I didn’t realize that there are so many things to eat around my house in Vietnam until today. Within a one minute walk, I can easily stuff my (big) belly with a myriad quality traditional Vietnamese foods at incredible prices. I boasted about the fabulous bun cha stall right next door some time ago, but that is just the tip of the iceberg >v<
The photo above is that of one of my top favorite Vietnamese foods, Bánh cuốn aka rice flour rolls. But ladies and gentlemen, it is not just your random banh cuon (extremely thin steamed fermented sheet of rice flour delicately rolled with minced wood ear mushroom, shallots, and ground pork inside), you are looking at the finest version (in my opinion) of the clan: Bánh cuốn trứng (rice flour roll with egg). This is the fun part, if you travel to Hanoi (or any province in the Red River delta for that matter), the banh cuon trung you can order will look different. The seller will crack an egg into your roll, spread it out, and the result will be a golden roll with eggy goodness inside. It will be served like any normal banh cuon (placed on a plate and you have to dip each bite in dipping sauce). Not bad, but nothing special. Banh cuon trung in the more hilly/mountainous parts of Northern Vietnam, however, is different. An egg is cracked onto the bigger and slightly thicker rice sheet, the soft boiled egg is quickly wrapped by the sheet itself. This delicate parcel is then transferred to a bowl before having pork broth poured over it. Add a generous amount of herbs, sprinkle some lime juice on top, as well as a bit of chili, and voila!
For a dish that takes a short time to make and looks so delicate, it is delightfully delicious. The broth has just the right amount of meaty goodness, but still light. The acidity of the lime juice cuts off any grease that may still linger. The dainty, snow-white, rice roll has a subtle sweetness, complimenting the rich flavor and creamy texture of the perfectly cooked egg yolk. Heavenly.
In a more upgraded version, lots of fried shallots are added. I am severely addicted to that insanely tantalizing aroma of fried shallots. For fried shallots, there is never anything such as too much. It is a wonderful addition to banh cuon trung, boosting the dish to a completely new different level. The crazy part is that this miniature heaven in a bowl only costs you 12500 VND (~60 cents).
Talking about fried shallots, nowhere are they more prominently featured than in the unpretentious yet deadly delicious Xôi. For 10000 VND (~50 cents) or less, you get a big portion of Xôi xéo–my favorite version of xoi, a combination of fragrant, non-sticky, glutinous rice, topped with pork floss (or minced pork), minced green mung beans, and fried shallots. Only 4 ingredients, but they make a sensory orchestra. There is nothing more splendid than a bowl of Xoi xeo, with each grain of rice glistening golden color, with finely minced mung beans on top, with airy pork floss, and to top it off, a generous amount of the most aromatic, most glorious, fried shallots. The number of Xoi stalls with home-made fried shallots is dwindling; sadly, many stalls/restos nowadays opt for pre-fried ‘shallots’ (a sad mixture of fried onions and no-aroma-no-flavor shallots). Without that rich, strong flavor of fried shallot, xoi xeo is just not xoi xeo anymore. It is depressing, but it makes some tiny Xoi stalls near my house even more precious.
I. JUST. CAN’T. EVEN.
Right next to where the always-smiling lady sells Xoi is another less-smiling woman offering Balut (in Vietnamese, Trứng vịt lộn) at 7000 VND (~30 cents) per egg. I am not a fan of that boiled, developing duck embryo treat, served with herbs, but it has many fans in Vietnam because of its nutrition value. I, however, as the ever-loving girlfriend, made the bf, who had never tried balut before, eat this scary looking thang~ “It was quite good,” so he said. Actually, minus the part when the dead duck fetus staring at you with its big, doleful eyes, balut is not too bad.
Of course, you can’t say you have been to Vietnam unless you have tried real Phở. This most famous dish is so famous I am tired of talking about it. The bowl of Pho (25000 VND ~1.17 USD) I ate this morning was pretty damn good. The broth was fragrant and clear, with a depth from different ingredients, not from MSG; the noodles were silky soft; the beef slices were tender and flavorful. Our Pho was done right and done justice I must say.
From the look of it, you can tell that we had an awesome breakfast: