Best Tropical Fruits to Try in Vietnam

By: Arik Jahn

Vietnam is one of the planet’s tropical fruit meccas. The sheer variety of juicy, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, but always healthy natural goodness that you’ll find in pretty much any food market at bargain prices is impressive. Coming mostly from Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’, the Mekong Delta, these delicious snacks are also sold by a plethora of street vendors.

It’s worth tasting all of them, as the exotic flavours and textures are something you simply won’t find back at home. In order to guide you through the wonders of Vietnamese fruits, we’ve put together this top five ranking of the most delicious fruits any Vietnam traveller seriously must try, along with helpful information about health facts, prices and seasons.

Fifth Place: Star Apple (Vú Sữa)

No, not star fruit, star apple. Cut this tennis-ball-sized fruit in half horizontally and you’ll know why it’s called that. The segments form a star-like structure. Its Vietnamese name, however, is much more accurate: vú sữa literally means “milk breast”. A bit odd, I know... However, this is the colour and texture of the juice you should expect. Vietnamese actually just cut in a hole and suck the nectar out!

Don’t worry, you can halve it and use a spoon, or cut the fruit in wedges and enjoy it like a tiny watermelon. The fun lies in both the taste and texture. There’s a sticky sweetness to it which, combined with the thick, milky juices that you simply must taste in order to appreciate.

exotic fruitsImage source: ydvn.net

Vietnamese legend has it that at the witching hour, you can see the ghost of a mother feeding her baby roaming around its trees. Spooky, huh? So better let somebody else do the harvesting! You can buy a bagful from a street market when it’s in season in the late autumn and early winter months.

It’s easy to spot with its round, mostly purple skin. Some are green though, but this doesn’t mean they’re not ripe yet. Do softly squeeze it before enjoying the star apple to set free all the juicy goodness, and bring a wet tissue as your fingers are sure to be sticky after eating it!

Health Facts

Star apples can aid digestion, contribute to weight loss, are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and strengthen your bones.

Season

From October to December.

Street Price

Around VND 30,000-40,000 per kilogram.

Where Does It Grow?

It’s a tropical fruit, so it likes the heat in Southern Vietnam. The most famous varieties come from the Mekong Delta: Can Tho and Vinh Kim Commune in Tien Giang Province.

Fourth Place: Rambutan (Chôm Chôm)

The Vietnamese name is cute, right? It gets even cuter when you know what it means: messy hair! However, there is also a smaller kind with shorter hair which is called chôm chôm nhãn in Vietnamese and tastes a little sweeter.

The golf-ball-sized rambutan is a relative of the lychee, though the flesh is slightly more jelly-like. There’s also more of it! You might come across some sour specimens, but rambutan is generally sweet and extremely pleasant to eat. What’s more, it is also a convenient fruit!

exotic fruitsImage source: giainhan.vn

You can use your finger to open and peel off the skin, but the most elegant way to do it is to cut the skin in half and pull off one hemisphere while holding on to the other. You can now slip them into your mouth as a whole without getting your fingers sticky. There is a seed though—don’t choke, please!

You’ll find them fresh from June to September on any street market. Alternatively, stop at one of the many vendors cruising around the cities on their bicycles. These vendors, however, tend to mark up some compared to the market prices as you’re likely never to see them again. Time to bargain!

Health Facts

Rambutan are great for weight loss, good for your skin and hair and have a lot of vitamin C. They also strengthen your immune system, prevent cancer and—allegedly—are even said to improve sperm quality.

Season

The rambutan is a summer fruit that gets ripe during the rainy season. Harvest is from May to September.

Street Price

Around VND 20,000-30,000 per kilogram.

Where Does It Grow?

The most well-known yields are at Binh Hoa Phuoc Village in the Southern Vinh Long Region. Yes, this is the Mekong Delta again. The area around Phan Thiet on the south central coast is also famous for delicious rambutan.

