Going Cold Turkey-ish – Day Seven

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines along the way.

Lunch

BBQ
BBQ

There is no such think as a ‘weekend’ in my life in Vietnam. I work seven days a week as a teacher, and my Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest of them all. Tiredness affected my creative thinking today, therefore, after a 30 minute nap I had to go out and grab something quick and easy before my afternoon shift. I was, in all honesty, bored of noodle soup so the next best thing was BBQ chicken with rice. Oh, please don’t think I just went for any BBQ chicken, this place, near my building, does the freshest BBQ chicken I have ever come across in this country. Juicy and succulent and dressed in a light sweet chili marinade, it was polished off in between 10 minute nap intervals over the course of an hour. Sometimes the heat just knackers me right out.

BBQ Chicken
BBQ Chicken

Dinner

Officially, after eating my lunch I had completed my 7 day challenge (yey for me!), which meant that I could now celebrate in true Jen style. Gareth had made some plans so I celebrated alone. I took a taxi down to district one and went to a posh deli called Annam Gourmet Market, where they have the finest selection of meats and cheeses in all of Vietnam plus all kinds of imported goodies such as Cadbury’s milk chocolate, anchovies, Marmite… No, I’m not pregnant, I just need these things in my life.

My heart raced as I pushed open the large glass doors and peered at all of the elegant English labels. I skipped up the stairs, found a quiet table near the corner, ordered a cappuccino and day dreamed about what was soon to be.

When I had immersed myself long enough in this temple of western gastronomy, I practically inhaled my coffee then scurried along the busy main road to the final destination of the night: Scoozi.

With a name like that, I’m sure you can imagine what’s coming next.

Nom nom nom nom nom
Nom nom nom nom nom

What a coincidence too, that Sunday’s are two for one!*

Forget Pizza Hut. Forget Dominoes. With it’s huge authentic pizza oven and freshly baked Napoli style pizzas, Scoozi is the greatest place on the planet, outside of actual Italy, of course.

Roberto and Marco - Pizza Extraordinaires
Roberto and Marco – Pizza Extraordinaires
Luigi - He-a bake-a da pizza
Luigi – He-a bake-a da pizza

So what has this week taught me?

1. Vietnamese people don’t mind eating freaky food.

2. I can happily eat Vietnamese food 5 – 6 days a week, but I also want to eat western food a couple of times a week too.

3. Eating local food is great for saving money.

4. If I’m going to eat Vietnamese food every day then I need to eat little and often – sometimes the hunger pangs get too much.

5. Where there is Vietnamese food, there will be Vietnamese people, and life is so much better when you give them your time and attention.

6. I have a serious pizza addiction.

7. It takes a minimal amount of effort to make major lifestyle changes.

8. Getting out of your comfort zone makes for a much more exciting existence.

9. Vietnamese people love it when you embrace their culture.

10. I LOVE VIETNAMESE FOOD.

What a truly victorious week. I mandate you all now to give yourselves a week to make a slight change to your lifestyle, perhaps even record it as I have to maintain some accountability and build motivation. Where will it take you and how will it transform you?

*But didn’t Gareth bloody well turn up, which meant having to share my pizzas. Harrumph!

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Going Cold Turkey – Day Six

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.

Lunch

We didn’t have much of a break between our morning classes and afternoon classes today so Gareth and I quickly decided that we’d return to the eatery where we’d had Mi Quang a couple of days ago. Gareth could have his fix and I would be able to try another of their noodle soups.

Bun Cha Ca
Bun Cha Ca

This time it was a Bun Cha Ca for me. A light sweet and sour soup; the broth is made using the freshest tomatoes, pineapple, bamboo and herbs. The soup contains fish sausage and grilled fish, while the thin white vermicelli noodles absorb all of the flavours.  It is perfect with half a tablespoon of shrimp paste or a tomato and chili chutney that some establishments offer as a condiment. I’d eaten this a couple of times before but this bowl was by far the best I’d had.

If you find yourself in Vietnam at some point in your life, and you get cravings for a particular kind of soup, then seek out eateries that specialise in one or two types of dishes, that way you’ll be eating something close to perfection.

