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
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.
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.
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.
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.