Monday, March 7, 2022

Forget the burger, get me to some pho!

There are many characteristics that make Vietnam a special place - a rich cultural history, kind people, beautiful nature and above all great food. While almost all types of Western food are available in the country’s major cities, Vietnam features an abundance of delicious, cheap and healthy fare that can differ greatly by region.

With complex flavors and extremely fresh ingredients, some of the world’s top chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay, have made a point to highlight this country’s cuisine.

There’s no escaping rice in Vietnam and that’s a good thing. The country is a top-3 global exporter of the staple and it is present in almost every dish. I eat a lot of food in Vietnam but I most consistently eat soups, especially pho and hu tieu, both of which use rice noodles. Soups are eaten at every meal as the white meats used are filling but light. I love that soups are also highly customizable as one can add garlic, chilies, fish sauce, ponzo sauce, lime, sprouts, and fresh herbs. I love a good hamburger but with soup, I never feel weighed down after eating, allowing me to comfortably zip away on my motorbike with a satisfied pallet.

But there are times when I want something a bit more filling, so I usually go for a plate of com tam. When walking the streets during the lunch hour, streets are lined with windowed food carts. There are so many choices that after the initial feeling of being overwhelmed, I always pick something delicious.

Perhaps my favorite (or most romantic) aspect of food in Vietnam lies in its preparation. In western cities, there is little street life from 4am – 5am (save for a few people returning home from a night on the town). But in Vietnam, as dawn breaks, one will come across elderly ladies starting their charcoal stoves, setting up huge tin pots and cutting endless amounts of garlic and vegetables. It’s not only the connection to my stomach but also to the past as these dishes have been served in Vietnam for hundreds of years.

The biggest change to my diet after moving to Vietnam has been a re-framing of the “fast food” concept. While there are more KFCs and Lotterias (the Korean version of McDonald’s) popping up in the urban centers, fast food, for the most part, is comprised of soups and rice dishes. The effects of healthy food are evident in the Vietnamese people as obesity hardly exists in Vietnam.

With seemingly limitless choices, it’s no wonder that Vietnam has become a popular destination for foodie tourists the world over. As for me, my taste buds are very happy to be here.

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