Eating Gluten Free and Other Food Restrictions in Vietnam

Vietnamese food is among the most delicious in the world, and is generally very fresh and healthy.  However, food allergies and restrictions are less common here than in many parts of the world.  In fact, many people here may not even know what a food allergy is.  Because Vietnamese cuisine is quite versatile, there are always ways to accommodate for food allergies, as long as you can communicate what you are able and not able to eat.  Here are some words of advice on working around your restrictions while still enjoying the delectable treats this country has to offer!

NO GLUTEN

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free is not as difficult as it may seem because Vietnamese food is heavily rice-based. However, there are several things to be cautious about.  Most noodles, rice paper products, and rice sheets are primarily made of rice but they can often contain tapioca flour and wheat flour.  The best option is to stick with dishes with names that contain “com” (which translates to steamed rice).

Another important precaution is to avoid all dishes with soy sauce.  Those of you who adhere to a gluten free diet already know that most soy sauces contain wheat.  However, you may not know that many Vietnamese sausages and patés may also contain soy sauce and wheat products, even if you don’t detect the flavour in the food.  It is best to avoid processed meats altogether for this reason.  Fortunately, fish sauce is the primary condiment in Vietnamese food so flavour is not compromised if soy sauce must be eliminated.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Please note that if you wish to cook a meal at your home/hotel, gluten free products are available at An Nam Gourmet Grocery Store, located at 16-18 Hai Ba Trung Street.

Use these guides to communicate your restrictions to restaurant staff and to learn the names of foods you should avoid:

Gluten Free Translation Card 1
Gluten Free Translation Card 2

NO DAIRY/NO PEANUTS

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

 

 

 

 

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avoiding dairy in Vietnam is quite simple – avoid coffee with condensed milk and most sweets.  However, be cautious with bread products.  Some breads, especially white breads, will contain small amounts of milk.

Vietnamese food is much harder to navigate for people with peanut allergies.  Peanuts, and other nuts such as cashews, are ubiquitous in Vietnamese food – it is present as a garnish, as an oil for cooking, and is ground in sauces and condiments.  If you eat at a restaurant, you will have to rely solely on your communication skills and your willingness to trust the chefs!  However, please be aware that at a restaurant, even if your dish does not have peanuts, it is very likely that your food may have been in contact with them simply because nuts are a staple of a Vietnamese kitchen.  Pho or other soup-like dishes are usually a safe bet as it rarely contains nuts and nut oils, although you will still have to make sure the chefs know about your allergy.

To learn some key words in recognizing allergens in your food or to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff, please use the following:

No Dairy Translation Card
No Peanuts and Nuts Translation Card

VEGETARIANISM/VEGANISM

In Vietnam, people are able to find vegetarian and vegan food quite easily.  Vietnam has a heavy Buddhist influence and although most of the country eats meat, many people will eat vegetarian food once a week or during certain holidays and auspicious times.  For instance, according to Buddhist tradition, followers will eat vegetarian food on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month.  On these days, vegetarian restaurants may be packed with local residents.

There are many vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam who will cater to your dietary needs and many restaurants are strictly vegetarian.  But, if you are traveling with people who prefer eating non-vegetarian food, restaurants that cater to tourists are a safe option.  For example, in the backpackers’ district in Ho Chi Minh City, many local eateries not only offer a wide array of dishes but usually have a whole page of just vegetarian dishes.  Or, along the major tourist haunts such as Dong Khoi Street or the major shopping centres, the restaurants are quite accommodating to vegetarians.  However, one thing to be aware of is that although many local restaurants may not add meat to your food, avoiding condiments such as fish sauce may be difficult.  For particularly strict vegetarians, eating bread products here can be a problem as many baguettes are made with egg yolk.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Veganism is not too different from vegetarianism in Vietnam.  Western food items that distinguish the two such as dairy and honey are not as commonly used here.  Give the restaurant staff the following statements to ensure there are no meat products in your food.  If you want to take a hand at pronouncing these words, be extra cautious when saying the word for vegetarian (chay) as the colloquial word for dog meat is very similar (cay)!!

Vegetarian/Vegan Translation Card

The best way to navigate around your intolerances and allergies is to be prepared.  Print out the translation cards and communicate it with the restaurant staff and learn to recognize the key words.  Although it may seem challenging at first, it is entirely possible to have a unique and complete culinary experience here with a willingness to understand Vietnamese food ingredients.  Bon appétit!

