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Vietnam | Monday, February 1, 2016 | 7 photos

Anthony Bourdain calls it the best cuisine in the world. For us it's with no hesitation in the top 3 along with India and Thailand - France doesn't compete, they have their own superior category above every one else. Lol ;-)

Funny to say, but the food we loved the most on this trip were ... just the Vietnamese foods we already loved and regularly ate in New York. Sounds like we didn't do much exploring but trust us we did try tons of other stuff but the classics just couldn't be beat!

1. BUN (THIT NUONG CHA GIO): we prefer the tongue twister name in Southern Vietnam, in the North it's just Bun cha nem. It is a bowl of awesomeness: cold rice vermicelli noodles topped with grated pickled carrots, fresh herbs & salad (ex. mint, basil) with the coup de grace of crunchy crushed peanuts over smoky grilled sweet BBQ pork chops, fried crunchy spring rolls and drizzled with sweet chili garlic fish sauce. Vietnamese BBQ pork is like a perfect mix of sweet Korean and smoky Argentinian styles. If someone forced us to eat the same thing for an entire 1 mth trip in Vietnam for morning, noon and night then we would gladly accept the challenge with this dish! The textures and flavors in this dish pack an amazing punch that make it our go-to dish.
2. PHO (BO TAI): if there were a national dish then this would be it. In the south it's a bit sweet and in the north they spice it up with star anise and other spices. We have a slight preference for the northern (reputed as the best) but we certainly would never ever turn up our nose to a bowl of sweet southern pho! Chicken pho is relatively common but we don't think it even comes close to a beef pho (pho bo). Pho bo is made by simmering a soup broth (beef bones included) all day and night, thus pho "shops" have this classic ready to serve at any time of day. Add some vermicelli, bean sprouts, lime juice, fresh basil and chili fish sauce for dipping your beef and you're good to go! TIP 1: if you want to avoid those strange "mystery" cuts of beef (what part of the cow is that?) that we personally find so often in our soups as we travel the world then get the Pho bo tai. It's tender thin slices of beef that in good restaurants are served raw but then quickly cook in your soup. TIP 2: Don't adulterate a good beef broth with lime and chilies but rather but those in a dipping sauce bowl along with fish sauce and soy sauce. Then dip your tender chunks of beef in it! Because a top notch broth is a delicacy of its own.
3. GOI CUON: Also known as fresh spring rolls (i.e. not fried), they're filled with rice vermicelli, fresh mint or basil, and shrimp and often dipped in a thick peanut fish sauce. Our only complaint - why couldn't we find this dish everyday, because we sure wanted to eat it every day!
4. BANH MI (OP LA): You're very possibly already familiar with these French influenced baguette sandwiches stuffed with grated pickled carrots and radishes, fresh coriander, cucumber, mayo and some kind of meat (often pork). But did you know they do a breakfast version though? Move over bagel breakfast sandwiches - this is our new favorite!! Banh mi op la has a fried egg inside with all your other favorite Vietnamese confinements.

Curious about trying something new the next time you go to your favorite Vietnamese restaurant? Then you really gotta try one of the these:

5. BANH CUON: Soft wavy rice crepes that seem to float on air. That sums it up! Don't try this at home, you need a special machine to steam and then stretch these crepes until they're paper thin. Not a completely new discovery, we actually ate (er, devoured!) these crepes in Montreal about 7 years ago and have been searching for them ever since! They're eaten just like most Vietnamese dishes; with fresh herbs and salad, vegetables (often mushrooms), some pork, and some sweet chili garlic fish sauce.
6. BANH XEO: also a rice crepe but this one is fried not steamed. Many variations exist but one of this beat is a mini pocket size version that can easily be folded in half and eaten like a wrap or a taco. Stuff it full of steamed bean sprouts though first as well as plenty of fresh herbs, fold it and cover it in a nice big lettuce leaf and dip it in the ubiquitous sweet chili garlic fish sauce and voila!!
7. CA PHE TRUNG: (only for Kurt, AF even didn't try it ;-) lol ) Literally "egg coffee", trust us it's much better than it sounds! This classic from Hanoi is actually both a coffee and a dessert. With all these amazingly delicious fruits it's no surprise actually that desserts are very hard to find in Vietnam. Now think a drinkable version of tiramisu or a coffee infused homemade egg nog and that's Ca phe trung. Take sugar, an egg and some thickened sweetened condensed milk and beat them all together into a gooey sweet cream - essentially a custard but raw. Now gently pour this cream over a nice strong cup of Vietnamese coffee.

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Hawaii Nov. 2014

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