Published: 03:16 Wednesday - November 30, 2016
Phuong is a young girl who has adopted traveling and photography as her hobbies. Her latest journey lasted 34 days, starting south and ending north, with scores of dishes captured to bring home.
Stopping in Hoi An, an ancient coastal town in central Vietnam, Phuong had a chance to live the cheap life of a backpacker paying VND5,000 ($0.25) for red rice porridge. The rice is cooked with less water than usual, giving it a thick texture that goes smoothly with sauteed fish and green melon. Being a coastal delicacy, the dish features various species of fish, depending on the season, guaranteeing quality no matter what.
Fish sauce rice is another rice-based dish, only drier. The dish is a hidden dragon which leaves even a seasoned traveler in awe. Also priced at $0.25, the dish is available on a street named Thai Phien in Hoi An.
Passing Hue and other central provinces, she arrived in Lai Chau Province where she treated herself to grilled duck, apple wine, roast pork and bamboo shoot soup. The scarcely populated borderland in Lai Chau is typical of northern Vietnam, with mostly ethnic minorities living close to nature, resulting in the appearance of many forest foods like bamboo shoot, spices and leaves. Gastronomy there reflects the climate through the heavy use of hot spices and cooking methods that require an open fire.
Moving on to Y Ty, Lao Cai Province at 1,000 meters above sea level, she opted for pho with horse meat, a meat more popular at this altitude and said to be better than beef with fewer calories. After the mutated pho, Phuong went for ‘thang co’, only to vow never to try it again. The dish is cooked in a hot pot with all kinds of offal. Food left unprocessed in the small intestine creates the distinct smell of ‘thang co’ that attracts its own fandom and an army of haters much like the way durian does. All the dishes there are cooked bland, kept boiling and served hot with unrefined salt so its consumers can fight the humid cold that blankets the whole area.
In Sa Pa, the grilled food reigns. At night, the whole city reeks of grilled meat, giving life to the emptiness of the cold mountainous town.
Phuong even had a chance to taste grilled chicken at 2,100 meters above sea level in the best way possible: at a local’s home. The most basic way of cooking that has followed humans since they discovered fire is still the method of choice when it comes to a fun eating experience. Not many things can rival a group surrounding a fire waiting for the chicken to get done in the cold of mountains.
After the horse meat pho, Phuong once again had another twist of pho, this time with poultry. Roast duck served with local sauce will change all your conceptions of the pho that earned its name in the Oxford English Dictionary. __ VNA