So... What Else Besides Pho?

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Pho is usually the first thing that comes to mind when Vietnamese cuisine is mentioned. However, pho is to Vietnam what pasta is to Italy, pad thai is to Thailand and fish and chips is to England. Yes, they are the most widely-exported dishes from their respective countries but certainly not the only ones you can find there.

vietnamese noodleImage source: images.unsplash.com

This article is all about the ones in the shadows, the dishes you may have heard of but haven’t had a chance to try. Or perhaps you’ve tried them all and possibly even rate them higher than pho.

Regardless, of your experience level now is the time to dig in and slurp up those noodles with gusto.

The Different Types of Noodles

Vietnamese noodles usually come in two forms, tuoi (fresh) and kho (dried). They are also categorised by the ingredients they are made from. Two of the most common noodles in Vietnam are bun, which is made from rice flour, and mi, made from wheat flour.

vietnamese noodleImage source: photos.demandstudios.com

Other types of noodles you can find include banh canh, which look a lot like Japanese udon and are made from rice or tapioca flour, and mien, which are made from canna starch and are known as cellophane or glass noodles in English.

Now that you have a slightly better understanding of the naming conventions, let’s dive into the rich, savoury goodness of noodle soup dishes.

Hu Tieu Nam Vang

This dish, which comes in both soupy and dry versions, is one of Saigon’s most popular offerings. Originally created by Teochew Chinese migrants in Cambodia, hu tieu nam vang is made up of thin rice noodles served in a broth made of pork stock and topped with minced pork, pork slices and shrimp. You can find this dish anywhere from dedicated restaurants to street vendors all over Saigon.

vietnamese noodleImage source: i.ytimg.com

Bun Bo Hue

Depending on who you ask, this dish is known as the best alternative to pho, with some (like me) preferring this over the former. Bun bo hue is a beef noodle dish that originated in Hue. It is made up of bun, served in a broth made of beef and lemongrass and usually topped up with slices of beef, tendon, crab balls and in some places, congealed pig’s blood.

vietnamese noodleImage source: i.ytimg.com

Bun Rieu

Known for its red tamarind-based broth and its unique taste, bun rieu is a rice vermicelli soup that’s served with meat, tofu and tomatoes. The three most common variants of this dish are bun rieu cua (crab), bun rieu ca (fish) and bun rieu oc (snail).

If you are living in Saigon, you can find really good versions of this dish at Bun Rieu Nha.

vietnamese noodleImage source: static.christinas.vn

Banh Canh

This dish is more of a sub-category rather than a dish on its own. It’s made up of udon-like noodles and there are many variants of this dish featuring different key ingredients. The most common version of this dish you can find in Saigon is banh canh cua, which consists of a thick broth and a generous dose of crab meat.

If Vietnamese food were Pokemon, then banh canh da cua Hai Phong in the below video would probably be Mew, the rarest of them all. Only found in Hai Phong City, the noodles are red in colour, and the dish is a specialty there. So head down to Hai Phong if you really want to “catch em all”.

Video source: Helen's Recipes (Vietnamese Food)

Mien Luon

If you ever find yourself in Nghe An province, you have just walked right into the best place in Vietnam to find dishes made of eel. Mien luon is glass noodles served with fresh or fried eel. The broth is made of eel bones and ginger and this dish has a slightly sweet taste.

vietnamese noodleImage source: res.cgvdt.vn

Bun Mam

As far as ingredients go, there are many different combinations that go into a bowl of bun mam. From shrimp, pork belly to catfish, there isn’t really a clear standard recipe for this dish but what is consistent among all variants, is the broth itself.

vietnamese noodleImage source: Saigongame.com

Made of fermented fish or shrimp paste, and depending on who you ask, it could fall anywhere on a scale of “I will never go anywhere near this thing again” to “the best umami experience in my life”.

In other words, it’s an acquired taste especially to foreigners but once it’s acquired, there’s no turning back.

Bun Oc

Snails are a pretty big deal in Vietnam and you can find many dishes featuring these tasty shelled gastropods.

Bun Oc is a simple tomato-based broth with rice vermicelli featuring chewy chunks of snails and topped with scallions. It’s another common offering across Saigon from restaurants to hole-in-the-wall establishments around the city.

vietnamese noodleImage source: bepmenau.com

Bo Kho

Although not really a soup dish, bo kho is usually commonly found in places that also sell pho. The only difference is that bo kho is essentially a stew and goes really well with either bun or a baguette.

For those who like their noodles dry, these are some of the more popular dishes that you can find around the country.

vietnamese noodleImage source: iamafoodblog.com

Mi Vit Tiem

Translated to yellow noodle soup with roasted duck and Chinese broccoli, mi vit tiem can be found in many parts of Saigon and Hanoi. The noodles in this dish are made from wheat flour and eggs, also known as egg noodles. This type of noodle is commonly found in Chinese cuisine across Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

vietnamese noodleImage source: bepmenau.com

This dish threads the thin line between dry and soup because it depends on where you go. Usually, it’s served dry, although some establishments add a small amount of broth to it.

Bun Dau Mam Tom

Just like bun mam, this is a highly-contentious entry, especially for foreigners with a very sensitive sense of smell. Bun dau mam tom includes fermented shrimp paste. Here it is served as a dip, together with pressed rice vermicelli, fried tofu and meat.

vietnamese noodleImage source: dauhomemade.vn

Bun Thit Nuong

If you deconstruct a banh mi and replace the baguette with bun, you get bun thit nuong. This is a cold dish that consists of noodles with grilled pork, pickles, scallions and goes really well with fish sauce mixed into the bowl.

Speaking of fish sauce…

vietnamese noodleImage source: quananhueoxuan.com

Bun Cha

One of the most popular dishes to originate from Hanoi, and made especially popular by former US President Barack Obama, this dish is served with a plate of rice vermicelli, grilled pork, vegetables and a bowl of fish sauce which is used as a dip.

vietnamese noodleImage source: i.ytimg.com

A common add-on to both these dishes are slices of deep-fried spring rolls, which will provide a savoury and crunchy experience to your already delicious meal.

Hu Tieu Xao/Kho

The stir-fried dry variants of hu tieu, the difference between these two is that hu tieu kho is usually stir-fried with sauce whereas the hu tieu xao is just a clean stir-fry with the ingredients.

By ingredients, it can be anything from beef to seafood, depending on the establishment you’re at. This is one of the most versatile noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine and is served up by plenty of street vendors.

vietnamese noodleImage source: media.foody.vn

Mi Kho/Mi Goi

Another versatile pair, mi kho is stir-fried egg noodles and mi goi is stir-fried instant noodles. Both these dishes are also prepared with a variety of ingredients from chicken to beef and seafood.

Mi goi xao bo (stir-fried instant noodles with beef) is commonly found in most late-night street stalls and is an excellent choice for supper.

vietnamese noodleImage source: i.ytimg.com

Mi Quang

A signature dish from Quang Nam province, this dish consists of yellow wheat flour noodles served with various meats and herbs and usually contains a very small amount of strong flavoured broth.

The noodles are made with turmeric, giving it its yellowish hue and are usually served with peanuts and toasted sesame rice crackers.

vietnamese noodleImage source: thanhnien.vn

With all these excellent alternatives to pho, now you can walk into a Vietnamese restaurant anywhere in the world with confidence. It’s time to take the less-trodden path by indulging in any of these dishes which are still largely unknown outside the country, but passionately devoured by Vietnamese and foreigners alike in Vietnam.

Banner Image source: thoidai.com.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

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