Dinner

For the last 7 months, every time we’d ridden past this particular night market with about 10 food stalls squished together we’d both agreed that we would have to go their and try a few things. With this week’s challenge in mind, it would be the best excuse to go tonight.

They say offal isn’t awful, erm, let’s agree to disagree. Chao Long, or Innards Porridge, was this evening’s fare. I’ll give the Vietnamese their due, they really do use the whole animal, nothing goes to waste and that is extremely admirable. But, and this is a big but, eating pig intestines is just not natural.

Chao Long
Chao Long

The basis for Chao Long is softened rice in a thick peppery broth. In the broth are slices of liver and cylindrical chunks of intestines and other charming pieces of entrails.

Along with the Chao Long came a small plate of crouton-like dried bread which, when dropped into the porridge, soaked up the broth and brought texture to the dish.

Gareth hates only three things in this world; rice pudding, animal organs and egg custard. Luckily, there was no egg custard in sight, unfortunately this bowl encompassed the two other thorns in Gareth’s side. He tried his best but in the end, went on the hunt for something less carnal to fill his gargling tummy.

He came back, having ordered a meaty dish and holding a tiny plate of grilled pork with roasted peanuts and dried onion, a sensible dish after the last few dinners we’ve had. The pork was from a dish called Bun Thit Nuong which would usually be served with cold rice vermicelli noodles and dressed in a fish sauce. It is also occasionally served with grilled prawns or pickled carrots. Alas, a plate of pork as big as a child’s fist won’t really feed a 6ft 3 man.

Pork with Roasted Peanuts and Dried Onion
Pork with Roasted Peanuts and Dried Onion

Soon after, a white takeaway box was placed on our table by one of the food stall holders. Inside contained dark red meat smothered in a deep brown BBQ sauce.  One bite of this red meat and we were 100% certain we were chewing on something that had never passed our lips before. The texture felt soft yet crunchy and the slices were small and half moon shaped. The first thing we thought was maybe we were eating ear.

Instead of second guessing, we asked our Chao Long guy to write down the name. Ruot Vit. A quick Google at home and we were eating fried duck intestines. The BBQ sauce was great, reminded us of Burger King.

Fried Duck Intestines
Fried Duck Intestines

Going Cold Turkey – Day Five

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.

Lunch

One thing Vietnam is the dogs bollocks for is its home delivery service. Quite recently Gareth and I were acutely hungover after having a party in our apartment the night before. We were so done in that we made three online orders for delivery; coffees for breakfast, burgers for lunch and a curry for dinner. You may have just done a double take. Yes, we are able to have coffee, bloody good coffee too, delivered straight to our 10th floor apartment. It’s so decedent but isn’t it secretly what everyone wants? Can you now see why we had such a problem with eating western food all the time?

While anything can be delivered, absolutely everything is available for takeaway. Today’s lunch, Pho Bo, was purchased from around the corner and eaten in the comfort of my AC cooled apartment.

Home with my Pho Bo and my AC
Home with my Pho Bo and my AC

There was a time when I was obsessed with Pho Bo, but now I’m aware that I just didn’t know any better. Throughout the western world, but unusually not really in the UK, Pho Bo is seen as the king of Vietnamese cuisine. With its thin translucent white noodles, dark beefy broth and fresh herbs, it is a delight. However, since trying the different noodle soups on offer this past week I can officially declare that it’s no longer my favourite!

I wrote a blog post last July called How to Eat Pho, which was, remarkably, chosen by the online version of the top British travel magazine Wanderlust as Blog of The Week. It’s a short story about eating Pho Bo and how it developed my understanding of the Vietnamese culture. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote then:

Within minutes a steaming bowl of Pho is placed before me. The raw beef and the fresh spring onions are now cooked in the hot broth, the noodles are infused with the chopped up spring onion and the broth is dark and enticing me to add the multitude of flavoursome condiments. I dismiss the ho sin sauce, it makes the Pho too sweet, and add a heaped spoonful of dried chillies, a good squeeze of the chilli sauce, a dash of the salty fish sauce and a clove’s worth of garlic. With the bowl of Pho came a plate of limes, fresh chillies and herbs of basil and mint. Adding practically a whole tree worth of herbs, a squeeze or two of lime and even more chillies is the final part of this preparation ritual. 

Nuoc Mia
Nuoc Mia

Please take a few minutes to read the rest and picture yourself there, in that little eatery surrounded by red, pink and green plastic chairs and metal foldaway tables awaiting your hot steaming Pho Bo.

Along with my Pho I bought a cup of Nuoc Mia, which is Sugarcane Juice. The juice is extracted from a pressed sugarcane and is sweet and slightly citrusy, and so thirst-quenching.

Dinner

Well, if you thought last night’s dinner was creepy then tonight you’re in for a treat. I have proper pushed the boat out because I wanted to try something that absolutely repulses me; eel.

‘Hi! If you’re not busy later, can you help me to cook eel, please?’ I asked my friend, Thuy in a text. ‘Do you know any ways to cook it?’

‘I know many way to cook it,’ she replied, ‘I will help you’.

So that was that. I had set forth a course that would ultimately lead me towards putting eel inside my mouth and reluctantly swallowing it.

We purchased all the ingredients for the eel banquet (detailed below) in the small supermarket in my building and then worked tirelessly for an hour in my kitchen preparing and cooking the meal. We made two dishes; one was fried eel in garlic and lemongrass and the other was boiled eel in a sweet and sour soup.

Eel tastes like a snakey fish. I’ve eaten snake and it tastes a little bit like chicken. I was surprised at how edible it was and I actually, shock horror, liked it. And now, I am going to go all Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on yo ass and tell you to try eel. It is so misunderstood. I mean, just look how adorable it is in this photo:

Everybody Eat Eel!!
Everybody Eat Eel!!

If you need me to figuratively hold your hand and help you in making this giant leap of eely goodness then here are tonight’s recipes with some helpful photographs to prove that it’s not as nightmarish as you’d think.

Cleaning me eel
Cleaning me eel

Recipe for eel marinade

Ingredients

A chopped eel

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp five spice powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

Instructions

Request for the eel to be chopped up by the fishmonger into inch long pieces, because as sure as night follows day, you will not want to do this yourself.

Clean the blood off the eel and remove all innards.

Add the curry powder, five spice powder, salt and sugar and mix. Leave to marinade for 15 minutes.

Recipe for Fried Eel in Garlic and Lemon Grass

Fried Eel with Garlic and Lemongrass
Fried Eel with Garlic and Lemongrass

Ingredients 

half a marinated eel

5 stalks of chopped lemongrass (if you can’t get your hands on lemongrass then use lemon zest and/or lemon leaf instead)

2 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp of Knorr fish stock

Instructions

On a medium heat, add a large table spoon of cooking oil and fry the garlic until lightly browned. Add the lemongrass and fry until lightly browned. Add the eel and cover it in the garlic and lemongrass. Add the fish sauce and Knorr fish stock and mix. Leave on a low heat until the eel is cooked – it should easily peel away from the spine.

Recipe for Boiled Eel in a Sweet and Sour Soup

Boiled Eel in a Sweet and Sour Soup
Boiled Eel in a Sweet and Sour Soup

Ingredients

half a marinated eel

3 tomatoes, sliced into quarters

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

two-finger pinch of salt

1 tblsp sugar

1 soup bowl of water

3 big tbsp of thick sweet and sour sauce

Instructions

Using a small pan, on a medium to low heat, fry the chopped garlic in a tbsp of oil. Add the tomatoes. Add the salt and sugar. Simmer and stir for a minute. Add the bowl of water. Add the sweet and sour sauce. Add the eel and bring to the boil. Leave to boil until the eel is cooked. To serve, dress with roughly chopped cilantro or spring onion if desired.

Both dishes are great with boiled rice.

Eel and Rice
Eel and Rice
The Wonderful Thuy
The Wonderful Thuy
Eels!
Eels!

Going Cold Turkey – Day Four

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.

Lunch

Mi Quang
Mi Quang

‘I don’t want noodle soup again,’ exclaimed Gareth as we walked around the corner and down the road where we would be eating. I wasn’t feeling Com Tam, it gets boring very quickly and I was too distracted to reply as I looked inside every eatery we were walking past. I noticed one place did Mi Quang. Neither of us had eaten it before, and I couldn’t remember much about it from when I’d conducted my research other than the fact it was noodle soup. ‘Let’s have Mi Quang.’ In the searing heat, Gareth submitted quickly.

More like a stew, Mi Quang is quite unlike any other Vietnamese noodle soup. A thick intensely flavoured deep-orange broth housing a bed of colourfully dyed rice noodles, similar in shape to linguine pasta. Seasoned to perfection with garlic, fish sauce, black pepper and shallot, Mi Quang usually comes with pork, chicken, prawns and sometimes beef and fish. What makes it that much more special is the small boiled quail’s egg, crushed peanuts, steamed pork sausage, more commonly known in these here parts as ‘cha’, and toasted sesame rice crackers that are added for those who like a bit of crunch.

Eating Mi Quang was a turning point for Gareth, who professes that his favourite Vietnamese noodle soup is Pho Ga, which is just a glorified chicken soup in my opinion. He is now a huge Mi Quang fan and so will you be if you ever get the chance to try this heroin of noodle soups.

Dinner

I’ll be honest, there’s only so much noodle soup someone can consume in a week, so coming up with ideas about tonight’s dinner was quite the challenge. I needed some inspiration. I opened the Word document that my friend Thuy had emailed me and read through some of the options. Hmmm, eel? Yuck, no. Rice gruel? What the hell is that? I scrolled further down. Ah, how about some Oc Xao Xa Ot?

I remembered a sign for Oc on a road near to my building, a sign that makes me laugh, with its cute little Oc enticing hungry diners to walk down to the restaurant where they will be able to feast on Oc to their heart’s content.

I’m talking snails here.

Oc Xao Xa Ot
Oc Xao Xa Ot

The dish was placed between Gareth and I. Immediately noticeable was the strong scent of lemongrass and fried onion. The snails were seasoned with chili but we were also provided with a small dish of mixed salt and paper that we diluted with a slice of lime, which sharpens the flavour when the snails are lightly dipped into the blend.

This wasn’t a chopstick jobby, oh no. Our tool was a single toothpick that we would guide inside the shell, stab at the snail flesh and pull out at a strategic angle and speed; pull out too fast and things just get messy, pull out too slowly and you’re just wasting time!

We supplemented the meal with some fried rice, a few of those tasty beefy cheesy rolls I’m a bit addicted to, and some fried chicken. Well, the fried chicken ended up mostly going to our cat Khoe, as we were quickly pleasantly stuffed.

I'm a happy, tasty snail!
I’m a happy, tasty snail!

Going Cold Turkey – Day Three

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.

Breakfast

IMG_20130522_120927
Hu Tieu

I just couldn’t help myself. It was too alluring. It was also during a 30 minute break between classes, so I knew I had the time for it. I walked up to the lady in the conical hat and discreetly asked for one. I sat down. The air was hot and with no wind, I was perspiring heavily. Or was it just the excitement of what was to come. Set before me, a minute later, was a beautiful bowl of Hu Tieu. It really was a stunning sight to behold. I hardly wanted to ruin it by actually eating it. In the end it all got a bit too much for me and I scoffed it right down.

Hu Tieu is a noodle soup with Chinese origins. It is also found in Cambodia and Thailand with the names of Kuy Teav and Kuai Tiao respectively. I wrote about this dish back in March after realising that I loved it probably as much as pho. Here’s a little of what I wrote then:

IMG_20130522_121146
Lady making Hu Tieu

‘A southern-Chinese inspired soup, Hu Tieu has a clear broth and contains pork and shrimp. Whenever I’ve eaten Hu Tieu it has been made with thin egg noodles as opposed to the clear white vermicelli noodles you find in pho but you can sometimes find  a mix of these two noodles in one bowl. It’s not as strong flavour-wise as pho but it packs a punch when I add the heaps of chili I drop in.’

To read more, visit my blog post ‘Forget Pho, Have a Hu Tieu‘.

