Annie Bananie en Europe

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Eating in Southeast Asia, part 2: Vietnam

Part 2 of the “Eating in Southeast Asia” series is dedicated to Vietnam. Vietnamese cuisine is very diverse and every region has its own specialties. Some cities and towns even have special dishes that are found nowhere else. The food that I’ve had the chance to try in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based with variations from place to place. Here are some of the typical things you’d expect to find in the main tourist destinations in Vietnam – stay tuned for the next post on STREET FOOD in Hanoi!

Cao lầu – First up we’ve got cao lầu (pronounced “cow lao”), the noodle dish that’s only found in Hoi An. What’s special about these noodles is the texture, which was firm and chewy. The noodles were topped with green veggies and various types of pork, including what I believed was crispy pork skin.

Bánh bao vac – Another specialty of Hoi An, the bánh bao vac is also known as “white roses”. These little shrimp dumplings got their name from their appearance, which really do look like white roses!

Mì Quảng – On the way from Hoi An to Huế, my friend and I stopped for a quick lunch break in Da Nang. Though we didn’t have time to explore the city itself, we got to try the local noodle dish, mì Quảng! It is served with various types of meat (shrimp and pork in this case) and toasted sesame rice crackers in soup. Definitely not your typical soup noodles!

Bún thịt nướng – One of the best meals I had in Vietnam (out of the excellent ones, which are all of them) was bún thịt nướng, or rice vermicelli with grilled meat. In addition to grilled pork, the vermicelli was topped with peanuts, coriander, and a special peanut sauce, which was oh-so-tasty. I miss this!

Bún bò Huế – In Huế, the most well-known noodle dish is no doubt the bún bò Huế. In hindsight I’m not sure if I was ripped off at the restaurant that I went to, because the photos of bún bò Huế that I’ve seen suggested that the noodles should be in a reddish brown broth, whereas the broth that we had was quite clear. Nothing too special to rave about here.

Bánh bèo – We also joined a fun cooking class in Huế and learned to make four Vietnamese dishes (bún bò Huế being one of them). Of the other three, bánh bèo was probably the most interesting. These were gelatinous rice cakes topped with minced dried shrimp, green onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Our instructor Miss Thuy noted that out of all the people who learned to make this dish, only 20% of them expressed that they liked it. Many disliked it because of the gelatinous texture. Well, apparently I became part of the 20% that liked this unique dish and certainly ate more than just two or three that evening 😉

Bánh khoái Huế – The second dish was the bánh khoái Huế. These are basically chicken tacos that are deep-pan-fried (not quite deep-fried, but with a lot more oil than normal pan-frying) and while delicious, might have been a bit too greasy! I think one was good enough for me!

Gỏi cuốn – The last item on the list of dishes that we learned to make was the fresh spring vegetarian rolls and these were my favourite of them all! They were so fun and easy to make and super delicious! I couldn’t resist reaching for more and at one point I felt a bit guilty for eating so many of them. But having learned how to properly handle rice paper, I could make them at home anytime now!

Phở bò – And finally, who could forget the good ol’ beef phở? You mustn’t think that I skipped the ubiquitous soup noodles! There was phở at our hotels for breakfast and more phở in random sketchy shops on the streets of Hanoi, but all were so amazing! Glasgow is seriously missing some good Vietnamese restaurants and I was so glad to have just the simplest bowl of beef phở after having been deprived for so long!

So to wrap up, the food I had in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based, with my favourites being bún thịt nướng (rice vermicelli), gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), and phở bò (beef soup noodles). In addition to these, I went on a personalized street food tour with a guide in Hanoi and got to try some lesser known favourites of the local people that were hard to find on our own – this will be a story for the next post!

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Street food in Taiwan

Part III of my “The places I called home” series, part of which was about the time I spent in Taiwan, inspired me to write a post about street food in Taiwan. It’s been eight and a half years since I lived and worked in Taiwan but I could never forget the one thing that defined the unique experience – STREET FOOD. From stinky tofu to salted fried popcorn chicken, shredded chicken cold noodles to fruit on shaved ice…I’m hungry just thinking about it. Let’s just get right down to it!

First on the list has got to be the (in)famous stinky tofu, which gets its reputation from its strong odour. It may not be suitable for the faint-hearted, though it’s rather addictive once you get over the original shock and you get used to it. Stinky tofu comes in a variety of forms: deep-fried, grilled, steamed, boiled, etc. It was so popular in Taiwan that you could almost find a stinky tofu shop in every corner, but my favourites stinky tofu joint was the one in Hsinchu (where I stayed for my internship) that served it in smaller cubes, deep-fried, salted and spiced, and accompanied by Taiwanese-style kimchi. Delicacy? Maybe not, but delicious for sure!

