It was time. Since starting this Vietnamese inspired food blog as a couple three years ago, it was our dream to visit our quê hương, motherland, together. And we finally made that journey. We just spent the most amazing three weeks with our family half way around the world sharing family stories filled laughters, struggles and hope. And just like any good Vietnamese family get together, every story was told around an amazing meal.
For Kim, it was her first time ever setting foot in Vietnam and for me my 4th time. However, each time is always a new beginning as Vietnam is constantly changing. Kim was able to meet relatives that she’s never met before, who embraced her as if they’ve known her all their lives. Truly a joyous reunion.
From our home base in Saigon, we visited the mountains of Da lat, the beaches of Nha Trang and Vung Tau and the wetlands of the Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. It’s a beautiful country with amazing contrasting geography but also marked contrasting social economic status as well. Although one of the worlds fastest developing economies in the last 20 years, the average GDP per capita is still only $1,342 ranking 145th in the world. In Nha Trang we saw a grandmother trawling for seashells to sell and a boy in a thúng bamboo boat ferrying fishing supplies on the pristine beaches nearby a 5 star luxury resort. In Saigon, we saw crumbling tin roof houses in the shadows of modern skyscrapers.
Over 10% of the population still fall under extreme poverty. We saw shiny BMW 7 series and Audi R8 nearby rusted rickety cyclos. Because of this, people there do what they need to do to eke out an existance. Unfortunately, that can manifest itself as petty scams and hassling of tourists. Even we had to be vigilant. Yet despite the marked poverty, the Vietnamese people as a whole are remarkably hard working, resilient, and incredible resourceful.
They are also generous with what little they have. One instance traveling with Kim’s 75 year old aunt in the rural countryside of Can Tho in the Mekong delta, her slipper broke before embarking on a long day of touring. Kim spotted some locals drinking morning coffee and asked if there were any shoe shops nearby. With our tour boat coming any minute, we didn’t have much time so the lady gave up her pair of relatively new flip flops to Kim’s aunt without asking for anything in return.
But this isn’t a travel or political blog, what about the food?! Simply fantastic. We visited small fish sauce producers as well as baguette shops making the most airy crackly không ruột (literally no filling, but in bread terms, an airy crumb) baguettes only those lucky enough to visit Vietnam can taste.
We ate everything in sight and was literally in a state of perpetual food coma the entire time. Fresh picked durian, mangosteens, rambutans, jackfruit, and longans were sold at almost every street corner by fruit vendors that were happy more than happy to sell to us, Việt kiều who can’t find them back here in America. The most expensive fruits were durian and mangosteens at $1/lb. We would have gladly paid three times as much here.
In a country of over 90 million people, it seems there are just as many eateries and street stands to serve them. We learned it was impossible to find the “best” of anything because everyone was adamant about their favorites. But needless to say, we can’t remember any bad meals. In general we stuck with bình dân family/local restaurants that had both indoor and street dining and where spending no more than few dollars a dish was the norm. But from restaurant dining to street food stands, in order to survive and provide for your family, you have to be good. The biggest thing we learned about Vietnamese food on this trip is how diverse our cuisine is. One dish can be made several ways depending on the regional preferences and resources. So differences in certain dishes weren’t so much a matter of authenticity, but more regional customs. We had a great personal and culinary adventure in Vietnam in the last three weeks and we’ll share some of our favorite moments and eateries with you in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned…