Yes, yes, Travel Tuesday continues! In case you missed the last post – I’ve moved on to southern Vietnam and to Ho Chi Minh City – a city that gave us all a great dose of history and exploration. The big difference food-wise that I noticed at least between here and Hanoi was the introduction of more spice. I am a crazy fiend for anything and everything spicy (I put sriracha on pretty much everything) and for some reason I had thought all Vietnamese food would have some spice to it. I was a teeny tiny bit disappointed during our time in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay that I didn’t have anything with a kick to it. So by the time we ended up in Ho Chi Minh I was going through some serious spice withdrawal. That’s a thing. I swear.
On our first day in Ho Chi Minh, we weren’t quite sure where we should eat so we asked our hotel for a recommendation. Nha Hang Ngon is the place we chose from their list, (the others included a lot of BBQ and other clearly non-vegan friendly) and it was a terrific decision. The location was perfect – we were out wandering around the city and it was located very close to the Notre Dame Cathedral which was on our list of things to see. I was surprised how easily we were able to find it from there – just a short walk. The front of the restaurant was unassuming, but once you walked in it was really unexpectedly “fancy” (for lack of a better word). Now granted, when I went to the restroom I noticed the kitchen was pretty much just a few people sitting on stools stirring pots, but at this point in the trip that didn’t phase me. What did surprise me was the gorgeous pond/fountain and the indoor/outdoor feel they had going on. I was, of course, ecstatic when the menu arrived and there was an entire vegetarian section – which I had noticed in a few places around Vietnam. But this was a large section with one of my favorite spicy menu items – curry!
I absolutely can not turn down curry – especially during a spice withdrawal situation. I was beyond excited and needed to look no further on the menu, as my heart was set on spice. Now it was a little strange to me that it didn’t come with rice. Our American-ized view of Asian food means everything comes with a side of rice, right? Well, actually no. We learned this a lot over the course of the trip – often ordering it after we ended up with a bowl full of curry and no carbs to soak it up. It became a running joke on the trip – wait I NEEEEED MORE CARBS! I’m pretty sure I asked for rice with the curry. But it came out with a French-style baguette instead. Meh. Somethings get lost in translation. And a carb is a carb is a carb when it’s used as a vehicle to get more curry into my mouth. The baguette was just fine to soak up the deliciousness. And delicious it was. While still not make-you-sweat, burn-your-throat spice, it had a decent kick to it that I was so craving and it was packed with veggies and an interesting take on seitan or bean curd or some sort of faux meat that it took one of our meat-eating friends to try to convince us that it wasn’t, in fact, sneaky meat. (Note: my definition of sneaky meat is when there is meat snuck into something. For example: a what I thought was delicious side of mushrooms at a restaurant in LA was made with veal stock, as the waiter remarked after I told him how delicious it was. I immediately felt horrible. Sneaky. Meat.)
(Going a bit out of order here obviously – but I still can’t contain my curry love. Especially as I sit here this morning writing and staring at this bowl of curry. It’s 2014 – shouldn’t someone have come up with teleporting already?!) I digress… we started the meal with veggie spring rolls, which we started many a meals with. This is currently on my list of foods I am now withdrawal from as I’m back stateside. They were delicious, as most deep fried veggies are. They also came with a fun rice noodle. Which, of course, I used to soak up more of my curry. Because I neeed more carbs!
On a side note – I really think a lot of people could benefit from some Asian cooking examples. How could you not love veggies when they’re mixed with a great sauce and served in so many different ways? Even for my meat-eating fellow travelers, when they order dishes, there’s a small amount of meat and a lot of veggies and great sauce. I will be mentally keeping this note for the day I have children and need to convince them to eat vegetables. It sure beats the frozen vegetable medley microwaved with a bit of butter and salt I ate growing up. (sorry, Mom!)
Of course, what meal on this trip is complete without sticking a straw into a giant coconut? One of the best ways we found to re-hydrate in the 100 degree weather (with 90% humidity!) and how could you not want to drink it with the novelty of a giant coconut on your table? I think we went through about 3 during the course of this meal. All of that sightseeing will take its toll!
All in all, the food was delicious, the restaurant was really cool and had a great location. What’s not to love? It was also a good mix of locals on lunch hour and tourists. And I’m a firm believer if I can find a place where there’s more locals than tourists I want to eat there. I think the ratio was pretty good. If you find yourself wandering around Ho Chi Minh City any time soon, put this on your list for sure!