We hope that you found this Vietnam Travel Trip from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful!  If you want to safely eat some amazing street food while in Saigon, you might consider booking our highly acclaimed “Foodie” tour by clicking HERE.

SAIGON TAXI AND CYCLO SCAMS – a comprehensive guide to avoiding taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh City

Taxi and transportation scams are a part and parcel of any large metropolis, and Saigon is no exception.  As a seemingly unsuspecting foreigner, you are the perfect prey for many taxi and cyclo drivers around the city.

Taxi drivers can be very shrewd and unwavering in their attempt to scam you.  Many tourists get into cars with broken meters or “quick” meters, get driven several kilometres in the wrong direction or even in circles, agree on a fixed price that is likely more than what the meter would cost, or take a “fake” taxi.  Some tourists have reported instances where the driver asked for a hefty tip at the end of the drive and refused to give them their luggage until they paid the tip.

**** If you would prefer to avoid dealing with taxis altogether, or if you’re arriving to Ho Chi Minh City very late and/or you have young children, we can highly recommend Drive Vietnam for the best Saigon airport transfers ****

The incidence of cyclo scams is just as frequent as taxi scams and sometimes more dangerous.  You will see cyclos on almost every corner in District 1 in Saigon just waiting for their next customer.  Cyclo drivers may scam you by agreeing on a price with you and demanding more after the trip by stating that the agreed price was only per person or per hour.  People have described situations in which a cyclo driver will drive a customer to an alleyway and demand more money while implying physical harm on the customer.  In fact, the city is making an effort to restrict cyclos to only certain parts of the city due to the large number of complaints.

Here are some important tips in avoiding taxi and cyclo scams.

TAXI SCAMS

Before the trip:

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city - the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city – the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

In Vietnam, the two taxi companies, Vinasun and MaiLinh, have proven to be most reliable (although scams still occur) in comparison to others.  Other companies do not have as strong of a reputation of good customer service.  MaiLinh taxis are either all green or all white with green.  Vinasun taxis are white with green and a red stripe.  Both these companies require their drivers to wear a tie.  And, check the dashboard for the picture of the driver and make sure it matches.  Beware of taxis with slightly varied names – Ma Linh, Vinasune, and more!

 

The MaiLinh fleet also contains vehicles that are all green.

The MaiLinh fleet also contains vehicles that are all green.

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

 

 

Beware of fakes!  Look closely - the name of this "company" is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

Beware of fakes! Look closely – the name of this “company” is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

The Tan Son Nhat airport is a prime location for taxi scams.  As you come out of international arrivals, walk to your left towards the taxi stand.  At the domestic terminal, walk across the street and you should see a taxi attendant.  Let him/her know that you only want either a Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxi.  While waiting at a taxi stand at the airport, you do not have to take the next available taxi.  Saigon Air Taxi has a monopoly at the airport but try to avoid them in favour of Vinasun or MaiLinh.  Feel free to wait if you don’t see one and if anyone pesters you, let them know clearly that you are waiting for a car from one of these two companies.  Please note that MaiLinh and Vinasun are reported to have established a tourism desk inside the airport, although some people have said that they are hard to find.  Hiring a taxi from the desk eliminates a lot of hassle but they do charge a small premium.  Alternatively, the safest (and cheapest) option is to take Bus No. 152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market.  As you exit the international terminal, look to your right and you will see the Bus waiting across from the Burger King.  If you cannot see it, ask a uniformed guard at the airport.  Note that many taxi drivers may try to give you false information.  The bus fare is 5000 VND per person and 5000 VND per bag – try to have exact change.  The bus only runs until 6 PM.  Once you reach Ben Thanh Market, the taxi fares to your hotel will be substantially lower.

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market is a cheap and hassle-free alternative to a taxi

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market is a cheap and hassle-free alternative to a taxi

It is also very important to understand your route.  Look at a map and take note of the general direction in which you need to go.  Understanding the layout of the city will help immensely if the driver is really driving you around in circles or taking you somewhere completely different than where you want to go.  Understanding the route will also help you determine where to flag a taxi.  Walk to the nearest intersection or corner where you can see a clear route towards your destination.  Saigon has many one way streets and it is very easy for a driver to take a longer route with the excuse that he is avoiding the one ways.