Third Place: Mango (Xoài)

All right, this doesn’t come as a surprise. But isn’t it true that the imported mangoes you get in non-tropical countries are not even close to being as delightful as the ones in which they’re grown? Vietnam is no exception.

On the street, you’ll mostly find green, unripe mangoes cut into sticks and sold with chilli salt, to a point that many tourists come back home saying that mangoes in Vietnam are terribly sour and unenjoyable! They couldn’t be more wrong.

The Vietnamese soil is so fertile that it produces an incredible number of mango fruits. You just can’t wait for them to be ripe or you’ll leave half of them rotting because, as good as they are, five per day are at least two too many.

So the Vietnamese have found ways to process them while they’re still green. Do not miss out on Vietnamese mango salad with fresh shrimp! It exemplifies the genius of Southeast Asian cuisine (you’ll find similar creations in Thailand).

Once ripe and light yellow in colour, Vietnamese mangoes are delightfully sweet and full-bodied. The texture of the ideal mango is only slightly firm to the bite and so flavour-bursting that you won’t want to stop eating them!

exotic fruitsImage source: kul.vn

As tempting as an American-football-sized mango might be, it’s usually better to pick the smaller but fragrant ones. While on the market, take them in your hand to test if they have a slight softness to them. If so, and if they’re not too green, you’re likely to have found one you can eat right away.

As they have a massive pit, use a knife to cut off one slice on each side of it. You can then either make them into sticks or into cubes (the trick here is not to cut through the skin).

Health Facts

Mangoes may help to prevent cancer, lower your cholesterol, are beneficial to skin and eyes and boost the immune system.

Season

Mangoes grow from October to July, but taste best in the early summer months.

Street Price

Around VND 10,000-15,000 per fruit.

Where Does It Grow?

Mangoes are mostly grown in the Mekong Delta. There are several kinds, the most famous of which is the Hoa Loc mango from the commune formerly called that, located in Tien Giang Province.

Second Place: Langsat (Bòn Bon)

Unlike other fruits (think: dragon fruit), langsat are neither world-famous nor appealing at first glance. They actually look like little potatoes. However, we’ve ranked them second-best. Why? Open one and you’ll know!

Another member of the same family as the rambutan, the flesh of this small fruit (roughly the size of a large quail egg) is translucent and soft, with several segments carrying a seed. You can chew and swallow the smaller seeds to avoid spitting out every two seconds. It won’t spoil the taste, promise!

exotic fruitsImage source: healthbenefitsfruit.blogspot.com

What taste is that? As sweet and succulent as its Vietnamese name (bòn bon) announces, with a subtle hint of sourness that reminds one of a grapefruit. It’s also called dâu da đất in the North, but it’s nothing like a strawberry (dâu)—more like a juicier, more intensely flavoured lychee.

You won’t be able to avoid using your hands to peel it, which will leave them so sticky only several hand-washings will help. Better not let it touch your clothes!

You’ll usually buy them on branches. Make sure not to confuse them with longan, which are also great, but not as great. Longan are round while langsat look more like a drop of water.

Health Facts

Langsat help reduce weight, prevent cancer and improve digestion. They are also a source of carbohydrates. You can also dry the peel and burn it to repel mosquitoes!

Season

Harvest time is in late summer, between July and October.

Street Price

Around VND 40,000 per kilogramme.

Where Does It Grow?

In Quang Nam Province, the south central coast region that is also home to Hoi An.

First Place: Mangosteen (Măng Cụt)

Hands down, this is the best fruit in Vietnam, and perhaps in the world. Back in the good old feudal days, it was famed as a noble fruit in Vietnam and offered to the royal family—and for a reason!

It doesn’t show its greatness at first sight. You have to cut it along the equator of its dark red rind to unveil the milky-white, segmented core. It is said the more segments and the less seeds a mangosteen has the better the taste is. And what a taste that is!

exotic fruitsImage source: kenh14.vn

The tangy flesh perfectly balances sweet and sour to first surprise, then delight you. Imagine biting in a strawberry, a peach and a clementine at once. Its juices give it an unheard-of freshness that just makes you want more and more.

