May began gloriously with me getting my cell phone swindled at the Ha Long Carnival…tis the joy of being a reporter, squeezing your way through 5,000 bodies, and expecting to come out somehow intact. I’ve lost all the contacts I’ve had in 2 years, the disappointment of which, I have thankfully come to terms with.
By the 5th of May, I was well away from Hanoi, from the depressing cold-war atmosphere that was slowly seeping its eeriness into me, and back to the sun-shine-filled, free-to-be-who-you-are city of Saigon. On the 6th, Miranda, a friend of mine back from Moho, also an 09’er, arrived from Hong Kong, where she’s now based. She is the first Moho (aside from the Vietnamese gals, of course), I have seen since graduation almost 2 years ago. It definitely brings up a lot of nostalgia, and reminds me of how much I miss the “shadley” girl hub. Anyhooo, Miranda’s 4 days in Vietnam began and I believe, resonated with FOOD. With the help of Y, our local guide, we made our way scrumptiously through Chinese-influenced night goodies like duck’s tongue (weird but tasty) through the more traditional Vietnam-is-known-for-food like banh xeo, or pho, to infamous-to-foreigners dishes such as the vast diversity of snails, ending it with what Miranda thought she would never eat again in her life: a premature duck’s egg marinated with basil and fish sauce. This is of course well under-told, because seriously, on the 2nd day, we had a record 8 meals throughout the day, basically eating anything that was edible and interesting-looking to the eyes.
On the 8th, we grabbed a couple of Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi <3, and 2 coconuts filled with jelly for lunch, took a boat, 1.5 hours to Vung Tau, a coastal city nearby, rented ourselves right off the port some motorbikes and basically was either eating, sleeping or riding the motorbike for the next 24 hours after that. Vung Tau is gorgeous when you make your spiraling way up the mountain to the lighthouse , locals hike up there on a daily basis, but with the heat, having the wind in your hair on the motorbike, as the sea just gleams right off the side of the cliffs, is an adventurously satisfying experience. Food, of course, can not be left untouched here…we had the famous banh khot, little circles of dough fried golden in molds topped with shrimp, scallion, beansprouts, sprinkled with minced dried shrimp…according to preference, can be rolled with fresh herbs into a roll and then dipped tactfully into fish sauce …tastes absolutely heavenly. Do try if you’re ever in Vung Tau. After that first dinner, we got on our bike again, rode 5 minutes next door to a seafood joint, literally had half a kilo of grilled snails, a plateful of shallots/butter stir-fried mussels, 3 tamarind-marinated crabs, and a thoi-loi fish hotpot ( thoiloi is a fish quite widespread in appearance in the region). You could imagine after all of that food, sun and moving, we would have gone home and snoozed it off…but no, a craving for durians was up in the air…and so we scoured the city for 2 durians, settled down right on the streets bordering the coast, and devoured them like they were the last 2 of their kind in the world. Absolutely an amazing sleep after that!
The 9th was a sore-butt day with intense motor-bike riding, we rode for about 35km under the sun, towards Long Son, a town still in Ba Ria Vung Tau province. Here, after having amazing banh canh – cylindrical noodles with pig’s feet all in gorgeously sweet pork broth and then spotting a Vietnamese music ‘star’ of the sort, Le Cat Trong Ly, right across from us, we would visit a fishing community, the Big House, known for being the biggest wooden house structure in Vietnam – originally set up manually by a fisherman back in the beginning of the 20th century. Here we saw Le Cat Trong Ly too…and then at lunch, when we went to this restaurant on stilts, in the middle of a river with oyster farms spread sporadically all over, we once again met with the music ‘star’. We secretly convinced ourselves that she was following us or at least, whoever set up her itinerary was ‘cool’ like us. It’s the second time I’ve been to the resto, absolutely love it for the quiet, set-apart ambiance, water flowing right under you, a wooden boat that takes you out there, and then a wooden-framed collection of seafood still alive and fresh in water as your menu. The best part, besides the food of course, is the hammocks hung randomly across the wooden structure on stilts, giving us an awesome reason to nap after 5 types of snails, grilled fish and then another hotpot….I’m getting full just retelling all of this
We got back to Saigon the same afternoon, absolutely covered in dirt, after all of that motorbike traveling, but anxious to get out in the southern hub as Miranda would be leaving in less than 12 hours. All the details of the food will def. become exhaustive, but it was such a memorable trip and has reminded me that I need to get into culinary blogging, share with you guys and gals all of the possibilities that you could offer to your palate. Miranda went back to Hong Kong at 5 am on the 10th, and we’re hoping to catch up with each other soon again in the near future, with another trip, either in Vietnam or elsewhere in the region 😀 Can’t wait :). Enjoy some of the pics! Food pics will come later, unfortunately *_*