Lunch

After last night’s somewhat painful realisation that we’d been eating soya and tofu instead of pork and chicken, we decided that lunch today was going to be a meat feast of Com Tam. Well, a grilled chicken thigh each with some rice and spinach. I wasn’t that hungry after having breakfast a few hours earlier so I gave half of it to my cat Khoe, who liked it very much indeed.

MEAT!!!
MEAT!!!

Dinner

I told Gareth what I intended to eat for dinner tonight, so he hastily made plans to pick up a footlong Subway instead. We’d kind of eaten this dish before and weren’t so fussed, but in my research for this week I found that we’d eaten it all wrong. Banh Xeo, which literally means ‘Sizzling Cake’, is a Vietnamese fried pancake. It is probably one of the most authentic dishes I’ve come across here. Beef was brought to Vietnam by the French, so any dish containing beef, including Pho Bo, actually has a French element to it.

Banh Xeo is made from rice, flour, coconut milk and turmeric and stuffed with shrimp, pork, onions and bean sprouts and is panfried and folded in half.

A mechanics by day, a Banh Xeo eatery by night. I walk past this place so often that it just seemed rude not to include it in this week’s meals. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be understood when ‘explaining’ what I wanted because last time we’d eaten from here we’d only bought one measly pancake, took it home and ate it dipped in chili sauce. That’s so not how you eat Banh Xeo. I was glad when the lady who runs the place brought a tray over to my table and placed down a plate of five hot pancakes, a large plate of mint, basil and lettuce leaves, and a small plate of transparent rice paper with a small bowl of sweet and sour fish sauce on top.

Banh Xeo cooking
Banh Xeo cooking

I had no bloody clue where to start.

The lady could see I was struggling so she showed me what to do. First I had to pick up one of the sheets of rice paper, lay down a bed of herbs, add on top a large piece of pancake and then roll it all into a big cigar shape. She then asked if I wanted chili added to the fish sauce, you know me, of course I did. I then had to dip the end of the roll into the sauce (this softened the rice paper and added further flavour) and ultimately enjoy.

Oddly, in that moment, I felt emotional. I’d been in Vietnam for a year and this was the first time I’d pushed myself, by myself, to try something really different. I was being stirred at by others sat around me but for the first time I liked it. Before now a large chasm existed between me and the Vietnamese in my mind and it was mostly my fault. I had chosen, through my lifestyle, to integrate with them on the most minimal of levels. I don’t need to be accepted by them, but they deserve to be accepted by me. I was beginning to understand who they where.

The Banh Xeo was scrumptious; fresh, crunchy and tangy, probably the best meal I’ve had all week.

Banh Xeo - Sizzling Cakes
Banh Xeo – Sizzling Cakes

I’ve been promising you a recipe and I think Banh Xeo is a great one to pass on.

Recipe for Banh Xeo – This recipe was taken from a Vietnamese cookbook I bought here, so if the directions sound a little bit odd, it is because they are authentic. I’ve also had to change measurements from cups to grams and ml’s but if you’re anything like me you’ll just guess the proportions anyway. Makes 14 to 15 pancakes and serves 6 people

Flour Mixture

200g of rice soaked overnight in 500ml of water

150g sifted wheat flour

125ml of coconut milk

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

125g chopped spring onion

Ingredients to add to the flour mixture

150g chicken breast cut into small pieces

150g medium sized uncooked prawns

1 thinly sliced large onion

Pancake Stuffing

250g bean sprouts

Herbs and condiments to serve with the pancakes

2 large heads of lettuce

100g mint

100g basil

a small bowl of fish sauce seasoned with lemon juice, sugar and chilies

To prepare the flour mixture: Wash the rice with cold water 3 times, or until clear. Add 100ml of water with the rice and put through a blender. Add the coconut milk to the rice mixture and do one last quick blend. Add the rice and coconut mixture to a large bowl, beat the egg then add it, with the flour, gradually to the bowl. Mix until it is a smooth paste. Add the sugar, salt, turmeric and 500ml of water. Strain through a fine strainer then add the chopped spring onion. The flour mixture is ready for cooking.