You’ll have to indulge within the borders of the country, though, as there are restrictions on imports and exports of mangosteens.

And there’s another downside to it: as the Vietnamese say, buying mangosteens is like buying a lottery ticket—you can never be sure what you’ll get. Often, more than half of the purchased fruits are discarded as you shouldn’t eat them when they’re interspersed with yellow or purple fibres. But that should definitely not keep you from taking your chances.

Mangosteens are very popular in Vietnam and can be found pretty much anywhere from the grocery store around the corner to the major street markets or a legion of street vendors on bicycles. Note that, perhaps due to their royal past, mangosteens are a bit more expensive than other fruits.

Health Facts

Mangosteens have a lot of antioxidants and vitamin C, reduce cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory and have an anti-ageing effect.

Season

The mangosteen season is short, just about two to three months from May to August.

Price

Around VND60,000-70,000 per kilogramme.

Where Does It Grow?

Lai Thieu mangosteens from a little town in Binh Duong Province north of Ho Chi Minh City are said to be the best of the best.

Don’t agree with our ranking? Discuss with us in the comments section below or in our Facebook group!

Banner image source: cooky.vn


2016 Valentine’s Day Deals in Vietnam

By: Trung Vo

Love is everywhere this season! Valentine’s Day is approaching fast - do you know what you’ll be doing for you special someone? Check out our lovely Vietnamese Valentine’s Day deals below - we chose the most romantic venues and the best offers so you won’t be running around like mad this February 14th. Moreover, for local insight and extra information about great dining places, lovely sights and cool drinks, see the rest of our website, where you can always find some places to fit you and your partner. Put on your best suit/dress and impress your loved ones with your marvelous preparation.


SHERATON HANOI HOTEL

Time: 6th - 14th February

Oven D’or Restaurant

  • VND1,300,000 ++/ set, includes 01 glass of Rose sparkling wine, free flow of beer, wine and soft drinks.

Hemispheres Restaurant

  • VND3,000,000++/set (wine pairing set dinner)

Reservation and more


SOFITEL PLAZA HANOI

Summit Romance

A magnifique date with roses, flavorful cocktails, desserts with live entertainment under the star-studded sky.

- Venue: Summit Lounge, 20th floor

- Price: VND880,000++/couple

Romantic Dinner

A lovely dinner with Champagne Cocktail, Seafood and Carvery Buffet plus special gifts for the ladies and live violin performance.

- Venue: Brasserie Westlake Restaurant

- Price: VND2,250,000++/couple

Reservation and more


HOTEL DE L'OPERA HANOI - MGALLERY

Some Enchanted Evening

Venue: Cafe Lautrec

Price: VND1,400,000++/person, five-course menu and a glass of champagne.

Reservation and more


HILTON HANOI OPERA

Immersed in a truly romantic atmosphere, enjoy this special menu for Valentine’s Day with your loved one at Hilton Hanoi Opera.

Price: VND1,355,000++/couple (included 02 glasses of champagne/wine/beer)

Additional beverage packages:

- VND300,000++/person for free flow of champagne, house wine, beer, soft drink.

- VND200,000++/person for free flow of house wine, beer, soft drink.

Express your feeling to your sweetheart in a unique way and make this an unforgettable day for both of you.

Combo of Valentine cakes with tea/coffee: VND250,000++ at Lobby Lounge Hilton Hanoi Opera

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL DANANG PREMIER HAN RIVER

- Package 1: The Cupid's Arrow – Priced at VND 1,999,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at The Square Restaurant (level 4)

- Package 2: Endless Love – Priced at VND 2,333,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Premier Executive Lounge (level 29)

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL NHA TRANG

Be my Valentine

Special dinner by the pool for VND 735,000++/ person, includes chocolate, 5 dishes with pairing wines and romantic live acoustic music.

