Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fishing for True Vietnamese Food

Vietnam is a country with nearly 3,500 km of coastline, which entails quite a number of things. 

First off, you can go swimming in a lot of different places. Also, you can take a picture of the sunset on the water and pretend to be reenacting the cover of a Nicholas Sparks book in many places as well. Most importantly, though, is that fresh fish and seafood is nearly always readily available.

The best part is, the variety is astounding. Everywhere we went, we had different types of fish, cooked in various ways. In Halong Bay, on the Northern coast, we spent two days on a boat, kayaking and eating. Eating was necessary, to take our mind off the pretty cold temperatures considering we didn't even have a coat, but the food was unforgettable. Each meal was like a showcase of ultra-fresh seafood: clams, mussels, fresh shrimp and prawns, and amazing fish. I wouldn't be able to tell you more exactly about what kind of fish we were served: I believe it was local white fish (there are a great number of fish farms in the bay),  and perfectly cooked with tomatoes and a few spices--we didn't need any other seasoning or side dish.

Back in Hanoi, another great fish experience lies behind the non-descript facade on Cha Ca Street. Cha Ca La Vong is a legendary establishment, known to have actually invented the dish known as (unsurprisingly) Cha Ca throughout Vietnam: catfish simmers in a hotpot of oil and herbs, and is eaten with fish sauce, rice vermicelli, peanuts, and some fresh basil and mint. Customers put together the whole dish themselves, and the sauce created by the mix of pungent nuoc mam with herb-infused oil is incredible. 

Best of all, as famous as Cha Ca La Vong may be, there aren't just tourists--locals enjoy this Hanoi specialty as well. We even went back twice--that's how good it was.

Last stop on the fish train: Con Dao island. If anybody here watched the most recent season of French Survivor, called Koh-Lanta, it took place in Con Dao. I'm not here to tell you about that time we had to eat spiders and centipedes because we were stranded in the middle of the jungle, though. I'll keep that for another time--or maybe you'll never hear about it again.

Con Dao is another fishing paradise, and the food we had is good proof of that. At Try Ky, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the island--and I say this literally, because they were renovating the place at the same time--you pick your fish before eating it. We had squid grilled with Vietnamese satay, which was perfectly cooked and not too rubbery, as squid can unfortunately get. Vietnamese satay is pretty spicy, and although we got strange looks when we asked for a side of rice, I'll admit it was more than welcome. 

The next evening, we were at a loss for places to eat: Con Son, the main island, is pretty small, and we weren't really keen on having dinner at one of the three government-owned hotels. Our snorkeling guide (is this starting to seem less like a Survivor experience than it should?) actually recommended the restaurant at our hotel. Funny thing is, we didn't know there was an actual restaurant as the place was made up of bungalows and a center platform where we had breakfast. Anyhow, much the adventurers that we are, we tried the hotel restaurant--and what a great surprise it was! 

If you want amazing mackerel with fresh tomato sauce and garlic, look no further. Jump on the next plane / helicopter / boat to Con Dao island; the flesh was incredibly moist and tasty, and even the skin was deliciously crispy. It was truly worth a trip in itself.

Who's ready for dessert now? See you next time!
Print this post


claudia said...

makes you want to go to Vietnam and try all those dishes!

Mary said...

The food looks wonderful. Your photos are gorgeous. It sounds like a wonderful trip. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Kerstin said...

Gorgeous pictures, glad you had such a wonderful trip!

Paris Pastry said...

Yum! I imagine smelling cooked fish in every street. *sighs* Btw, I left something for you on my blog :) said...

Great pictures! Sounds like a great place to explore and visit! :)

Shauna said...

So jealous of all your fancy-free travels! I love your stories. :)