By Russ Kirk
Yes, you really can feed yourself for $5 total cost for the day. Enjoy three uniquely different, tasty, healthy, filling meals while soaking up the local atmosphere. These are more than just meals. They are rich, cultural, fun experiences begging for your camera.
Bunh Can — breakfast — $1 (20,000 VND)
Look for a large clay wheel with inverted clay cups (like poaching eggs) sitting over a fiery, red-hot brazier. If you can, get a seat near the preparation and enjoy the show. First, the milky white rice flour batter is poured into the cups. Then, with a deft flick of the wrist, the miniature speckled quail eggs are cracked and dropped on top of the mixture. Next a conical clay hat is placed over the cups.
A short time later, off come the hats, out comes a spatula to scoop out the Bunh Can, and you soon have eight to 10 pieces on your plate. Grab your chopsticks and dunk a piece into the dipping sauce. Think tasty pancakes — lightly crisp on the outside and light, airy, fluffy on the inside. Instead of syrup, there is a slightly sweet vinegar dipping sauce (unless you’ve added the chili paste).
Bunh Thit Nuong — lunch — $2 (40,000 VND)
A cold dish in a large bowl filled with vermicelli noodles, shredded greens, sprouts, sliced cucumber, chopped green onions, and peanuts, all topped off with bite-size pieces of flavorful grilled marinated pork and spring rolls. Pour the small bowl of Nuoc Cham sauce over the ingredients and mix thoroughly. The sauce has a light, faintly sweet vinegar tang with a mild chili aftertaste bite of heat.
Nem Nuong — dinner — $2 (40,000 VND)
This is a joint effort between the restaurant and you. They provide the ingredients and you put your meal together.
Start with a thin piece of rice paper, fold it out flat, and if required, wet it very slightly with water to give flexibility. Select your sliced vegetables (cucumber, carrot, papaya) and greens (lettuce, green onions, green leaves). Place all in the middle of the rice paper.
Then add your grilled minced pork and rice paper crisps. If desired, peel and add the miniature garlic cloves. Now gently fold the rice paper around your ingredients, pick it up, and dip it into your bowl of mild, subtly sweetened dipping sauce and enjoy.
Warning: chili paste. All three meals provide chili paste. This is the real deal. Unless you are a confirmed “vindaloo” lover, have the chili on the side and add sparingly until you reach your tolerance level. Even a little bit brings instant heat.
The meals are interchangeable between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These are usually small places (10 to 15 chairs) specializing in one or two dishes. Often no menu is provided. Expect low tables, plastic chairs, and elbow to elbow eating. If it’s busy (a good sign), have patience, they’ll find room for you. Only the Nem Nuong restaurants tend to be larger in size.
Ask residing expats and locals for recommendations in your area or look where the locals are eating. Each restaurant has its own recipe for these dishes. Try a few different restaurants and see which version of the meal you like best.
Enjoy these three uniquely Vietnamese, cheap, tasty, and healthy meals. Take your camera, as the meal preparation is part of your rewarding experience.
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