Growing up in New York and being introduced to a variety of cuisines helped save me from exhibiting a few untimely gasps when traveling overseas- raw fish in Japan, multicolored “styrofoam chips” from Thailand and anything that moves in China come to mind. However, Vietnam and its culinary palette must have caught wind of the awful flight delays at Newark and instead ended up in Louisiana, Orange County and Carthage, Missouri.
Which is to say, I had no idea what Ho Chi Minh’s City had in store for me eight years ago. So what’s a food traveler to do when he hasn’t done his research (in other words, refuses offers of MSG at every meal) and also habitually forgets about asking for drinks without ice? Explore the deal, that’s what.
And I did that with aplomb. Pho, spring rolls, snake fried rice, sweet and salty plum soda- can’t say I’m proud of that one, and longan ice cream, among other dishes, were notable selections. Notable in a good way.
On the flip side, we have purple “pottery paint,” or mắm tôm. Fermented shrimp paste. I was sitting in Bến Thành Market, a popular place to give your wallet some fresh air, and sat down for some aforementioned pho. Quite nice, especially for the first bowl I’ve tried. But beside the soup lay a mason jar of questionable merit. There was no label, though now that I think about it you never get a menu for condiments, so it is assumed the patron knows that when there are chili peppers, it’s spicy, and when it’s purple, it’s shrimp paste.
My delight for Vietnamese soup screeched to a halt after trying a spoonful, and because of that, I decided to try another spoonful. No good. Nope, though, what do you in the audience think?