Culinary Delights in Vietnam

My mother grew up during WWII. She can make a little go a long way. But she’s no match for the Vietnamese. A couple of nights ago, at my translator’s house, we had chicken.

It's no fun being a chicken.  But at least they weren't battery chickens!

It is no fun being a chicken. But at least they weren't battery chickens!

Not chicken breasts or chicken thighs but chicken vertebrae. The amount of meat on a chicken’s vertebra is virtually nil. Common sense would accurately lead you to such a conclusion. But the Vietnamese serve up cooked vertebrae and you pop them into your mouth and then suck out all the juices and do your best to find some meat. Not exactly a satisfying meal. Thank goodness for rice. Not that I should complain. My translator and her father are poor people; I used to make in a week what they each make in a year. And yet they have invited me to their home for dinner on a number of occasions. Eating chicken vertebrae, however, beats eating cat – which is what I had for dinner on Sunday evening at a new-found friend’s house.

The cat arrived in the early afternoon. Fortunately not on foot but in a bag carried by one of his friends. I wonder what it had done to deserve such a fate. I spent the next hour or so hearing them chop it up outside. And I spent the next couple of hours not looking forward at all to the moment I’d have to eat it. Fortunately, a shopping trip with the my friend’s wife and her sister took my mind off the evening’s dinner. I bought some silk for the lining of a new suit that I’d ordered from a local tailor a couple of days ago. I wonder what the $100 suit will be like. She bought shoes and a new outfit. But back to the cat. It didn’t taste good. Perhaps it would have tasted better if I had been on the fast road to getting drunk, like the others. How much was psychological as opposed to physiological I can’t say. It reminded me of the time I supped on turtle and piranha in the Amazon rainforest. At least this time, the meal didn’t have me up all night. I’m not looking forward to eating dog. No wonder dogs are all so well behaved in Vietnam; they rarely so much as bark. Snake, porcupine, termites and congealed gelatinous blood don’t appeal either. But generally though, the food here is good.

For me, one of the pleasures of international travel is, generally speaking, eating the local food. I particularly enjoy street food and meals bought from little restaurants frequented by the locals. In that regard, today was a stellar day. I had three tasty meals, all for a total outlay of US$3! In the morning, I had a 2 egg omelette in a French roll from the woman who has a stand outside the MFI’s office ($0.50).

A kindly street vendor who makes my breakfast omlette

A kindly street vendor who makes my breakfast omelette

Each day she greets me proudly with a new English phrase; today’s was “good morning”. And then for lunch, I had Vietnamese tapas: a small bowl of cuttlefish, a couple of small pork chops, a local variety of roll, some freshly roasted and salted peanuts, rice, a small plate of sliced boiled potatoes with herbs and a larger bowl of boiled greens in their broth (which one pours over the rice). All for $1.60.

My local lunchtime restaurant

My local lunchtime restaurant

And for dinner I had beef pho. I’ll blow the budget later on $1 beers when I meet the only other Westerner in town: an Australian who runs a bamboo company.


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