Next up we’ve got the “xiao long bao”, which literally translates to “little caged buns”. These mouth-watering soup-filled pork buns are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a midnight snack! There was a shop five minutes away from where I lived that always seemed to be open, and sometimes I would have the hugest craving for xiao long bao at night that I would go and grab a cage with my then-boyfriend…in addition to some radish cake, egg pancakes, chive dumplings, and soy milk too, perhaps. Oh, what indulgence!

I really wanted to post a good photo of the salted fried popcorn chicken because it is my favourite Taiwanese street food ever, but to my surprise, I have not one single photo of it from my 4-month stay in Taiwan. Shame on me! Well, I do have a photo of a street booth that sells it, in addition to a bunch of other goodies like fried squid, fish cake, radish cake, squid balls, and…chicken butt?! Anyway…back to the salted fried chicken. Greasy? Yes! Salty? Yes, considering it’s got “salty” in its name. Delicious? Hell yeah – why else is it my favourite!?


For something simple, here’s a plate of dried tofu with chili sauce, garlic, and Chinese sauerkraut. At this joint, you serve yourself and in the end you pay for whatever is on the plate. The bright colours certainly stimulate the appetite, don’t they? 😉

There used to be a small shop (I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant) nearby where I lived in Hsinchu that served chicken rice for 30 NTD, which was approximately 1 Canadian dollar in 2008. Deal! Often after work I’d drop by and have a bowl, and it’d be the simplest dinner ever, just some rice with shredded chicken and some sauce with the taste of home. But oh man, simple things are often the best!

Speaking of shredded chicken, it also goes very well with cold noodles! The special thing about this bowl of chicken cold noodles was the sauce – it was so ridiculously tasty, but I couldn’t put my finger on what type of sauce it was exactly. In hindsight, it must have been sesame sauce. I tried to make this dish at home many years later (this year, in fact) with sesame sauce, and the taste came right back. Success!

This photo is blurry because I didn’t realize that my phone’s camera was set to “infinity” mode as I was taking the photo, but please use your imagination and believe that the food was delicious! Oh, you couldn’t even tell what this is? Well, the literal translation of this “hong you chao shou” is “red oil wontons”, which is essentially wontons with hot oil on noodles. Hot (spicy) oil is one of the most heavenly things to be invented in the art of cooking…if you enjoy spicy food, that is!

On a hot summer day, a gigantic bowl of shaved ice topped with a variety of fruits is the best way to cool down and recharge. This one portion was enough for five people!

We now come to teppanyaki, which is really just food served on a fiery hot sizzling iron plate. Teppanyaki is also quite popular in night markets and there’s an abundance of teppanyaki booths everywhere. Here’s a combination of a lovely steak, done medium-rare, and a huge grilled prawn accompanying udon on the plate. In addition to the sight of the food, the sound of the sizzling grill approaching the table warns my stomache to get ready for a fantastic treat!

Another teppanyaki meal, this time with grilled steak, grilled chicken, and a fried egg. Simply irresistible meaty goodness for an evening out. My stomach and my taste buds thanked me but with this much good food, my waistline certainly didn’t!

Finally, here’s one that I regret only having once: soup noodle with spare ribs. For some reason this didn’t catch my attention earlier at night markets, and I skipped it again and again. The one time I had a bowl of this soup noodle, I fell in love, and I wasn’t even the one who wanted to order it! The soup was so warm and most importantly, the spare rib was tender and flavourful! I totally missed out all those times – but at least I got a taste of it before I left Taiwan 😛

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the street food of Taiwan! Of course, this is only a very small sample of the things that I’ve had the chance to try, and there were more noodle dishes than I had expected (I do prefer rice over noodle most of the time!) If you ever do visit Taiwan, don’t miss out on the chance to indulge in the delicacies on the streets. Whether it’s a bustling night market, an inconspicuous shop at the corner, or a simple breakfast joint, surprises are hidden everywhere and are yours to discover!

Because food is worth it

I am writing this post because food is awesome and worth spending the time writing about…

…and because I want to tempt you with delicious, luscious photos.

After writing about the art and science of cooking (part 1, part 2, part 3), I couldn’t resist further digging into my love of food. Over the years I’ve accumulated over 500 photos of food that I’ve had, whether home-made or not. Since the “art and science” series is mostly focused on my own culinary experiments at home, I’ve decided to share with you some other goodies that I’ve had the luxury of trying (ones that I haven’t posted in previous entries). Most of these photos were taken while dining out, but a selected few were of dishes made by either family or friends. Whatever the case, all were thoroughly enjoyable 😀

Oh, since I was bored last night from my battle with scientific papers, I started up another blog (as if I don’t have enough blogs already) dedicated to food – click to check out The Food Gallery. With some 500 photos, I won’t be worried about running out of things to post any time soon.

Now onto the actual entry. Click to view large photos, and descriptions, if you’re interested, are under the gallery. Indulge, and bon appetit 😉

 

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