During the trip:

Always use a meter!  Insist on it when you enter a taxi.  A legitimate meter will turn on automatically as you start driving.  However, you may encounter taxi cars with “broken” meters or jumping meters.  Pay attention to how much the meter goes up by as you drive and ensure that it goes up consistently.  To give you a general idea of how much a taxi ride should cost, most companies charge between 12000 – 14000 VND at the start or the ride and the first kilometre or so.  The fare goes up by 1200 – 1400 VND every additional 200 metres.  Saigon is a relatively small city so if you have a rough idea of how far your destination is, you will know how much a reasonable fare is.  For instance, from Tan Son Nhat Airport to somewhere in District 1 should be roughly 150,000 VND.

Most importantly, be very clear on where you want to go.  Know the address and write it down if you have to.  It is all too easy for the driver to say that they did not hear you or understand you.  Pronunciations are quite tricky in Vietnamese so unless you are extremely confident in your language skills, write down the name and address of your destination.  Please note that if you do write anything down, the accents and tones are essential.

After the trip:

Tipping for taxis and cyclos is not expected in Saigon.  If a driver demands a tip, do not feel obliged to give him more money unless you feel that you want to reward them for their work.  If you do give the driver a tip, 5-10% of the total price is more than enough.  Some instances have been reported where the taxi driver has withheld the customer’s luggage until receiving extra payment.  It may be good practice to make sure the driver opens the trunk as soon as you arrive at your destination.  Or, if you are traveling in a group, let one person remove the luggage while the other pays.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of a scam, there are a few things you can do.  The first is try and negotiate as much as you can – whatever their demand is, start with half and be as steadfast as you can.  You can also try taking a photograph of the driver of car – that tends to intimidate them.  In the event that you feel physically threatened, try to bluff and say you’re calling the police or pay an amount that will allow you to leave the situation.  However, tourism is very important to the Vietnamese economy so is it highly unlikely that drivers will hurt tourists.

CYCLO SCAMS

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

If you are certain that you would like to take a cyclo, only book them through your hotel or tourism company.  Many cyclo drivers around the city speak English well enough to sweet-talk tourists into hiring them.  However, be aware that you are more likely to be scammed by these independent cyclos versus the ones you book through a hotel.  In order to avoid overpaying for their service, hone your negotiating skills!  Bargaining is very important in Saigon.  Even if you are not bargaining the price much lower than what is offered, you must do it just on principle.  If you don’t bargain, it will be a signal to the driver that you will give into their demands.

Before you start the ride, be very clear on what the price agreement is.  Make sure you understand what the total price is and what it includes.  You should be clear on whether your agreed price is per person, per hour, or a total price regardless of number of people or amount of time.  Writing it down and confirming with the driver may help to eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding.  Also, if you are using a cyclo throughout the day and the driver will have to wait for you while you sightsee, make sure that the total price includes waiting time as well. Finally, if you are taking a cyclo as simply a means of transportation rather than for the novelty, we recommend that you take a taxi as cyclo scams have the potential to be more dangerous.

Although it may seem daunting to have to be on edge and alert the very minute you are in need of transportation, many scams are quite easy to spot.  Simply remember the key points and use your street sense.  Safe travels!

We hope you found this post from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful.  For more amazing Vietnam Travel Tips, please revisit our blog regularly!

5 great ways to relax in Saigon!

Honking horns, throngs of motorbikes, packed pedestrian sidewalks, street vendors on every corner selling everything from greeting cards to charcoal-grilled delicacies, and the intense afternoon heat are all attributes that make Ho Chi Minh City a dynamic and bustling metropolis.  With constant stimulation every second spent in the city, vacations in this lively setting can get quite exhausting.  The perfect solution to rejuvenate your senses is just around the corner.  Here are a few suggestions on how to find your personal oasis in a thriving city.

 

Escape in the Greenery:

Van Hoa Park

In a city with tens of thousands of motorbikes and cars, rush hours can become overwhelming after a while.  A retreat into a lush, green space can be an excellent recharge.  Fortunately, Ho Co Minh City has beautiful parks that may make you feel, for an instant, that you are in a different world altogether.  The Cong Vien Van Hoa Park is an excellent place to escape the afternoon sun, people watch, and admire the sculpture art placed throughout the space.  An old clubhouse in the centre of this park pays homage to the French colonial period in Vietnam – a must see!  Another favourite is the Cay Xanh Park (literally translated as Green Tree Park).  Join along with the many Tai Chi enthusiasts who frequent this park or take some time to enjoy the view of the city through the trees.

Cong Vien Van Hoa Park – enclosed within the streets Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Truong Dinh, Nguyen Du, and Cach Mang Thang Tam.

Cay Xanh Park – located at the corner of Vo Thi Sao and Hai Ba Trung.