Reservation and more


NEW WORLD SAIGON HOTEL

In the Mood for Love

Time: 14th February 2016

- Parkview: Lunch buffet for VND610,000++/person- Dinner buffet for VND910,000++/person, feature seafood including lobster, sparkling wine, chocolate, and a keepsake photo to mark the occasion.

- Dynasty: Set menu for two for VND1,500,000++/ couple, inclusive of complimentary sparkling wine, on-premise photos and a takeaway gift.

Reservation and more


LE MÉRIDIEN SAIGON

Valentine 2016 is coming along with the Lunar New Year, on this 14 February, choose out of the couple Romantic Valentine’s dinners at Le Méridien Saigon:

- Latest Recipe – Dinner Buffet from VND1,100,000++ per person

- Bamboo Chic – Set Menu from VND1,300,000++ per person

Complimentary a lovely rose and a glass of Champagne for couples.

Reservation and more


INTERCONTINENTAL ASIANA SAIGON

Romantic Valentine’s Day

February 14th from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

- Market 39: Buffet dinner from VDN1,688,000++/person, includes free flow of champagne, wine, beer and soft drinks.

- Residences: Romantic Set Menu for VND1,488,000++/person and VND2,800,000++/couple, includes two glasses of Bollinger Rose champagne, free flow of beer or house wine.

Reservation and more


EASTIN GRAND HOTEL

Sweet Indulgence, Sweet Valentine

Time: February 1st- 15th

Accommodation: VND1,800,000++/couple, inclusive of:

- Accommodation with an upgrade to Deluxe Room for an overnight stay or day use

- Breakfast Buffet for 2 persons

- Complimentary bottle of sparkling wine when dining at the Grand Buffet Dinner or enjoy 25% off our Grand Buffet Dinner

Reservation and more


THE LOG RESTAURANT AT ROOFTOP GEM CENTER

A Sweet Love Story on a “Tree - House”

A detectable candlelit night out filled with roses, indulge in the irresistible flavors of premium culinary cuisine at the unique rooftop dining space.

- Set Menu: VND1,400,000++/pax, 5 courses featuring Duck Breast Stuffed With Foie Gras Served With Melon Salad In Honey Sauce, Grilled Lobster In Orange Butter Sauce, Baked Tenderloin In Apple Sauce...

- Buffet dinner: VND1,600,000++/pax dinner with more than 120 amazingly delicious dishes. Full of choices from fresh seafood such as lobsters, oysters, crabs…to an array of mouthwatering international dishes, freshly made soups, salads and even dim sum.

Price includes free flow of soft drinks

Reservation and more


LA VILLA FRENCH RESTAURANT

Special Valentine Menu prepared by Chef Thierry Mounon

Price: VND1,990,000++/person (violin players during dinner)

Reservation and more



How to Unite the World's Vietnamese Food Lovers

By: Keely Burkey

Why did you start Vietnamese Food Lovers (VFL)?

Because for over 11 years, as I’ve promoted Vietnam with City Pass Guide, I’ve come to the conclusion that tourism in the country is portrayed all wrong. The essence of what makes Vietnam a special place isn’t its attractions or its monuments or its landmarks. What really makes it stand out is the people and the food. You can’t really export people too much, but you can export food, and Vietnam definitely has one of the most interesting cuisines—especially now that everyone is becoming aware of the importance of eating healthier. Green, light food, diverse food, easy, simple but fresh, which are attributes of the Vietnamese cuisine.

foodImage source: The Gourmet Gourmand

How will VFL change the experience of eating Vietnamese food?

I hope that we will be able to support the Vietnamese restaurants in order to ensure higher quality and safety standards, an important area in which improvement must be made. Our aim is really to make a stand for Vietnamese cuisine worldwide.

How do you plan to do that?

