In Vietnam: Fun Food Tripping in Ho Chi Minh City
November 18, 2016
One of the reasons a lot of travelers love to explore is, no doubt, food. Whether you travel in the Philippines or abroad, trying out local cuisines and delicacies is always included in the plan. I'd like to call it - livin' la vida local!
It's been exactly a month yesterday since our epic 10-day backpacking trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand and this is only my third blog post about it. I can imagine so much more to come but I love tackling it in bits and pieces so that it won't be overwhelming.
Contrary to what people think, I actually eat a lot but maybe not one time, big time kind of eating (which explains why I can barely survive all-you-can-eat restaurants). During the planning stage of our trip, I was assigned to research about food. But of course, plans are not always followed to a T.
Also, thinking that we are going to try food that we're most likely not familiar with - I brought a gazillion Diatabs, just in case my tummy disagrees with what I'm eating. Lol - but you find that it isn't funny anymore when you're in that unfortunate situation. Thankfully it didn't happen to me although I was worried sick it could happen in the most inconvenient time and place (like while in a 6-hour bus trip, or while walking around the temples of Angkor Wat).
These are only a few of our funny food adventures.
We started the day by walking around the city looking for Independent Palace and the War Remnants Museum. We didn't book a tour so we had to use GPS and our interpersonal communication skills (a little mental telepathy on the side) to reach our destinations.
A bazillion motorcycles and scooters plus so many wrong turns after, we spotted this small coffee shop called Boba-Net Cafe and I suggested we take a rest and ask (also take advantage of the wifi). It looks so small outside but looks like an underground sort of thing inside.
If you know me well, you'd know I'd go for anything matcha - like this drink which costs VND30,000 (Vietnam Dong). The fun thing about being in Vietnam is that their currency sounds so big & expensive to us Filipinos because hello? 30,000? What? I can buy a cellphone or even a laptop with that money. But don't fret - it's really just Php 75 (with the exchange rate that time).
What I also noticed in Ho Chi Minh is that serving ice-cold water like the one below seems like an SOP. Every cafe or restaurant we went to always had this. It's not just water by the way. To me, it tasted like a drop of perfume was just added to it, not in a bad way though.
From what I've read, the ice in Vietnam is frozen at a central plant before being delivered to restaurants and stands. The water to make the ice is also filtered and pure. I loved it because it's always refreshing! And perfect because we just came from an alay-lakad (walk of sacrifice), lol.
There was one person who gave us some walking directions in English. Since Independent Palace would close by 11 am and it's almost lunch, we decided to just head to Ben Thanh Market. It's a big marketplace in District 1 and is very famous for locals and tourists.
We only had cup noodles for breakfast early that day so we decided to devour our food for lunch. I was kinda bummed because, no rice! But then again, the food was cooked in front of us and was fresh so I didn't have anything to complain about. I ordered wanton noodles soup and we shared some fried chicken. The soup tasted freshly sweet, perhaps because they added coconut water or juice to it.
It turned out that we didn't really eat much but we're solved! Off to our walkathon again!
After asking several locals for directions, we were still lost and couldn't find Independent Palace and War Remnants Museum. It seemed like we've already walked around the entire city! Which is partly true. Then there's this vendor who proactively showed us where the palace and the museum both are.
We're near! We're so delighted that someone we didn't ask was the only person who could lead us the way. After chitchatting with him, he then offered his fresh coconut juice for VND30,000. What a nice marketing strategy!
My friend, Makoy, bought one just to return the favor. And I guess he was very thirsty with all the walking and also wanted to sell coconut juice after having a taste of it.
Alas, we found what we were looking for - but we didn't go inside the palace anymore because we were so exhausted. We opted to just go inside the War Remnants Museum instead. Just right outside the museum was Highlands Coffee.
This is the story of the caramel phin frappe gone wrong -- I was naturally looking for matcha and told the lady about it but we had a sort of language barrier that resulted to a communication breakdown. Since I was so exhausted, I just pointed to whatever she recommended. Written on the menu was "caramel phin frappe". My brain just registered caramel and frappe so I just said, okay that's it.
I did enjoy my drink - although when I first tasted it, I blurted that the coffee content was too strong for me. I thought it was just caramel. I didn't realize that phin means Vietnamese drip coffee which is apparently stronger than the usual coffee. I didn't really mind it that moment even though I know from years back that I'm coffee intolerant.
It was when we went back to the hotel that everything happened - the heart palpitations/increased heart rate, dizziness, a bit of stomach pain, headache, and difficulty in sleeping. I was also nauseous and didn't quite enjoy dinner. It took some time for my heart to go back to its normal rate and thankfully, I was able to sleep after a few hours of just sitting.
Our second day in Ho Chi Minh included breakfast at -- teneng -- McDonald's. People always say "try the local food and be like a local" but ehhh, after the caramel phin incident the day before, we wanted to start the day with something familiar. So McDonald's it was.
We also had unintentional coffee shop hopping (minus coffee for me, of course). It's just that we had the entire day to chill and just feel the moment, walk around some more (as if we didn't have enough walking the day before), and just talk about life and throwback moments. Haha!
We spotted this nice coffee shop after purchasing tickets for our trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia the day after. It was big, nice and -- empty.
We ordered spaghetti, carbonara, and different kinds of milk shakes from their menu - but all of them were not available. Then we said: that's why the place is empty. We were served the usual water again (mentioned above).
Fortunately, they had an avocado shake for me and chocolate shake for Makoy. My friend, Alic, ordered fries that tasted like the previous whatever food was cooked in that same oil used to fry the fries. In short, the food was bad. We just stayed there until the rain stopped.
Alic couldn't get enough of Banh Mi. ;) I told you last time that I'll tell you why I didn't get to try it. Every time we see Banh Mi along the way, I was always full and didn't feel like eating plus I was concerned that my tummy would fail me. I didn't want to travel the next day with an upset stomach or something to that effect.
I mentioned on my previous blog post about Ho Chi Minh that food stalls are everywhere especially in District 1. I also showed this photo below. We brought some of these to the hotel for our midnight snacks in case we get hungry.
The photo below was our last dinner in Ho Chi Minh. It was surprisingly good! These were rice meals with fresh veggies and meat. It's funny because we just ordered three rice meals then they started putting the quail eggs and what looked like kamias or tree cucumber on our table.
Then we asked if they're free but the waiter said "no free" -- so turned out that everything we touched aside from what we ordered were not free. We were also served 3 glasses with ice but we didn't touch them because we just thought that maybe we had to pay for the ice. Lol!
Guys, when you're so hungry, your flat lay skills are usually put to test so this is the best I got without starving both of my friends in the process.
The next day, we woke up early to catch our 8:30 am bus. Honestly, I was too worried about getting an upset stomach that every time we needed to move to the next city, I'd skip a real breakfast. My bad!
I'd usually end up eating the free snacks courtesy of our bus. I only had this soup for breakfast before we embarked on our 6-hour bus ride to Phnom Penh which turned into 8 hours due to minor issues with the bus line. I was sooooooooo hungry after that trip.. more about it on my next post.
That's it for our food tripping adventures in Ho Chi Minh City. If you're wondering how much we spent for the food, you may or may not be surprised that everything was so budget-friendly, even McDonald's was not that bad. We budgeted Php 500 per day and I think it's already big enough. I even had a few paper bills left that I kept as memorabilia.