 

Escape in the Sky:

strata-restaurant-cafe

Ho Chi Minh City’s urban spread seems to be outward not upward, but it’s a matter of quality versus quantity.  Even though this city is not packed with skyscrapers, many of them have beautiful rooftop terrace restaurants and bars – a great way to see the bustle from a distance.  As packed as the streets are during a busy work day, sitting on the rooftop with a chilled drink in hand makes the city seem vast and spacious.  Visit the 50th floor restaurant of the Bitexco tower for breathtaking views from the highest eatery in the city, enjoy a cocktail at Chill Skybar, or relax in the garden rooftop of the Rex Hotel.

The Strata Saigon at the Bitexco Tower – enjoy High Tea from 2:30-5:00PM for VND 350,000 per person.

Chill Skybar – open from 5:30PM-2:00AM daily with different genres of music on each night of the week; choose drinks or food from an eclectic menu; strict dress code; www.chillsaigon.com.

Rex Hotel Rooftop – world class food, cocktails, and snacks enjoyed throughout the day; located at 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, www.rexhotelvietnam.com.

 

Escape in Literature:

To some, the perfect relaxation activity means curling up with a hot cup of coffee and delving into a riveting piece of fiction and giving one’s mind a gateway into imaginary bliss.  Well, fear not!  Ho Chi Minh City has some of the most unique coffee shops where not only can you sample Vietnam’s prized crop at its finest but also peruse the shelves of novels for something you fancy.  Try the PNC Book Cafe in District 1 or Hub Cafe, another popular haven for readers.  For the multi-linguists, Hub Cafe has a wide selection of Vietnamese and foreign language books!

PNC Book Cafe – 2A Le Duan Boulevard, open from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Hub Cafe – 18A Cong Hoa Street, Tan Binh District.

 

 Escape into Nirvana:

Giac Lam Pagoda

As hectic as Ho Chi Minh City can be, finding refuge in a spiritual haven may be just the thing to re-energize one’s mind and body.  Temples and pagodas are at the heart of Vietnamese faith and spirituality.  These architectural marvels can be found all over the city and some of the oldest ones also have a rich religious, and sometimes political, history.  Each temple has a special significance – some are frequented by people seeking prosperity and some for fertility.  Chua Ong Pagoda is popular among those praying for wealth and fortune but can get quite crowded throughout the day.  The Giac Lam and Emperor Jade pagodas are also popular tourist destinations but are hauntingly beautiful in their architecture and feel.  For a quieter path to inner sanctity, visit the Chua Ba Thien Hau pagoda near the Chinese area of Ho Chi Minh City.

Chua Ong Pagoda (Ong Bon Pagoda) – 264 DL Hai Thuong Lan Ong.

Giac Lam Pagoda – 118 Lac Long Quan Street, open hours between 5:00 AM to 12:00 PM, no admission charge but feel free to donate if you wish.

Jade Emperor Pagoda – 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, open hours between 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM; as is the case with most pagodas, feel free to donate if you wish.

Thien Hau Pagoda – 710 Nguyen Trai Street.

 

Escape to the Water:

The Deck Saigon

To get away from the hectic city noises, a soothing place to find refuge are the scenic banks of the Saigon River.  The river snakes around the entire city so there are many places to access the tree-lined river banks and find a place to sit and enjoy the view.  For an instant sense of peacefulness, stand at the quay in District 1 and watch the silhouette of fishermen along the river during a beautiful evening sunset.  Or, take part in Yoga on The Deck at the The Deck Saigon restaurant for an invigorating experience in a calming setting.

Fishermen watching at the pier – sunset usually occurs between 5:30 and 6:15 PM.

Yoga on The Deck Saigon – between 250000 VND and 300000 VND admission; weekend classes include a croissant and juice; see thedecksaigon.com/yoga-on-the-deck for more details.

Best of luck in creating an urban relaxation experience during your adventures in Ho Chi Minh City!

We hope you enjoyed this Vietnam Travel Tip brought to you by XO Tours, voted one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City by the users of Tripadvisor!

A review of our “Foodie” tour by a renown New York Chef

Here is an excerpt from the food diary of Mario Tolentino, a New York Chef and winner of The Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2010.  Mr. Tolentino, a street food fanatic, decided to take part in our “Foodie” tour on August 6th, 2011.  He was kind enough to send his review of “The Lunch Lady” and our very own “Foodie” tour to me, and to say that we are flattered and ecstatic about his remarks would be an understatement!  Thanks Mario!

