A Travellerspoint blog

Food blog #3: Un voyage gourmand en Vietnam et Laos

Fried grasshoppers

Fried grasshoppers

One of the highlights of our trip so far has been the things we have "consumed" en route. Our journey into Vietnam and Laos, with a cycling appetite to boot, only served to increase the appeal of the local delicacies on offer. To whet your appetite, here is our top 10 of some of the food items we mostly dared to try...

#10 Morning Glory
What is the story, I hear you ask...? Well this green vegetable, best described as a cross between spinach, broccoli and cabbage, turned up consistently on our plates throughout Vietnam and Laos. It was fried. It was in soup. It was in curry. It may even have made it into the spring rolls. After about a week of consistently appearing on our dinner table, it began to yield a morning glory groan from the group. It's not that we don't like it. But it's Morning Glory! Chris and I thought that we'd made our escape on a desert island off the coast of Cambodia, but what should we find at the one and only restaurant: a new combination: Morning Glory in Oyster Sauce!

#9 Peanuts, unripened
It sounds unlikely, but in a small village near Tu Le, some local women offered us unripe monkey nuts, in the shell. Curious, we acceped the kind offer...They are eaten whole, shell included, dipped in a sauce made from salt, lime, garlic and fresh corriander. They certainly made my taste buds zing, but had to be washed down abruptly with some local sweets!

#8 Cobra Wine (with full length cobra)
We happened upon this interesting tipple in Muong Lai: a large glass flagon of the strong stuff, complete with coiled cobra inside. According to Phong, our Vietnamese guide, this drink "makes you strong". He wasn't referring to cycling. At $500 for the whole flagon (including cobra) we could all think of cheaper ways to achieve the same effect... At Tu Le, we tried a less venomous alternative: Bee Wine. This was exactly as described above, except there was an entire graveyard of bees nestling at the bottom of this flagon. Oh, and you could purchase by the glass, mouthful of bees excluded.

A sticky end...

A sticky end...

#7 Roast Dog
So I was quietly ambling through a village south of Hanoi when I had my first encounter with dog (the kind which didn't involve being chased). Two of the said woofters were being roasted on an open fire at the side of the road. One of my cycling buddies (who shall remain nameless) later asked me how I knew it was dog. The only honest answer I could give was that it basically looked like one, with the fur singed off and a spit stuck up its arse. It was clearly a dog. Or should I say an 'ex-dog'. I later learned from David, our tour leader, that this must have meant that it was "dog time of the month". What he really meant to say was that for two weeks in the month the Vietnamese consider it bad luck to eat it, for the other two weeks it is good luck (this works the other way around for the dog of course). In Sapa, two of our group, David and John, joined Phong on an excursion to sample dog "five ways", or so it sounded from their descriptions of the feast. Fortunately I was held up in a pizza restaurant at the time, otherwise I would have taken my turn at exacting revenge! In case you're wondering, it tastes like chicken.

#6 Mekong Riverweed
This is a must for anyone travelling near the Mekong. I know it sounds unappetizing, but this is a genuinely tasty snack. Sold like paper, in A4 sheets in the local markets, it is then fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I got my first tasting courtesy of Chris Morfas' laotian pizza on our first night in Luang Prabang - thanks buddy! Yum!

#5 Tarte au chocolat
One of the advantages of travelling through countries the French invaded, is the quality of baked goods on offer, and the Baguette au Chocolate cafe in Sapa did a wicked line in patisserie. Our rest days from the bike were generally characterised by a need to forage for cake, and it didn't take Chris and I long to bring home one of these tarts! Delicious crispy pastry, with a goey chocolatey filling: so good it had the rest of the group drooling when I stopped to savour my purchase at one of our tea stops. I was guilt free though - those without cake had ridden straight past the shop that morning on a steep incline out of Sapa. The bike had wanted to stop, I had wanted to stop, and the tart was shouting my name!

[i]Tarte au chocolat!

Tarte au chocolat!

#4 Grasshoppers
Now we're getting to the business end of this blog entry. Phong introduced us to this local snack in Tu Le. Phong seemed to operate on a principle of "if it flies, it fries", and so I was somewhat surprised to find only grasshoppers on my plate that evening. One hopper would have been sufficient. But with a wry smile, Phong enthusiastically uptipped the bowl into mine, adding some serious crunch to my noodles. The only way I can describe the taste of a grasshopper is that there were notable overtones of the farmyard (thank you Oz Clarke). I passed on the opportunity for seconds.

Phong, our grasshopper man

Phong, our grasshopper man

#3 Silkworms
Of the weird things I've eaten, this comes pretty far up the list. As Phong waggled one of these in front of my nose in Tu Le, I recoiled in horror: this was becoming a bush tucker trial for only the hardiest of the group, would I survive? Silkworms look like witchetty grubs, and in my imagination this one was already crawling down my throat. After a moment to let my stomach settle, and make an objective decision, I thought 'what the hell' and gave one a try. Fried silkworm tastes a lot better than it looks. It is the texture of a soft-ish jelly bean, and is a lot less "farmyard" than the hoppers.

#2 Beer Lao
No blog of mine on conspicuous consumption could be complete without mentioning this old favourite. Beer Lao was the perfect way to quench a cyclist's thirst on a hot day, and also one of the few straightforward ways I found to understand the relative spending power of Dong and Kips (beer has its uses...) It was great for group bonding, and is now being sorely missed in Cambodia! However, when combined with a bicycle and the merest of "undulations" Beer Lao also had a tendancy to lead to the debilitating condition known as "beer legs", reducing performance (on the bike) by upwards of 50%... As a footnote to this particular entry, I have just spent the evening with Chris Morfas in Siem Reap where we managed to find genuine bottles of Beer Lao. Never has a beer tasted so good, and the reminiscing gone on so long (apologies to the restaurant staff at the Khmer Kitchen).

By far the best thirst quencher of the trip so far

By far the best thirst quencher of the trip so far

#1 Lao Lao
So good they named it twice! Those on our trip will know why this is number 1...It looks like water, tastes like water, comes in a water bottle, and like water comes hangover free (Dominique and I tested this theory on an entire bottle of the stuff one night, and woke up the following morning unscathed. We think). But this where the resemblance ends. At anywhere between 5 and 10 times the strength of a Beer Lao, Lao Lao is efficient stuff, leading one to become swiftly and seriously squiffy. It was the forger of some great friendships, and comedy moments, but drinker beware: it can lead to "crambling". Let the good times roll!

A not so innocent bottle...

A not so innocent bottle...

What happened today Dominique?
This morning you hardly did speak
Perhaps you should vow
To stay off the Lao Lao
And no crambling for the rest of the week

Dominique and I get squiffy

Dominique and I get squiffy

Posted by jparsons 04:28 Archived in Laos Tagged food vietnam laos cycling

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Comments

"The only honest answer I could give was that it basically looked like one, with the fur singed off and a spit stuck up its arse. It was clearly a dog."

Hilarious!

by Andrew

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.

Login