My favorite memory of Vietnam: Pho. It was offered at breakfast at every hotel I stayed at in Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue and Saigon, so I enjoyed it every morning. Because Iâ€™m not a bacon, eggs or cereal type, it hit the spot.
Pho, served at breakfast at the Furama Resort in Da Nang
The further south I went, the stronger the flavor got, even though the basic ingredients â€” noodles, bean sprouts, herbs and beef or chicken â€” were pretty much the same. It was the broth that got richer. Iâ€™m looking to duplicate what I found here in the Bay Area, so if you have suggestions, please let me know. The best Iâ€™ve found so far is at My Fatherâ€™s Kitchen on Divisidero.
While lots of interesting foods can be found on the streets and in restaurants, here are my favorite dishes, beginning with the fish curry at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi (above). The restaurant has been in business more than 110 years. I went there 10 years ago when I was in Vietnam and it hasnâ€™t changed a bit, although the city has considerably. You still walk up the impossibly steep, rickety stairs to get to the dining room. Thereâ€™s only one dish offered, and thatâ€™s the whitefish, yellow from turmeric thatâ€™s sauteed tableside with scallions and dill tops, and served with a pile of cold rice noodles, peanuts, chiles, herbs, shrimp paste and fish sauce. There are many copycats in Hanoi â€” one day I tried the version at Cha Ca Thang Long, which was filled with locals, but I found the original was still the best.
In Hue, the fixed price menu at Y Thao Garden includes many elaborate presentations such as tiny crisp spring rolls stuck into pineapples and whole shrimp hanging artistically off the edge of a stemmed glass. Pate is wrapped in tofu skin and studded with green beans and other vegetables.
When it came to Banh mi, I found Banh Mi Phuong, a little cart set up opposite the market in Hoi An. The sandwich included gooey pate, fatty pork belly, herbs and what looked like an onion-studded sauce, all stuffed into a baguette with a crisp exterior and a tender interior. It cost the equivalent of about $1.
In Saigon, my friend Bobby Chinn took me to one of his favorite restaurants, Hoang Yen, where I had excellent sweet and sour seafood soup, claypot pork and chives with clams, but my favorite was the shrimp with pumpkin blossoms. The shrimp were fresh and sweet, but the pumpkin blossoms made the dish. They had the texture of wilted spinach and a flavor reminscent of okra, without the slime.
I could go on and list 10 more, but Iâ€™m adhering to advice from a good friend, who says five pictures of any vacation are more than enough. However, I will cheat a bit: Tomorrow Iâ€™ll share a few of my favorite food scene photos from the streets, rivers and markets of Vietnam.
The pate, made into a peacock tail at Y Thao Garden in Hue
Banh mi in Hoi An
Pumpkin blossoms with shrimp in Saigon
Tags: Vietnam food