In Vietnam the majority of the day to day life happens outdoors. This is specially true in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where everything comes alive as soon the sun comes up and everybody stays on the move until the sun goes down. By 6.30am the streets are packed with people going to work, hawkers selling noodles soups and banh mi for breakfast. Lunch time is the time when food stalls and markets selling fresh meals, tasty snacks and fresh fruit are the busiest. In the evenings ca phe, tra chan and vendors selling the most appetizing treats take over. And at dinner time is once again the turn of the food stalls and barbecues. The streets are always bustling with people savoring tasty snacks, enjoying a cold bear at a bia hoi or chit chatting with a tra chan and sunflower seeds.
The aromas coming from the hawkers, the good vibe of the ca phe stalls, the weather, the cute and colourful doll size chairs and tables… everything invited us to join and enjoy this Vietnamese outdoorsy way of living. And of course to try some of the mouth watering street life treats!
Goi cuon – These fresh spring roles are the ultimate treat! Pork, shrimp or pork floss, greens, cucumber and vermicelli noodles are wrapped in a thin rice paper. Normally served with a dipping sauce such nuoc cham or peanut sauce. Healthy and tasty, tasty and healthy! This is Vietnam in a roll!
Tra Chanh – Iced lemon green tea always served in a tall glass with a slice of lime. Sweet, but not too sweet, lemony, but not too sharp. It is one of the most popular street drinks in the old quarter of Hanoi. Students and workers meet at their favourite tra chanh stall and share their stories while eating sunflower seeds and sipping their refreshing drink!
Banh goi – These little fried pastries resemble to the Spanish empanadillas. They have replaced the tuna and tomato of the Spanish treat with pork, glass noodles, mushrooms and chopped greens. They come served with mint, lettuce and sweet dipping sauce with papaya pickles. An ideal any time nibbling companion!
Banh Chung – Also known as Vietnamese cake. These cakes are special treats that are mostly made for special occasions like the Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations. Glutinuos rice, mung bean and pork are wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked over charcoal. The rice has a soft and extremely delicate texture while the inside remains moist and tender.
Ca Phe – Is the strong and dense Vietnamese coffee. Ask for Ca Phe da and you will get it with a glass of ice. Ask for Ca Phe sua da and you will get it with the ice and dollops of condensed milk. This coffee is an institution in South Vietnam. The Ca Phe is individually brewed with a small cute metal French drip filter into a glass. Not even one day went without one of this!
Lotus flower seeds – Just by looking at them I would have never guessed what they were! I was surprised when I discovered they were lotus flower seeds and their pods. After removing the seeds from the pods and peeling them you are left with a white bean that is actually what you eat. Nothing special but don’t tell me that they don’t look beautiful.
Banh khoai – Famous Hue pancake. This huge rice flour and tumeric pancakes are filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork. They can be eaten as they are, wrapped in lettuce or rice paper. Of course it’s served with a dipping sauce, this time a fermented soy bean sauce. A combination of fresh, crispy and chewy that will make you come again for more!
Banh mi – This Vietnamese-French marriage is packed with flavour. Crunchy and warm French baguettes are one of the key parts of these sandwiches. The other one, what goes inside. Pork prepared in numerous ways (bbqed, meatball, shredded), cold meats, liver pate, homemade mayo, touch of soy sauce, shredded pickled carrots, fresh cilantro, chilly and crispy cucumber slices. Who can resist?
The beers – From left to right: 1. Bia Saigon, 2. Bia Ha Noi, 3. Lao Cai. You can guess from their name where they come from, and as most Southeast Asian beers they are light and usually served with ice.
The sweets – Desserts as we know them are not generally eaten in Vietnam. But these are some of the sweet treat that we have found. From left to right: 1. Che, an unusual dessert soup. Variety of beans, tapioca and jellies with ice and coconut milk all served in a tall glass. Very, very different! 2. Iced fruit cups, heaven in a cup! Delicious fresh fruits, ice, condensed milk and coconut milk 3. Coconut ice cream, delicious home made ice cream from Hanoi!