I have a suggestion for you if you travel to Vietnam: eat ALL of the food. Honestly, unless you are full on allergic, eat it. You're probably thinking "But I don't like (insert food preference here)". I promise that whatever that thing is you should give it a try in Vietnam. I'm not the pickiest eater, but I don't like most meat. In the US I don't eat pork as a rule (I don't like the taste or texture). But in Vietnam, almost all of the dishes contain pork in some form or fashion. You know what I learned? Some pork dishes in Vietnam are DELICIOUS.
Take this papaya salad for example. I made this in a cooking class outside of Ho Chi Minh City. If you told me to order this dish in a restaurant in the US, I would have told you to suck it and ordered Pho instead. In the spirit of keeping an open mind and letting good things come to me, I cooked and ate this salad. Calling this salad delicious is an understatement. This salad is all at once sweet, sour, crunchy, soft, light, and filling. It's as if you poured a garden onto your plate and covered it in angel tears of joy. I would not have known the bliss of this salad if I had had stuck to my no pork preference. Live a little, try some new things.
I will share the recipe with you so that you can experience the angel tears of joy salad (tm ThisBTravels) for yourself. Scroll to the bottom of the post for the recipe.
My papaya salad, aka angel tears of joy salad. My presentation skills were on point!!
I cooked some other dishes in my cooking class but I won't give away all their secrets. I will, however, share some other dishes I tried in Vietnam. Some of these I LOVED! Some of these I wouldn't eat again. But you don't know that until you try! I'm going to start with the no thanks dishes:
The dish in the top right was noodles with pork bones. It was so oily and fatty and, well, porky that I took one bite and said no thanks. The plate of veggies was to be wrapped up in rice paper with the boiled pork in the middle of the table. The dipping sauces were anchovy fish sauce on the left and peanut sauce on the right. The boiled pork and anchovy fish sauce smelled like vomit that had died. I was legit scared of trying the fish sauce at all due to the smell. Turns out the fish sauce was not what I should have been scared of, the boiled pork was. That boiled pork tasted like the smell of garbage on a hot summer day. I could barely finish my bite. With that being said, it's possible that someone who loves pork would have enjoyed this more than I did. And I'm still glad I tried it.
There are both considered dessert. The glass was filled with lotus seeds, seaweed jelly (aka jello), and a liquid that tasted like nothing I have ever had. It was mildly sweet and had the consistency of apple juice. But I'm pretty sure that just what happens when you soak lotus seeds in water with some sugar. In the bowl was hot sesame soup. It was like if you boiled black sesame seeds for days with a little sugar then served it hot. I didn't hate either of these things, but I'm not sure I would order them again.
Enough complaining! Let's get to the delicious stuff:
White Rose Dumplings are very famous in Hoi An and you can get them at most restaurants. They are filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp and come with a delicious dipping sauce. Word on the street is that no matter where you get White Rose Dumplings, they all come for the restaurant that invented them. The restaurant is aptly named the White Rose. I had mine at a cafe in the Old City of Hoi An called Bazar. The dumplings were delicious and Bazar had 2 for 1 cocktails during happy hour. Win win!!
This marvelous presentation is also from a restaurant in Hoi An called Vy's Market Restaurant. I got the veggie hot pot because I was over pork everything. I wrongly assumed that this would be kind of bland. Turns out the broth was highly spiced and the pineapple chunks really helped to balance it out.
This looks weird but it was one of my favorite dishes in Vietnam. Its steamed rice paper covered with shrimp paste and ground mushrooms.It is topped with crispy onions and served on a bed of lettuce and herbs. It comes with the fantastic dipping sauce shown. I'm not sure the proper way to eat this, but I basically tore this into pieces, rolled them up with my chopsticks, and dipped. It was messy as hell, but aren't all good things? I loved this so much that I ate it twice. You can find it at Morning Glory in Old Town Hoi An.
This was a meal provided on a tour to Vung Tau. When the guide told us the menu, I thought I would starve. Beef salad (bottom), pork ribs (top left), and grilled shrimp with fried garlic. I wasn't worried about the shrimp, but beef salad and pork ribs are not my jam. If I had listened to my usual preferences, I would not have experienced the delight of this meal. The beef salad was weird and lime-y and filled with herbs like mint and basil. I loved it! And I don't usually like beef! We already talked about my feeling on pork, but those ribs were extra tasty. Another example of why you should eat ALL the things in Vietnam!!
Recipe for Angel Tears of Joy Salad (aka BBQ pork salad)
You can pretty much use whatever veggies you have hanging around for this recipe, but here is the official list:
10 oz green papaya (cut into strips)
7 oz green onion (chopped)
4 oz carrots (cut into strips)
4 stems Vietnamese basil (leaves only, cut julienne)
1.5 tablespoons fried garlic
3 tablespoons fried shallots
3 tablespoons roasted peanuts
Instructions: Cook garlic and shallots in a splash of vegetable oil until fragrant. Mix all ingredients together into a large bowl.
1 part each: Kumquat juice, sugar (white), fish sauce
Fresh chopped garlic and chili to taste
Instructions: Combine equal parts kumquat juice, sugar and fish sauce in bowl. Whisk until combined. Add garlic and chili to taste. If the dressing flavor is too strong, add water as needed.
Pork Ingredients (you can substitute shrimp, chicken, or tofu):
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
7 oz pork (or protein of your choosing)
1 pinch 5 spice powder (or seasoning blend of your choice)
1 teaspoon oil
Instructions: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl adding oil last. Let rest for 15 minutes. Grill meat over charcoal or pan-fry until cooked through. Add cooked protein to the salad ingredients and toss with dressing. Enjoy having a little taste of Vietnam right in your own home!
Did you try the salad?! Tell me about it in the comments!