigued this was the first time I heard of Vietnam. What started as a humanitarian and slightly political interest evolved as I grew older. I heard rumours of amazing food and realized that this foodie destination is not to be missed. 

I heard rumours of amazing food and realized that this foodie destination is not to be missed

With more than 10 years of travelling I accumulated enough airmiles to pick a free flight, and as Asia was still unknown territory to me I decided to venture east.

Sail away
Sail away

My journey was roughly planned, 10 days to explore the country, and eat as much street food I could find. I packed a medium-sized backpack and booked my first evening’s accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. 

My journey was roughly planned, 10 days to explore the country, and eat as much street food I can find

This was my itinerary ; HCMC - Nha Trang - Hội An - Hanoi - Halong Bay and back to HCMC, or Saigon. One backpack. 1790 km. 10 days. Bus, boat, bicycle and plane.

Amazing Vietnam
Amazing Vietnam

“It seems to me that our three basic needs; for food, security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

I couldn’t have said it better than the American food writer M. F. K. Fisher. 

The daily ritual of eating has the power to be deeply meaningful in building connections and bridging gaps between people. With this trip I knew that I would step outside the safety and security of trusted places and faces, and dare to trust what is unknown and undiscovered. The fear of having to eat alone always intimidates me when I travel alone, but I somehow knew that Asia would be like a new friend, feeding not only my desire for new culinary explorations but my hunger for connection.

Amazing view
Amazing view

With more than 20 countries ticked on my to-go list, I’ve concluded that Maslow was right. Food still acts as our basic need and in agreement with Fisher it not only feeds our hunger, but our sense of belonging and our desire for love. Strange how a toasted cheese sandwich can solve all the world’s worries, or in this case a bowl of Pho.

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”

Food still acts as our basic need and in agreement with Fisher it not only feeds our hunger, but our sense of belonging and our desire for love

In Asia the private and intimate act of eating moved to the public arena and this meant my fear for eating alone was dismissed and conquered. Corners and alleys are filled with food vendors and locals. Low colourful plastic chairs occupied by those in suits and those without shoes, welcoming all without exclusion. I didn’t have to sit at my own table, but could share my space, my stories and my food with strangers that somehow made home feel closer.

City streets
City streets

Eating on the street is risky in many ways; but not eating on the streets are potentially riskier. You might miss out an the authentic experience of food, life and culture in Vietnam. From morning to night, small stalls to big night markets are easily accessible. I had my list of must-eat dishes, and followed my gut, (and the crowds), to find these dishes on the streets:

Phở - so much more than just a noodle soup. Bean sprouts, chilli, mint and cilantro to name a few of the fresh flavours.

Gỏi cuốn - fresh rice paper rolls filled with shrimp or pork, served with hoisin sauce.

Cao lầu - a pork and noodle dish home to Hội An

Hot vin lon - fetal duck eggs

Bánh cuốn - steamed rice cakes

If you don’t trust your own decision-making or direction, book a street food tour with Saigon Street Eats in Saigon or with Hanoi Street Food Tours in Hanoi. The Vietnamese are extremely helpful and humble, and by simply asking you’ll be able to find a tour that suits you.

from  $55

The Pho Saigon Trail

Relaxation
 Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
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This is exactly how I organised my travelling, by asking and booking my busses, planes and boat trip in small little shops. No pre-booking was necessary and I was able to book and board on the same day. Even with accommodation I risked not pre-booking, except for booking my first night’s stay in advance. 

Mi Lihn Hotel is located right by the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and offers affordable and basic accommodation, conveniently located close to the airport for late-night arrivals into the city. Saigon is worth seeing; a massive city with great parks, incredible street food and traffic. 

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Mi Linh Hotel

 B38a Bach Dang, Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
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The Pho Saigon Trail

Sounds similar to most big cities? Yes it is, but scooters dominate the streets and crossing the road on foot is a high-risk sport. Being in Saigon can be overwhelming, it’s a fast-moving city with lots of constant change. Walk the streets on your own pace and stop for a drink, a snack or a meal.

Nha Trang is a beach city up along the coast and was my second stop. It is overrated and overpopulated by Russian tourists who in my opinion haven’t heard of sunscreen. 

Bao Long Hotel has a great location close to the beach, but don’t expect American or European hotel standards. A great overnight location nevertheless. If you’re limited with travelling time, skip Nha Trang and visit Dalat; a mountainous city that was developed by the French in the early 1900s and still home to incredible architecture, beautiful views and pleasant temperatures.

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Bao Long Hotel

 74B Hung Vuong, Loc Tho, Nha Trang, Vietnam
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Next stop for me was Hội An, an atmospheric town that’s recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 

an atmospheric town that’s recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Here you want to spend a few days, walking or cycling around the canal and out to the nearby rice fields. I rented a bicycle and within a few minutes outside the city you find the friendly smiles and waves of workers in the rice fields. A food speciality only found in this area is Cao lầu, don’t leave Hội An without trying it, it’s widely available. To make the most of your time in this charming town I recommend booking a Homestay experience. Think Airbnb at affordable prices with more insight into real-life Vietnamese living. Hao Anh Homestay is highly recommended.

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Hotel Hao Anh Homestay

 134 Ly Thai To, Cam Chau Ward, Hoi An, Vietnam
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After a relaxed few days in Hoi An I travelled on a overnight bus to Hanoi, the coffee capital of Vietnam. Introduced by the French during their regime, coffee is now an integral part of Vietnamese culture. Visit Trieu Viet Vuong, also known as Coffee Street in Hanoi. Located in the historic Hai Ba Trung District it contains more cafes per block than anywhere else in Vietnam. Definitely try the cold vietnamese coffee, cà phê đá, and the infamous Kopi Luwak.

The idea might be revolting to some, but it’s considered a delicacy; coffee made from part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. A coffee with a peculiar taste and smell. Worth a cup. 

The idea might be revolting to some, but it’s considered a delicacy; coffee made from part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet

Stay at the The Landmark Hanoi for affordable accommodation that will suit your budget.

from  $18.76

Hotel The Landmark Hanoi

 19 Nguyen Van To Street, Ha Noi, Vietnam
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From Hanoi you can easily get to Halong Bay. Most tours depart from Hanoi and take you with a bus to Halong Bay where you can board your boat. I booked a small budget 2 days/1-night trip and regret the fact that I didn’t pay slightly more for something a little more comfortable. Small prices meant small meals and sharing a 2-bedroom between 3 people. 

We did however see the same beautiful views which meant I could momentarily forget about my hungry stomach and crowded room, and to my surprise our budget boat included a canoeing trip on the waters. Halong Bay is more breathtaking than any google images I’ve seen, and just one more reason for you to plan Vietnam trip. Do it now. For more inspiration of why to go, view my album, Vietnam.

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