It’s a long-term goal that requires ample resources and time. And this is what we’re currently building. Vietnamese Food Lovers aims to recruit the best food supply chain stakeholders and to work together with them to support the promotion of Vietnamese cuisine and food, not only marketing-wise, but sales-wise. Vietnamese Food Lovers plans to be active in international trade fairs for hospitality, F&B sectors, gastronomy and other related trade fairs. The aim is to help local producers who are producing quality food-related products to export to the rest of the world. Vietnam has not yet tapped into this huge potential in this huge industry.

foodImage source: serenitydentalclinic.com

Why do you think Vietnamese cuisine isn’t more widely celebrated in the world?

I think it’s a combination of things. First, Vietnam has truly opened its doors to the rest of the world only for the last 25 years. And for the first 10 years, tourism was very minimal. The second reason is that to make good Vietnamese food you require some basic raw ingredients that are still not yet available in most countries around the world.

VFL now has a website. What’s the purpose of the website, and what can foodies get out of it?

We just launched the English version, with a Vietnamese version coming soon. Basically, the website aims to be a one-door portal where demand and supply can meet in order to do more Vietnamese cooking. That includes recipes, a very large database of food suppliers from around the world, a large database of restaurants and hotels that have an interest in Vietnamese cuisine, and daily news and films and data that is relevant to Vietnamese Food Lovers.

foodImage source: vietnamtastelondon.com

What are your goals for VFL by 2020?

By 2020 Vietnamese Food Lovers will have organised over eight Vietnamese Food Festivals across Vietnam. We will have received a million pledges of Vietnamese food lovers around the world. Vietnamese Food Lovers will be the largest database of food supply chain and demand contacts worldwide, so we can unite all Vietnamese food lovers under one portal. It will be the largest media agency responsible for promoting both Vietnamese cuisine and Vietnam’s finest food producers.

Banner image source: serenitydentalclinic.com


The Story of Tương: Vietnamese Fermented Soybean Paste

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Many people believe that shrimp paste, a typical dipping sauce of Northern Vietnamese villages, is the best sauce to pair with tofu. But since I was a child, I have always preferred my tofu to be dipped in fermented soybean paste, or tương, because its sweeter, lighter smell and taste reminds me of my grandmother, who used to make it at home.

This traditional dipping sauce enjoyed by vegetarian Buddhists is now less popular in the cities, and the recipes and techniques to make good tương are only handed down within individual families. But if you get a chance to try it and compare its taste to other fermented soybean pastes, like miso in Japan and doenjang in Korea, you will find a common, treasured food tradition.

How is it made?

The sauce has a high nutritional value because it is made from soybeans fermented with a type of mold or fungi. To make this mold, sticky rice is steamed, or alternatively, ordinary rice is cooked with less water than usual, and then scattered on a woven tray and covered with leaves to keep the heat. The rice is left to ferment for approximately 7-10 days.

Each family and each region has its own method to make the mold, but the basic principle is the same: fermented rice will generate heat and create an ideal condition for the fungi to grow. Scientists call this type of fungus A. oryzae. It’s also known as koji. This fungi helps to transform rice starch into glucose, resulting in a powdery mixture with a nice golden color and a sweet taste. It is important to keep track of the mold as it develops on the rice, as sometimes other, possibly toxic, types of fungi might develop as well, which will need to be removed.

soybeanImage source: topplus.vn

At the same time, soybeans are roasted and pounded or ground into pieces, and then boiled with water and poured into clay jars. The jars are then covered and put in a sunny ventilated place to ferment. When the rice mold is fully developed, it is mixed into the jars, and the fermentation process will continue for at least 15 to 20 days to create the final product, fermented soybean paste.

soybeanImage source: sapaviet.net

Salt is an indispensable ingredient. Adding the proper amount of salt is important to ensure good taste and long storage time. Salt can be mixed with the mold after it is ready, or added directly into the jar. Either way, the end result is a perfect combination of salty, sweet, and the umami flavour of fermented soybeans.

Watch a traditional fermentation method:

Video source: VTC14 - Thời tiết - Môi trường & Đời sống

Where can you find it?