Here is what he wrote:

Nighttime foodie tour

I want touch on 2 eating experiences

1- lunch lady day 2

I started my day at the War Remnants Museum, it was a big eye opener to not only see the Vietnamese view of the war but also just to learn about this epic failure of a war, the parallels of our current Afghan war are undeniable. As they both were wars against terror, meaning only terrible things happen. I left the museum shook, sad and disturbed so there was only one remedy, LUNCH LADY!!

I arrived right at 11am, when she begins serving and there were around 10 people waiting for her “secret ingredient” soup. She greeted me with a huge inviting smile I almost felt like she remembered me from the day before. I take my seat and it was like she was sending me an amuse for having to wait and the fresh shrimp spring rolls hit the table with it’s sweet spicy peanut sauce. The roll itself has vermicelli rice noodle, a herb called morning glory, garlic chives, cilantro, lettuce and steamed shrimp. The peanut sauce is not like the kind you get in the states with your satay. It is heavy with the tamarind paste and has pickled carrot & daikon, crushed peanuts and crushed chilies. Great start!! Since I arrived last of the early guests I observed what the soup contained a Thick “macaroni” like rice noodles with a pink hue in a light but flavorful pork broth, blood cake, sliced ham, steamed sausage, pink plump shrimp, quail egg and various herbs. The ecoutremants are lettuce leaf, and this very light, airy and crisp fried breadstick, intended to be used to sop up the broth, lime and fermented spicy shrimp paste.  Absolutely ethereal! The pork and shrimp combination is very common in SEA and the rich porky broth only enhances this combo. The blood cake is much more mild then I anticipated and the irony slightly bitter taste actually serves an important purpose to cut the intense flavor. I throw in the “croutons” and they soak up the liquid like a sponge while still retaining it’s texture and integrity. Slurping up the thick noodles also give the soup a fun aspect. At my feet are exotic chickens and rooster, I look up and take notice to something, what’s that I hear?!? NOTHING! Only the quiet slurping of soup and noodles. Fully satisified I pay my tab and zoom off. Already thinking about my biggest treat of my stay, a night time foodie tour.

The company is called XO tours and is rated number 1 in every genre for things to do in Sai Gon, My guide Nga, pronounced Nee-yah promptly arrives at my hotel to pick me up. It has been raining for the past 3 hours and I considered canceling but decided to man up and brave it in the rain. It was cool to be on the back of a moto and not have to worry about navigating. I jump on with a plastic poncho and off we go into the smoky soaked Saigon  streets.

Our first stop is laterally 2 blocks from my hotel!?!! I was like, what the hell!?! Great another SEA scam, they’re not going to take us anywhere good! But they served us a bowl of soup, it was good, but nothing compared to my earlier experience with the lunch lady. As I’m slurping away the other guests on the tour arrive, I can’t remember their names but it was a British couple and their two Vietnamese scooter hostesses and the owner of the company Tung. They sit down we introduce ourselves and I can’t believe my ears, Tung has an American accent! He grew up in Texas it was actually comforting as traveling alone I really haven’t met or spoken with many ppl from the states.

Side note – travelers I have met and chatted with German, British (largest group), Thai, Canadian, Dutch.

My hostess Nga, confessed that Tung was very nervous for me to go on the trip, I asked why? She said, oh he looked you up and say you very famous chef. I laughed!! I said no I’m not famous, just a chef. Actually, when I first booked my reservation Tung was adamant about clarifying that this wasn’t fancy food and we would be dining on street food. I replied to him yeah I know that’s what I’m looking for! I always forget about the auto signature at the bottom of my emails.

Ok back to the food tour, it was fun to be on the back of the moto, I was able to take videos. Our second stop is in Chinatown, it was raining so we weren’t able to get the full experience of the night market but it was cool to ride thru, Nga told me how everything is on sale at this night market and only on sale at night. It was about a 30-40min ride from stop 1-2. Tung, then told us that are next stop was going to be a popular hotpot spot that is only frequented by locals.

