Guest Blogger: Anh Nguyen
I found it hard to start writing things about my own country from a foreigner’s point of view. I seriously thought about writing how foreigners think about Vietnamese foods but then I could not just make up myself without asking them, who are real and fair “ông tây” (meaning “foreigners” in local language). So I decided to interview my friends-one Dutch and one Finnish-who had been my travel companions last summer in Vietnam when I spent my summer break away. We tried a lot of food and many of them, I,myself had never seen before but they were so good and I have to say that was a really extraordinary journey of discovering, seeing, playing and eating together.
Wouter, from the Netherlands and Turkka, from Finland agreed to share their thoughts about Vietnamese foods through an interview and in this post, they would tell me about their own experiences and which Vietnamese foods they found challenging to eat.
Me: “How did you get to Vietnam?”
Wouter: “We met Anh in Finland and we have been studying together in the same university for couple of years now. We love travelling and seeing new cultures. I’ve always wanted to go to Vietnam since I had done a projects about Vietnam history when I was in high school so basically I knew few things about the country. So when Anh asked us to join him for the trip to Vietnam, we decided to go together without considering. And Anh had asked his parents to let us stay in his parent’s house and showing us around Hanoi as well as introducing us to his own “huge” family that we could see the real Vietnamese culture, people and of course FOODS.”
Me: “What was your first impression about the country?”
W & T: “The first impression we got of Vietnam was the view out of the airplane window. It looked quite cloudy outside that day and I thought to myself that it might not be that warm after all because there were so many clouds. However, once we got out the airplane, the first thing we noticed we the high temperature and the high humidity which hit us in our face! The first time it felt like being in a Sauna with clothing on. Also the traffic was really hectic and different than we are used to in Europe, but that was just a great thing!
Me: “What did you do in Vietnam?”
Wouter: “In Vietnam we stayed during the first week at Anh’s family who showed us around Hanoi and Halong bay. We had a great time here and felt really welcome. Then we officially started our own journey -just me, Anh and Turkka-from Hanoi, our host’s hometown where our stomach was always full with all the foods Anh’s mom, aunts and uncles could think of everyday. Then down all the way to the South via Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Saigon. Our trip throughout Vietnam ended but Turkka and I continued to travel through Cambodia, Thailand and Laos for two weeks.
Me: “Which food did you try on the first day you arrived and how was it?
W & T: “Anh’s mother prepared “Phở” (Vietnamese rice noodles) for us. Everyone had a huge bowl of “Phở” which I could not remember when the last time I got that full.”
Me: “Did u try a lot of food then?”
W & T: “I can’t remember all the names, too difficult to memorize them all but the things I remember most were the chicken embryo, water buffalo and dog meat! All these foods, we dot not have them in Europe so we thought they were nice to try. All of them also tasted surprisingly well! Also, I loved the typical Vietnamese breakfast ( Phở ) what we ate quite often.
Me: “And which foods did you find the most challenging for you as a foreigners in VN?”
Photos by Anh Nguyen
Turkka: “The food which was a bit challenging to try was the trung vit long (also known as “balut” or chicken embryo). It looked like nothing I’d ever tried before and the fact that it was our breakfast at 7 or 8 in the morning did not make it feel any better either. However, once I tried it I realized it tasted just like normal chicken and egg-nothing wrong with the taste. It actually was quite tasty.
– The durian fruit was quite challenging to eat thanks to the horrible smell.
– Also “Cháo lòng”, the rice porridge with pork blood and innards.
– And “Tiết canh” (blood soup) might also catch your imagination from the first time.
– Dog meat is of course something really challenging not only foreigners but also Vietnamese people since in Vietnam dog meat is eaten in few regions but not in most areas. However, it was a really great experience for us to get to know more about the culture and cuisine so we were happy to try.
Me: “Do u think it is easy for foreigners who live in VN to get used to the food?”
Turkka: “I would say that really depends on the person. Wouter and I have thought before we went to Vietnam that we’d try everything what people would offer us, and we did. Some western people might have a bad thought about trying some foods in Vietnam ( such as dog, cat or chicken embryo) but I personally did not have any trouble with this. But even if foreigners do not want to eat those kinds of food there is enough other food what they can eat such as beef, pork, rice, noodles, Indian foods, Japanese foods and even Western foods etc..
Me: “Do you think ordering food online would be a good choice for you to survive in VN since you don’t speak the language?
Wouter: “I think most foreigners can manage quite well as long they speak English. Obviously the Vietnamese street sellers at market stalls do not speak English that well but still they can understand you a little. Also, by body language and pointing at the items you really want to buy you get quite far. During our stay in Southeast Asia we had no problems at all concerning shopping and getting the things we wanted. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that when you, as a foreigner, shop for little things the price will always be (surprisingly) 1 Dollar. The main reason behind this is that most street sellers simply do not speak English and just know that sentence ” one dollar, one dollar”. Another way for foreigners who found it trouble with Vietnamese language is trying to order food via internet (such as http://www.hungrypanda.vn/) which many foreigners in Vietnam normally use and the people will bring the foods to your places, though the prices are a bit above the average but they offer like tons of choices and good services so it would be a good option.”