I could see myself moving to Vietnam just for their amazing food. It's not just the Pho or the Banh Mi but there is so much variety in this one little country. Even moving from north to south Vietnam there is a huge difference in flavor and the spices they use, let alone the dishes. While we enjoyed our few weeks in Vietnam, bingeing away, we encountered some rather interesting dishes. A few we did have the courage to try and a few were a big no. If you are a foodie like us, and you are not afraid to try something new, go ahead and try these ten dishes. Trust me they are not that bad!
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1. Duck Embryo or "Balut"
As weird as it sounds, Duck Embryo is a fertilized duck egg that is about 15-20 days post fertilization. While the egg takes about 30-35 days to hatch, so it is pretty much half way there already. This is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and is believed to increase virility or like our local friend says "it is good for the Man!". We had the opportunity to try this on our very first day in Ho Chi Minh City. I did not have the guts to try it but Vik did. It pretty much looks like a boiled egg and is typically served with kumquat,salt and pepper, chilly paste and Vietnamese mint. Vik claimed that it tasted pretty good. So next time you are walking around the market in Saigon and you happen to see a heap of boiled eggs, remember it's not just a boiled egg but a duck embryo, stop by and try some.
2. Snake Rice Wine or "Rượu Rắn"
This was probably the most intriguing drink I have ever seen. The Vietnamese believe that the medicinal properties of snakes can cure pretty much anything from hair loss to cancer. So they decided to dunk the snake in their wine too! The preparation is quite intriguing as well as disturbing. They drop an entire snake, usually alive, and sometimes a scorpion or two along with it into a jar of rice wine. It is left there to steep in the alcohol for several months to a year so that the ethanol can dissolve the venom and the alcohol can absorb the flavor and medicinal essence of the snake. It is then drank in small quantities. Snake rice wine is more common in the rural areas of Vietnam, although it is available in tourist shops for sale all over. We had the opportunity to try it in the Mekong river delta region. To me it just tasted like a really strong tequila. Word of caution: if you want to buy a bottle of this wine, you may want to check with your country as many of these snakes are considered endangered and you may get into trouble for bringing it back with you.
3. Pig's Ear
Take a walk in Ben Thanh Market, not the touristy side but the actual market where they sell meat and produce. (If you can tolerate the smell) You will find yourself amidst all sorts of body parts of all sorts of animals and seafood. An interesting sight we witnessed in the market was of a lady religiously shaving something thin and pink. When we asked around to find out what it was, we found out it was Pig's ears. We were quite taken aback but eventually found out that they like them pickled or fried in batter and sometimes they are used as salad topper when they are thinly sliced. We tried it with some papaya salad. It has a very chewy and cartilaginous texture. I personally didn't quite like it.
4. Egg Coffee or "Ca Phe trung"
The first thing in your mind after you read "Egg Coffee" is probably something on the lines of "Ewwwww" but trust me on this one. Egg Coffee is delicious! First an egg cream if made by blending egg yolks and condensed milk and whipping it together to form a smooth custard like consistency. This egg cream is then spooned over Vietnamese Coffee which is normally very strong. The sweetness of the egg cream cuts back on the bitterness of the coffee and they blend together to form a melodious symphony! Try it out in Hanoi in Giang Cafe, where it is believed to have originated from.
5. Civet Coffee or Weasel Poop Coffee
Considered the most expensive coffee in the world, averaging $700 for a kilogram, civet coffee is supposed to be the best. You are probably thinking "why would I pay $700 to eat shit?", well, technically you are not really eating shit. Apparently civets or weasels have the ability to choose the best coffee beans from the wild and when they ingest it they tend to swallow it whole rather than chew the flesh. So when the flesh gets digested the coffee beans get coated with an enzyme and it is defecated along with the poop. This poop is then collected, washed carefully to remove all the fecal matter, the beans are then let to dry and roasted to form coffee. The enzyme coating the bean renders a nice flavor to the beans. Now that you know you are not really eating shit, would you try Civet coffee? Word of caution: there are many traders out there claiming to sell civet coffee, while most of them are fake and you may end up paying hundreds of dollars for regular coffee. If you really want to buy civet coffee I recommend buying it from the many outlets of Huong Mai Cafe. If you want to visit the weasel farm they have them in Da Lat and the one to visit is Trai ham Da lat.
6. Banana Flower
The Vietnamese use all parts of the Banana tree just like in India. But the way they use the parts are so different. The leaves are used to steam food to render a green color to it. The stem is used in cooking and so is the Flower. The ever so delicious Banana Flower Salad is a must try while in Vietnam. You can order it at any traditional Vietnamese restaurant. They use only the petals of the Banana flower to make the salad and it has a nice crunch to it.
7. Jumbo Snails with lemongrass
I'm not a huge fan of snails, but these snails with the hint of lemongrass were quite delicious. I have never seen snails this big ever. Each shell was as big as your fist. They even serve them barbecued, but we found them to be a bit tougher than the ones in lemongrass. Definitely a must try!
8. Ostrich Meat
Vietnam isn't the first thing that comes to your mind when I say "ostrich". But guess what they do like their ostrich meat. Well, ostrich is not native to Vietnam, but apparently the government received 100 ostrich eggs as a gift 10 years ago and since then they have bred ostriches, established many farms and even use Ostriches for tourism purposes in some ares. If you really want to try something wacky you could ride an Ostrich in a few of the farms in Hon Thi island. We tried some ostrich meat in Phu Quoc island. It was a little tougher than chicken but people say it tastes like lean beef (we don't eat beef, so we can't comment). Ostrich meat is supposed to have good health benefits and with it being very lean it is encouraged over pork or beef.
9. Chicken Feet
You haven't really lived like a local if you haven't sat on the tiniest stools on the sidewalks of Saigon or Hanoi and enjoyed a mug of local beer with a side of Chicken feet! If you can bear the sight of chicken feet and give it a go, you may actually enjoy eating them. Every table beside you is probably munching on these. They are more of an evening to late night snack that you enjoy with your Bia Hoi or local draught Beer. I must admit it is an acquired taste. There really isn't much flesh, they are more cartilaginous but still pretty good. The other common bar snack is sunflower seeds.
10. Porcupine Meat
We did not get to try this one but we have heard great things about the porcupine dishes. Porcupine is a sought after delicacy in Vietnam. It is a little hard to find in the cities but if you venture out into the rural areas you probably could get yourself a bowl of porcupine meat with various dipping sauces.