Thursday, April 10, 2008

Street Food

For a number of reasons, I was slow to delve into street food here. One, it’s hard to find vegetarian street food and so The Boyfriend and I usually go to a restaurant. Two, I’ve been a bit shy about going up and ordering, not sure about the system and not very confident in my Vietnamese (I’m slowly getting over this!). Three, my stomach has paid the price for eating street food a few times (actually, I'm currently recovering from a bout that has lasted a few days after lunch in my alleyway).

Street food isn’t quite what I imagined here. I imagined a sort of food district, where there would be street vendors selling their food. In reality, you can find street vendors on any street at any time (but mainly at meal times), especially down alleyways (and there are a LOT of alleyways in this city!). There are areas where they are more concentrated, but they are everywhere.

So here’s a sampler of street food I’ve had so far with my personal colour commentary! I should really have more so I'll make more of an effort to have my camera with me.

Making Banh Cuon. One day when The Boyfriend was sick (over a month ago), I decided to venture out by myself and find some street food. I found a sign with banh cuon, literally meaning rolled dough – the only comparison I can make is very a thin crepe, stuffed with ground pork. The amazing thing when you order from these stalls is that they will make it right in front of you. No old food sitting there for hours! She already had a batter prepared that she poured onto a flat surface and that gets steamed. Then she added a mixture of minced meat and mushooms, and rolls it.

Banh cuon. I also got two pieces of cha (ground pork cold cut) – one fried and one steamed, and a half a piece of banh tom (shrimp cake). Top this with fresh herbs, fried onions, steamed bean sprouts and nuoc mam (fish sauce) and you’ve got a perfect lunch for 14,000D.

Baby bananas anyone? There are also mobile vendors, such as the fruit ones. They often have one or two fruit that they sell in whole.

Fresh cut fruit at 5,000d a piece. There are ladies who sell a variety of fruit, already cut up. There’s nothing more refreshing when coming back from the gym than a fresh piece of papaya, pineapple, watermelon with some salt and chili to dip in. Mmm mmm mmm! And it’s healthy (except for the salt. The Boyfriend swears I’ll be suffering from hypertension but I swear my blood pressure is actually low!)

Sugar cane juice. Along with food vendors, are drink vendors. There, you can have a sinh to (a fruit smoothie), iced coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice or my favourite, nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) for as low as 3000D (less than a quarter!). Sugar canes get squeezed through, with a piece of lime, to produce a sweet, frothy juice with a hint of sour from the lime. I've seen some on Spadina St. in Toronto in the summer, but they charge $3!!

Passion fruit juice at 5,000 dong. I stumbled onto this drink when The Boyfriend and I went to the gym around 1 pm. As we were to find out, many business here close between 11:30 and 1:30, sort of like siesta time. So to bide our time, we got drinks and watched a football (soccer) game at the stadium nearby. The lady cuts up the fruit right in front of you and mixes it with sugar, water and ice.

Passion fruit juice. It is such a beautiful drink and SO aromatic! The seeds do make it a bit hard to drink with a straw though.

Com. Com means rice. At lunchtime, an assortment of meat, fish, shrimp and vegetable dishes are sold with rice all over the city. Plastic tables and chairs are set up and all the workers come out to eat. A lunch costs about 20,000 dong depending on how many items you want. There is also usually a soup. This picture was taken in our alleyway. I'll have to take more close-up pics.

Frying cha ca. Cha ca is ground fish fried up into a patty. This food vendor popped out of nowhere one day at the end of my alley, selling banh mi cha ca. She starts frying around 3 pm and closes shop when her food runs out around 6 pm.

Banh mi cha ca at 10,000d. Ground fish fried up into a patty, sliced and added into a crusty bun, with salt and pepper, cucumber, rau ram (Vietnamese herb) and chili. I asked for scallion oil for good measure. The bread is room temperature, but the freshly fried fish warms it up nicely. This is pretty much the Vietnamese version of a po’ boy. This picture is the second time I had this sandwich; they tried to sell it at 15,000 d. When I told them I paid 10,000 a few days earlier, they said 10,000 has less fish. Sure… The lesser fish 10,000 dong banh mi was plenty for me!

Xoi gac and xoi dau den. Xoi is Vietnamese sticky rice. There are a variety, both sweet and savoury. This picture I took when I went on a food tour with The Gastronomer in District 4. By then, I was too full, but I had to take a picture because it's so pretty and colourful.

Banh chuoi. Last week, my Vietnamese teacher came in and said she saw banh chuoi (banana cake) that was tantalizing. So we went down and got a few pieces. Some of the banana pieces are reddish and I was told that this is made on purpose to make it look nice. I didn't really understand how they do this. My mom used to make this, using stale bread and for the longest time I thought this was banana bread. Wrong... It was good, but a bit too sweet for my liking. I'm sure my sister and mother are salivating!

Banh khoai mi. We also got a piece of banh khoai mi, something my mom bakes on a regular basis. Khoai mi is cassava, a root vegetable. I especially like the crunchy outisde.

1 comment:

Gastronomer said...

Just lovely! I must seek out some passion fruit juice soon.