Saigon – Welcome to Food Paradise
Two weeks ago I went to a country which is, like China, Communist. At least on paper. If you’re walking along the street’s of Saigon, passing street vendors, LV shops and BMWs you will soon realize that Communism in Vietnam is all but limited to paper. I went to Vietnam expecting something similar to China, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. This country is amazing. And it’s a food lover’s paradise….
But let us start with the Vietnamese. Compared to Chinese, who can be quite rude (not necessarily to foreigners but among themselves) Vietnamese people seem to be much friendlier. They smile a lot more often and are more relaxed. I had a similar impression when visiting Thailand. I don’t know the exact reasons but the climate might be part of the explanation. Chinese from the North (Beijing and up) are generally considered as being rougher and less friendly compared to Chinese in Guangdong. And so is the climate. Guangdong is warm and hot pretty much all of the year, except in January and February. Beijing “enjoys” weather down to -20C in winter.
I have to admit though, that the “climate theory” can’t explain the friendliness of Canadians compared to Americans….
What about Vietnam’s climate? We visited Saigon in February and the temperature ranged from 20C to 34C. Can’t complain, especially if it’s just below 10C in Hong Kong. The sun was shining all day while Hong Kong was rainy. Vietnam is, similar to Thailand, hot the whole year. Make sure though that you don’t visit during the rain season when the whole country is visited by rain torrents.
So why should you go to Vietnam? Well, there’s one reason above all. The FOOD! Vietnam is a foodies paradise. Don’t even bother with fancy restaurants, just drop by one of the countless street restaurants and food stalls everywhere. How about a Vietnamese sandwich made of french bread, pate, Vietnamese salami and fresh vegetables? It is delicious, far more healthy compared to Western fast food and costs less than a dollar. These sandwiches are sold all over Saigon and fill you up for half a day easily.
But there’s more than that. Vietnam is home to the tastiest and most healthy fast-food I’ve come across so far. It just beats Chinese smelly tofu, jiaozi and fried noodles. In Saigon there’s an abundance of “Phoa shops”. These shops sell a bowl of noodles (Phoa) in soup with any kind of meat and vegetables. You also have the option to put dozens of different kinds of spices in there, guaranteeing a unique taste every time.
Apart from soup noodles make sure to order some Vietnamese spring rolls. These are better, tastier and healthier compared to the Chinese deep fried variation.
For dinner, head to Ben Thanh market. The market closes around 6pm, but from 8pm onwards the surrounding streets are transformed in a night market with restaurants. Don’t miss out on the delicious sea food. Just thinking of it makes my eyes water.
And then, there’s the coffee! I’ve been a huge coffee drinker back in Europe. But China’s a tea country. The only decent coffee you can get is the black water sold in half-litre buckets at Starbucks. And, honestly, calling that stuff coffee is an insult. It’s just black water with a horrendous price tag.
So I was more than surprised to taste the coffee in Vietnam. A simple ice coffee from a street vendor just blew me away. It’s strong, very strong, and tastes just like, well, coffee! No more black water, just really powerful stuff. You can even awake a dead person with this black liquid. First I was a bit skeptical. Coffee from a street vendor. The coffee is normally stored in an old plastic coke bottle. They put it in a cup, add a lot of ice (taken out of a dirty ice box), add some condensed milk (if needed). “Food poisoning, here I come” you might think. Being equipped with antibiotics and Immodium I didn’t fear anything and went for it. And not just for one. Over my four days in Saigon I had countless of ice coffees from the street – and not a single problem.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Vietnam.