Usually, special hot pans are used to make the pancakes, as you can see in the picture above, but you can use a saucepan instead.

A close up
A close up

For one pancake: Heat the pan to a medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Saute 1 tablespoon of the onion, chicken and shrimp for 5 minutes. Add 120ml of the flour mixture to the saucepan and immediately swish it around so as to make a thin cake. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then add a handful of bean sprouts. Fold the pancake and cook covered for another five minutes, making sure to cook both sides, then remove from the pan.

If you can’t get your hands on any rice paper, then roll you Banh Xeo in a large lettuce leaf instead.

I hope you will give this simple recipe a go. If anyone does then please leave a comment below, I’d love to know what you think.

Going Cold Turkey – Day Two

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines along the way.

Lunch – 12pm

0
Girls making Bun Bo Hue

I’m not really a breakfast person; I don’t usually get hungry till after 10am, so I prefer to have an early lunch. Today was no exception. Just after 12pm, Gareth and I took a little walk under the baking heat to find somewhere to eat nearby. Funnily enough, Gareth isn’t too keen on Vietnamese food himself so I tried to keep it quiet that I was seeking out some noodle soup. We walked past an eatery (it’s not a restaurant when you are basically sat in someone’s front room) that served only Bun Bo Hue, a beef noodle soup from the centre of Vietnam. We asked for two.

Bun is a thick white noodle made from rice (much more cylindrical than the noodles you’d find in Pho), Bo is Vietnamese for beef and Hue is a city in Central Vietnam (With all this Vietnamese, you’ll all be fluent in no time!!). This dish usually contains slices of beef, pig’s knuckles and oxtail. Occasionally you’ll find blobs of pigs blood floating around too.

Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue

Within three minutes of us parking our arses, the two steaming red soups were placed before us. The strong sweet lemongrass scent filled the air around me. I’m pretty sure a bit of dribble came out of Gareth’s mouth. The Bun Bo Hue looked regal before I ravaged mine with some fresh lime juice and dried chillies.  Copious slices of beef and thin slices of onion adorned the surface, beneath them lay the thick noodles, soaking in the spicy broth. Bun Bo Hue goes well with fish sauce and shrimp paste but I felt the soup was already salty enough.

A small plate of hot bean sprouts and thin strips of banana blossom were placed on our table a few seconds before the soup arrived. This concoction can be added into the soup if you wish. I like a few bean sprouts and not too many greens in my soups as I think they take away from some of the flavours.

Gareth was surprisingly impressed with this soup and he left the eatery quite a fan of Bun Bo Hue, and he’s a hard fella to impress. I loved every sip, slurp and sup.

6pm – Dinner

Com Tam is Vietnamese for ‘broken rice’. It is very popular in South Vietnam, sometimes called Com Tam Sai Gon elsewhere in the country. You are given a plate of boiled white rice and can choose from grilled pork or chicken in a chili and spring onion sauce with a fried egg and some pickled vegetables. This was what we wanted to eat tonight so we had a little wander to find somewhere near us where we’d never been before. We came across an eatery not too far from our building that had some really interesting options to choose from. The sauces were rich in colour and the meat looked so fresh.

Yummy meat...
Yummy meat…

I pointed out which options I wanted to go with my rice to the lady behind the counter . As I sat down I noticed that, dotted around, were posters of happy buddhist monks, a red and gold buddhist calendar hung on the wall behind the counter, a couple of jade buddhas stood proudly in corners of the room. My stomach growled so I wasted no time and dug in. The red meat was a weird texture, a little rubbery but still very tastey. The meatballs were quite spongy and there was definitely some tofu mixed in with the chicken that didn’t really taste like chicken. The spinach was the only thing on my plate that tasted normal. I was full quite quickly, rice does that to me. After 20 minutes we were finished and on our way back to our apartment.

Com Chay eh?!
Com Chay eh?!

Since returning home, I’ve spent some time researching so I can give you all the facts. I flicked through the photos I took of the eatery and I noticed one that I took of the food counter. On it was written the words Com Chay in big blue letters, not Com Tam as I’d remembered.  It turns out Com Chay is what they call a vegetarian and vegan eatery, mostly frequented by committed practicing buddhists. My first reaction was one of ‘ahh shit’, but I’ve since calmed down and realised that this experience has actually developed my culinary knowledge of the land. However, Gareth’s still seething and demands a meat injection soon… I think they do sausage over the road.

Going Cold Turkey – Day One

This week I am challenging myself to eat only Vietnamese food for every meal. I am posting daily, detailing my food intake and also occasionally providing you with recipes so you can have a go at some of these simple dishes yourselves. It’s not going to be easy for me; it’s taking me out of my comfort zone as I’ve become used to mainly eating western style food but I’m ready to take this journey over the next 7 days and hopefully inspire some of you to try one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, along the way.

Day One – Breakfast/Lunch (Brunch?) – 11am

Today I finished my working day at 9:30am. Before I’d put any food past my lips I’d taught around 70 3 year olds the words nose, ears, eyes and mouth. All that jumping around and running in circles is hungry work. As soon as I was home I knew what I needed; an easy Banh Mi.

I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve had a Banh Mi while I’ve been in Vietnam. The phrase Banh Mi describes a fluffy thin crusted baguette and I’ve never really been a fan. That was until my friend, Kris Zimmer, the author of ZUPAdream, persuaded me to try it with a fried egg.

Banh Mi Food Stall
Banh Mi Food Stall

I’d never noticed this food stall before but it was opposite the convenience store where I’d just bought some batteries. The stall had all of the Banh Mi options available. Generally speaking, there are many different fillings you can choose from such as pate, grilled chicken, sardines, pork meatballs, tofu and laughing cow cheese. You can have it full of meat or as vegetarian as you like.

I asked the lady for Heo va Op La, which I hoped she’d understand as pork and fried egg. Her husband prepared the egg as she ripped open the small baguette and placed a bed of sliced pork inside where the egg would later come to rest. Long slices of cucumber, cilantro and pickled carrots were then added. She yelled at me, smiling, ‘chili?!’ and I gave her a thumbs up as I snapped one last cheeky picture. Finally, she dropped in some fresh chillies and a squeeze of chili sauce, wrapped the Banh Mi in paper and pulled an elastic band around it to hold it all together.

Today's Banh Mi
Today’s Banh Mi

It was filling and full of so many strong yet complimentary flavours. It got a bit messy, especially as I ate it practically lying down on my sofa. I was hungry again 4 or 5 hours later so I ate a small bag of crackers to tide me over till dinner. Before you say anything, it’s not cheating when the bag that contains the crackers has Vietnamese writing on it, OK!

Dinner – 7:30pm

Gareth and I provide speaking practice to one of our neighbour’s sons every Monday so we decided we’d eat after we’d finished helping him. This meant dinner was going to be after 7pm. I hadn’t eaten since my Banh Mi at 11am so I needed to eat something filling.

We crossed our bustling road to check out a new place that had opened up about three weeks ago. We ordered a Mi Vit Tiem each, which is a yellow noodle soup with roasted duck and Chinese broccoli.

Mi Vit Tiem
Mi Vit Tiem

A dark broth made using shitake mushrooms, this soup also contained prunes, which enhanced the sweetness. The duck thigh was balanced on top of the yellow noodles, so I fished mine out of the bowl and placed it on a separate plate. I added extra chili to the broth and mixed the soup and noodles together with my spoon and chopsticks. After 8 hours since I’d eaten anything of substance I couldn’t wait anymore so I bit a mouthful of duck off the bone. It was perfectly seasoned and just juicy enough. I then pulled the meat off the bone and into the bowl.

Alongside the soup, a small dish was brought over called Du Du Chua. Thin slices of papaya pickled overnight in a little vinegar and chilies. I like to put the papaya slices into the soup or eat them straight from the plate. It’s a refreshing taste that feels as though it is cleansing the palate, so eating a slice between slurps of noodles and pieces of duck really heightens the flavours.

Although I have only eaten these two dishes today, I am so satisfied. Two simple tasty meals in one day. Now to decided what I’ll be scoffing tomorrow.