In Vietnam, fermented soybean paste is mainly used as dipping sauce for dishes served with rice, such as tofu and boiled vegetables. It can also be used as a seasoning when cooking braised fish or braised vegetables. Especially in the North, bánh đúc lạc is a popular snack in rural markets. It is a savoury cake made of rice flour and peanuts, which is then dipped in fermented soybean paste.

soybeanImage source: 1946.vn

Watch this video to learn how to use soybean paste to improve your health:

Video source: sharecare.com

The regions in Vietnam famous for their tradition of making fermented soybean paste include: Bần village in the Hưng Yên province near Hanoi, Cự Đà village in Hanoi, and the Nam Đàn district of Nghệ An province. Many people use tương and tương bần interchangeably to refer to fermented soybean paste. The Bần village has been famous for this product since the late nineteenth century.

In Southern Vietnam there is a type of fermented soybean paste called tương hột. It is made from whole-grain boiled soybeans mixed with ground roasted soybeans, fermented by rice or corn mold, or using ready-made soy sauce to speed up the fermentation process. Tương hột is also used as a condiment for braised fish, tofu or vegetables. When blended it can be used as a component in the dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls.

soybeanImage source: 2.bp.blogspot.com

Vietnamese tương and Japanese miso

If you love Japanese cuisine, you have probably tried miso soup, the Japanese comfort food made with miso paste, seaweed, tofu and green onions. However, not many people know that miso is actually the Japanese version of fermented soybean paste. Miso is similar to Vietnamese tương in components and production methods but with some differences.

First, in Japan soybeans are not roasted before boiling. They are soaked overnight instead, so the boiled beans are much softer and can be pounded into a thick, fine paste. Second, steamed rice is mixed with industrially produced koji starter, and fermented for a few days, to become kome koji (rice mold). Finally, soybean paste and kome koji are mixed together with salt and put into a jar. The ingredients need to be weighted to pressurize the mixture. This is done with a heavy bag as in this video. The jar is then covered for a month-long fermentation process.

Video source: JapaneseCooking101

Vietnamese fermented soybean paste is just as nutritious as its Japanese cousin, and even more versatile. It can be added to variations on the country’s much-loved braised fish (cá kho), used as a dipping sauce for the famed gỏi cuốn, or used as a condiment in many vegetarian dishes. The options are endless.

Banner Image source: web.media.danviet.vn


3 Vietnamese Soups You Must Try

By: Quang Mai

Our writer makes you discover his top 3 Vietnamese soups you must try if you travel to Vietnam.

In my opinion, one of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling is the discovery of new cuisines. I guess that’s why I always gain weight during my holiday. Having traveled across Vietnam, I have tasted and discovered many new cuisines which I consider not-to-be-missed. I believe that traveling independently is perfect for me. If I took a package tours which usually has set menus for meals, I would never discover the different tastes (even unpleasant ones) of special local dishes.

My favorite type of soups are the sour ones because they are said to be cooling during hot weather in tropical countries like Vietnam. Furthermore, they are especially nutritious and refreshing. Here are my top 3 Vietnamese soups:

Catfish and Vegetable Sour Soup (Canh chua cá bông lau) - South Vietnam :

Thanks to a wealth of vegetables, this sour fish soup is very colorful. The sour taste comes from tamarind and indian taro, okra, spring onions, along with herbs bring out the taste of the catfish.

The same recipe and process can go with many types of ray-finned fish but Catfish is much better than others. The soup only contains the head and tail of the fish and is served with an array of vegetables and flavorings. The rest of the fish is usually served in combination with the soup on the side so you can experience the combinations of different flavours in one meal. It is usually served simply on a side dish with fish sauce or gets caramelized and served in a clay pot. The tastes will last for a long time in your palate so prepare to drink much water during and after the meal.

Do not feel distraught when you only see the head and the tail in the bowl of soup. The restaurant includes them on purpose. It may look weird to westerners unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine but this is the way canh chua is done in the south. This happened to Charly, City Pass's marketing manager. On his first time seeing a fish head in his "canh chua", he complained to the restaurant because he thought they didn’t have any fish fillets to put in the soup so they put in what they had left. But in fact, locals consider the head to be the best part of this soup.