And all 3 of us are excited. As I’m riding along, Nga is very informative, bright, funny and witty! She tells me about all the things we are riding by. We also talked about other foods and she mentions that one of her favorite things is bulot! (Baby chicken embryo) **edit: it’s actually duck embryo**.  I asked her if I would have the opportunity to try it. I think the girl thought I was kidding but I didn’t let up and after riding for 30-40min she pulls over to a small cart on the side of the road and gets 2 chicken eggs and 2 quail eggs! We ride another 5 min or so and we arrive at the spot. We are noticeably the only westerners in the place, as the moment we duck under the tent all eyes turned too us. Especially the British couple the lady was tall, blond hair, blue eyed and stuck out like a sore thumb. But they quickly put our table together and bring us beers, set up the little habachi grill and load the table with their specialty goat. Yup goat, not lamb, not mutton, straight up goat! But before I can dive into the specialty of the house I must eat the quail egg and bulot while it’s still hot. Quail egg is no problem because it is so small, so on to the next.  Nga gives me a demo, first you take a spoon and crack the wider end of the egg and peel away just a bit of the shell and drink the liquid inside. Ok…… so I go for it and it was absolutely delicious!! It tastes like chicken consommé light in texture and heavy on chickeny flavor. Well this is a great start!! My beer arrives right on time! Moments before it is time to tackle the rest. Nga sets me up with a mixture of salt, pepper, crushed chilies and lime juice also thai basil and a commonly used  amazingly complex herb named morning glory (it has a minty, cilantro, lemony, bitter taste) I begin to peel away the hot shell and can see the chick clearly now take a spoonful of the mixture and take a bite……not bad, got a good amount of yolk, familiar taste, and a livery type tast, also familiar. But I still have a large amount to go, take a bite of basil, morning glory and a swig of beer to prepare for the next bite. There is no real way to take a bite, I douse it in salt mixture and pop the whole thing in my mouth!! WOW!! Flavor this time is more livery and the texture is of rubber!! And since I took such a large bite I had to stop take a breath, stuff basil in my mouth… man up and chew, and chew, and chew half way thru I’m like what have I gotten myself into!! I take another spoonful of salt mix and a few more herbs and finally get the rest of it down! This was the only time I can remember in my life that I ate something that gave me that level of adrenaline! I conquered it the table applauded and I’m ready for my goat! The flavor o the goat is odd not at all like lamb, but unmistakably red meat. It actually had almost a bacony type quality and of course the char was my favorite part.  Tung explained to us that this is the breast of the goat.  They also brought us shrimp in a delicious chili marinade. We set off to our next destination.

Our ride continues off into areas unknown to most foreigners. Another 30min until we reach our next destination. Tung explains that this place has his favorite dessert, we would be sampling 2 types. 1 – coconut gel served in the shell. 2- a creme caramel with ice and Vietnamese coffee. The coconut dessert had two layers, the top was white thick fatty and rich, while the bottom was very dense and jelly in texture but clear and light in flavor. I love coconut so this dessert is right up my alley. I love flan! An this creme caramel was no exception what made it unique was the crushed ice and strong coffee. I must also note the the silky, creamy texture, was perfection and a obvious expert created this dish, I loved them both but preferred the flan.

Tung informs us too save room we still have our seafood stop!! We enter the next district and it is back to the densely packed streets. We arrive at a our place and we are all excited for what is to come. Oh yeah, after hearing Nga speak so highly of her favorite dish I have requested the grilled chicken feet, common in these parts. The first dish is chili crab, small fresh water blue crab claws, wok fried with a lot of chilies and garlic!! Perfect!! Then we get a steaming pile of small razor clams in gravy with the sauted stalk of the morning glory! Unbelievable taste, as this surf clam has the intensity of the sea, mixed with the richness of the gravy, and complex herbaceous quality of the morning glory. Another home run!! Then my favorite dish of the evening, small scallops grilled in the shell, with butter scallions and crushed peanuts!! This dish had it all buttery scallop, bright oniony flavor, great texture with the peanuts, simple but so incredible!!  I turn to look at the grill an seeing the cook fanning and stoking the coals and meticulously rotating the chicken feet to grilled perfection. I’m not kidding, these feet blow chicken wings out of the water!!! I’m going to make this when I get home to eat, it’s the best part of the chicken, it’s basically grilled chicken skin, gelatinous fatty minute amounts of meat and just an intense chicken flavor. I could taste the marinade which I deduced was the same chili marinade the other place used on the shrimp so it must be standard.

This tour has been one of the highlights of my entire trip! They really bring you to tucked away hidden gems you would never know to go and definitely wouldn’t be able to reach on your own. The guides, mine in particular, are charismatic, funny, informative, personable and safe easy drivers! Tung has hit a home run!! Put it all together and it is no surprise that it has been so well received. It really doesn’t matter if your a newbie trying to push your boundaries, a hardcore foodie, or even a highly trained chef, this tour can and should be enjoyed by all!!

Mario Tolentino
Can Cook Cuisines