I’m back from a wonderful trip to Bangalore, and to beautiful South East Asia. Although I was gone for about 3 weeks, my Vietnam & Cambodia trip was for 9 days with a group of 18 women. The tour company I used is aptly named WoW (Women On Wanderlust) Club . Catering exclusively to women ‘wanderers‘, our group included people from all over India, and from various backgrounds and ages (22 – 76 years old). We visited not only the touristy sights, but also had plenty time to take in the local culture, sights, happy hours, food, and indulge in amazingly cheap ($6 for 60+ minutes!!) accupressure body massages on a regular basis. Each time I heard about the brutal cold across USA, I was thankful to be spending leisurely days in beautifully sunny mid-70*F weather :).
I am focusing this post on an overview of food from the region; a quick photo journal on the sights will follow soon. The cuisine in this region focuses on simple, fresh ingredients. Meals were light, incorporated many flavors and textures, and were colorful.
Located in a tropical zone, both Vietnam & Cambodia are a fruit lover’s paradise!!! The sweetest papaya, pineapple, watermelon, mango & dragon fruit were served at most breakfasts. My mom & I decided to have a variety for fruits for dinner on 3 nights out of the 8. We hoarded jack fruit (peeled & packed in containers) in our hotel room for afternoon and late night snacks. Check out some of the fruits we sampled on the trip:
I couldn’t muster up the courage to cut and taste the Durian – considered the World’s Stinkiest Fruit. In fact, hotel rooms had large signs posted on the door forbidding durian on their premises! But I did get a small sample of a durian shake which was not too bad; it tasted mild and custard like.
We also had our fill of Dragon Fruit, which tastes like a mix of peach & mango, but not exactly. It has small black seeds like a kiwi, but is not as tart. The regular variety of dragon fruit has white flesh and the special variety has a vibrant pink color. Our waiter (pictured above) on the roof-top bar by Mekong River is serving Dragon Fruit Martinis. The orange drink (pictured above, bottom right) is a Tamarind Chili Margarita. YUM!! It was a happy hour indeed! Dragon fruit is available in the USA at ethnic / Korean supermarkets like Lotte.
The French occupied Vietnam for almost a 100 years, till the mid-1900s, and their influence is obvious on Vietnamese cuisine. One popular item is the delicious French baguette (about $0.25 each) – light & airy – made with an addition of rice flour. It is used to make the famous Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, stuffed with grilled meat, corriander, and pickled vegetables.
(Photo credit: dialaflight.com) I forgot to take pictures of these vendors who were at almost every street corner.
The sandwich in the picture above was definitely one of the tastiest I have ever eaten! They were stuffed with grilled meat, onions, tomato, red cabbage, cilantro, a touch of hot sauce & mayo, then quickly grilled on a panini press. Delicious, quick & cheap. (Approx. 21,000 Vitenamese Dongs = $1 US. Lunch was less than a buck fifty, including tip.)
Another thing I noticed is that the cuisine includes less meat compared to the West. Chicken and pork were popular – it seemed like the internal organs were not wasted either – but more as an accompaniment to the rice and vegetables rather than the main dish itself.
Fresh seafood is abundant – everywhere from the pavement vendor to the fancy restaurants. Many stores also sell dried fish, shrimp, crab and other fried items by weight.
Rice is a staple of South East Asian diet, and is eaten at all meals. It differs from the long-grain fluffy rice we are familiar with; the Vietnamese & Cambodians use glutinous (sticky) rice. We came across many types of stick rice preparations – usually lightly sweetened – and seasoned with coconut, sesame seeds, and/or palm sugar. Below, you can see one version wrapped in a pancake, another stuffed and cooked in bamboo, and yet another version that is wrapped and tied in (bamboo?) leaves.
THE REST OF THIS POST GETS INTERESTING!! Consider yourself warned!! If you have a strong stomach, continue to scroll down.
The drive from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap took us about 7 hours, with a few rest and shopping stops along the way. About 2 hours from Phnom Penh, we stopped at the village of Skuon – also know as Spider Village. During the height of the Khmer Rouge, when food was severely scarce, starving Cambodians had to make do with whatever was available for eating. The spiders (large black tarantulas) are caught from the neighboring areas and allowed to breed in holes in the ground. They are then defanged, deep fried and seasoned with salt and spices. Large platters were piled high with fried palm sized spiders and other deep-fried bugs of various sizes.
While it is delicacy in the Skuon area, not all Cambodians share the same taste for the creepy-crawlies. Our group did include a few adventurous foodies who didn’t hesitate to chomp down. What do you think I did????
The look on my mom’s face is hilarious! If you are curious and want to see more, just Google Spider Village, Cambodia for interesting images & videos.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this small taste of Vietnam & Cambodia. I will follow up soon with recipes from this region that do not use bugs :)). If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave a comment below, and share with your friends.