I will recommend you to try this one first if the trio are placed up at the same time. But hey, don’t think that I am region-biased. It is said that this is the traditional dish that welcomes travelers to southern locales, so it’s worth it to have this soup first.

Sour Bamboo Shoot Soup (Canh măng chua) - Central Vietnam:

Sour Bamboo Shoot Soup

Fish also features in this soup, but light sour flavor complements due to the pickled salted bamboo shoots. A bit of green onions and dill are added and the soup is served with raw vegetables. This soup is very healthy.

Carp is usually served with this soup to make a perfect combination of sweet from the fish and salty and light sourness from the bamboo shoots. The soup has a light sour taste which makes it different from the strong flavours of the Southern version which definitely puts your taste buds at ease.

Mussel Soup (Canh chua hến) - North Vietnam

Mussel Soup

A species of small freshwater mussel found on lake-and river-bottoms is used to make this tasty soup. After being cleaned, the tiny mussels are removed from their shells and cooked with tamarind. Spring onions and various herbs add to the sweet and sour flavor.

Mussels aren’t as expensive as fish but in term of taste, they bring a very special flavour to anyone who has not tried them before. The mussels are fried with garlic and other spices until the flavours meld together. Then the mussels are poured into a sour broth of carambola or green banana. Though it has a light sour taste, the inherent sweetness of the mussels make this soup different than the others in the country.

These are my top three Vietnamese Soups, are you ready to try one of them? Share me your top 3 so that I can put on my "must try" list for my next holiday!


How NOT to Get Food Poisoning While Travelling

By: Robert Fouldes

After a quick online search for health tips and warnings about food poisoning, you may rapidly come to the conclusion that you should only eat in expensive restaurants and international hotels in Vietnam. However, don’t get too intimidated and don’t assume that high cost is a guarantee of cleanliness and good food hygiene.

food poisoningImage source: russellworthsolicitors.co.uk

Use Bottled Water, but Filtered, Boiled Water is Usually Safe Enough

When I left my cosy and secure family home in England long ago heading to the Far East for a new job, I asked my doctor what health issues I should be concerned about. My doctor was a well-travelled chap and I always remember his words of advice. “Most water will be safe enough to drink as long as it’s been boiled enough to make a good cup of tea.” Note: this refers to local drinking/potable water, not river or stream water. I’m not a big tea drinker myself, but I do drink lots of coffee and have always thought back to those words whenever I enter a new coffee or tea shop.

However, do continue to use bottled water or water from a known healthy source for personal use whenever possible. It should also put you at ease to know that most homes and businesses in Asia have their drinking water delivered in large geyser bottles.

Personal Hygiene – “Now Wash Your Hands!”

In day to day travels, our hands touch all kinds of things and all of those things have come into contact with various kinds of contaminants. Therefore, the best favour you can do for yourself is to always wash your hands before eating or handling food. The most common cause of travellers getting sick is from hand-to-mouth contact. Sharing finger foods can also be a great way to pass-on any bugs you may have picked up during the day to others.

food poisoningImage source: johnston.biz

Check the Kitchen

It’s not always possible to look over the kitchen for hygiene standards but when you approach your chosen eating place you should observe the surroundings. Glance at the rear entrance where the kitchen usually is, if possible. If you see food hanging around outdoors and unrefrigerated, you may wish to reconsider your chosen restaurant or be sure you order something that is well-cooked.

GIF source: giphy.com

Is the food hot and steaming when served? If not, then consider how and where it has been kept. Food in Vietnam is commonly pre-cooked and served with rice or a noodle dish. Do you think the food has been adequately covered and protected from contamination prior to being paired with the rice or noodles (are there any flies or insects on the food)? A judgment call may be needed on what items to order.

