Sometimes, I’m Not Brave Enough

I think it’s safe to say that, while on this journey, Marc and I have been pretty open minded about the food we’ve eaten.  Some of the nerds who have been reading this blog since we left will recall that we’ve tasted fresh, curried, goat in Rajasthan, century eggs in Hong Kong, betel leaves in Gujurat, beef spine in Korea, and – lest we forget – fermented horse’s milk in Mongolia.  All of these things required a certain degree of bravery, a certain forced ignorance of the contents of our mouths as we chewed and swallowed.   But sometimes, we just don’t possess the courage to eat the unusual.

CIMG3725.JPGMost recently, as we travel through a region whose inhabitants will glean sustenance from almost anything, we’ve come across a few things that have proved too much for our sissy Western palates.  There were the fried tarantulas being sold by a couple of women at one of the rest stops on our bus journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (I wasn’t even brave enough to take a photo, let alone taste one);  there were the crispy, deep-fried locusts which, again, I couldn’t bring myself to try;  and the fertilized duck eggs.   On  menus in Vietnam, we’ve seen ‘Fried Mouse with Onion’, ‘Fried Pork Hearts’, ‘Chopped Snake’, and a whole section dedicated to eels.  But  who am I to judge what is or isn’t edible?  At home, I eat oysters, snails, beef carpaccio and American cheese.  Thus, until I have tried any of these Asian menu items, I am just a pot calling a kettle black.

CIMG3738.JPGWhen we do get past the fried mouse though, there are some tasty things to be had in restaurants and from street vendors hereabouts.   We had a fantastic $0.80 lunch of BBQ pork with spicy vegetables and rice from a street vendor in Cantho, several marvelously delicious Vietnamese iced-coffees (we are up to 3 per day now),   and bright, fresh salad rolls dipped into spicy, peanuty, vinegar sauce.

It’s hard to prove but there seems to be an inverse relationship between the seediness of a food stand/restaurant and the brilliance of the food it produces:  the seedier the joint, the more tasty the food.  For example, on our first night in Saigon, we made it a priority to find and procure a decent bottle of wine to enjoy on the balcony  unexpectedly attached to our room in the guest house.  But what to consume with the wine?   After eating out so many times and for so long, there are times when we just want to stay in, and this was one of those times.  So, imagine how pleased we were to see a woman with a stall a block from our place selling Vietnamese sub sandwiches for $0.40.   Even better, there were a bunch of locals beating a path to her stall which is always a good sign.  We stepped right up to order two and watch as the fresh baguettes were filled with crisp veggies, a little soft, French cheese, and several kinds of unidentifiable meats and sauces.  When we got back to our balcony, I admit that I did open the baguettes and pick out the chunks of pork fat but otherwise, to quote Marc, “Those were the best forty-cent sandwiches I’ve ever had.”

CIMG3801.JPGAlso of note, are the frog’s legs and the pho (pronounced like the ‘fu’ in ‘full’), a lovely, beefy soup with rice noodles, fresh basil and lime.  How could we visit Vietnam and not have pho at least once every two days?   The version to beat is the one I had today at a place called Pho 2000 where, according to the prominently displayed photos, Bill Clinton visited for lunch.  His people must have known the right people in order to find this joint.

CIMG3744.JPGThe frog’s legs with mushrooms and garlic were something that Marc ventured to order while we were in Cantho.  I tried my first-ever bite of amphibian thigh and agreed that it tasted of chicken but with the delicate texture of a fish;  quite remarkable, actually.  The wine that he ordered, however, could be described as “grape juice with added alcohol” or as “a cross between a wild-berry vodka cooler and prison wine”.   Vietnam can cook a mean frog leg but it’s got a ways to go in the wine department.  I guess French colonialism can only penetrate so far.

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