In a street market, you will find many vendors selling the same foods. A tip an old friend gave me (picked up during his travels across Africa) was to locate the person cooking that food, and buy directly from them. This way you will have a better idea about where the food has been and how it has been stored since it was prepared and cooked.

Meat and Fish

If you have a craving for meat, consider how the local cuisine incorporates meat into meals. In Vietnam, it’s usually served in small amounts and is often very well-cooked, boiled, fried or grilled. If you really must have that rare steak oozing blood or that seemingly fresh sushi, think about the supply chain that provided the meat and fish (do you see refrigerated delivery trucks)?

Visit a local food market and make your own judgements - food markets offer great photo opportunities too. If you are on a beef farm or at a fishing port, enjoy the local delights, if not perhaps think again.

food poisoningImage source: cloudfront.net

Dairy – Yes or No?

Usually a sniff test is sufficient to warn you off milk past its best. In today’s brand name coffee consuming culture, we get lots of dairy pressed upon us and sometimes it is difficult to know how fresh the product is when it is combined with a stronger flavour. In the past, I’ve been served sour milk simply because it is a costly item in Asia and many vendors are remiss to throw it out.

Alternatives do exist, such as soy or other vegetable sourced milks, but the same questions on freshness remain. Soy is a commonly available option in most of Asia and is a commonly consumed and familiar beverage in the Asian market. Local Asian coffee products are usually produced using sweet condensed milk, which in my experience, is far less likely to be served past its shelf life simply due to the fact that it lasts much longer than fresh milk.

Some dairy can be very beneficial to your digestive health if it suits your diet. A small amount of yoghurt daily can keep the good bacteria in your gut in good shape. If you can find it, enjoy it. Most Yoghurts in Vietnam are filled with sugar and artificial flavourings. One natural yoghurt is from Da Lat and is commonly available at most supermarkets.

Probiotics are commonly available in drink form or capsule form in Asia. The drinks are a bit on the sweet side, but they can also work wonders in protecting you from and in aiding a speedy recovery from a bout of food poisoning.

Fruits and Vegetables

At the grocery store, many fruits in Vietnam can be found in their own packaging so we don’t always think about the hygiene risks. But be aware that peeled and cut fruit may be exposed to unclean environments or contaminated by insects carrying dirt and bacteria. If you can see the fruit being washed and cut in front of you (with clean utensils), then it’s probably a safe choice, if not, then looking for another vendor may be wise.

food poisoningImage source: media.foody.vn

Washed and cooked vegetables are unlikely to present any problems on their own, but uncooked salads and vegetables should be considered more carefully. Pay attention to the washing method before you commit your stomach to trial by bacteria.

Both fruit and vegetables are usually grown locally or on the outskirts of towns and cities. The land may be intensively farmed and the fertilizers used may be a by-product of animal waste (dung) or even human waste. This thought alone makes me extra cautious in buying fruits and vegetables, no matter where they are from. Peeled fruits are by far the wisest choice, but washing thoroughly with clean water, or soaking in salt water or vinegar water prior to washing is a good practice.

Don’t Panic. Just Stay Hydrated – but be Prepared to Seek Medical Attention

If you do succumb to a bout of food poisoning, think about the likely source and consider the options your have. Often (usually) your body will deal with the issue itself and perhaps by lunch time the next day you will be fine.

In other cases, you may be facing dangerous levels of fluid loss (always maintain body fluid levels by sipping on water or oral rehydration solution (ORS) salt drinks. It is always good to have a few of these in your luggage along with a supply of Immodium or similar medicine (Dhamotil is commonly provided in Asia).

If the problem persists or you find yourself unable to hold down any fluids, then seek medical help as soon as possible. Some victims reach straight for western antidiarrhealmedicines, some of which work by slowing down your digestive system. This may make life more comfortable, and may be very useful to make it through the journey, but if the problem persists for longer than a few days, seek medical help as soon as you can.

Video source: GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine Kaaloa

Banner Image source: musiquesattitude.com

IS THERE A STORY OR TIP

YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US?

GET IN TOUCH