HOT DOG DAY

We had some good pals round one Sunday in Spring for a hot dog feast.

GRILLIN SUM DAWGS

We grilled some yellow peppers too.

The homie MItch Orr helped out with these professional mustard squiggles.

Ultimate dog – Kosher frank, roasted tomato salsa, chipotle mayonaise, roasted yellow peppers and mustard.

The dogz were a hit with the boyz and the girlz.

Om nom nom nom nom.

HANOI PART 2

Even though 90% of the reason we had come to Vietnam was to eat mad shit, our stomachs were only so big. With so many amazing, unique foods on offer that we NEEDED to try every day, we were bound to overdo it at least once. And boy did we overdo it today.

The breakfast at our hotel is pretty decent – B fills up on eggs and I slurp down a bowl of pho ga before we head out for some morning beers. Hanoi specialises in bia hoi - fresh beer brewed every morning and poured out of kegs by thousands of beer vendors across the city for a couple of cents a glass. It’s delicious.

So was the bun cha we ate yesterday, maybe we should eat another bowl at a new place?

It wasn’t quite as good as the bowl we shared the day before but it was still pretty awesome!

We were north of the lake for reasons besides bun cha. We were looking for a pho spot that served up a darker, beefier broth. The place was called Pho Thin (13 Lo Duc Street).

Although this was easily the most run down place we ate at in Hanoi (not hatin, just statin!), the smell billowing out of the pots was wild, and the bowls of soup the staff were putting together at lightning speed looked incredible.

What set this pho apart from the rest of them was that the beef was stir fried before joining the soup in the bowl. It was such an intense, beefy taste. I think this was the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had.

SMAAAAAASHED!

I really shouldn’t have finished the bowl right to the bottom. I mean, I had to, a rule is a rule – but I’ll recount what I’d consumed so far this day, and keep in mind that it was barely midday!

- 1 bowl of pho ga

- 1 bowl of bun cha

- 1 bowl of pho

- 2 iced coffees

- 2 glasses of beer

I was done. Totally game overed. We walked back to our hotel, clutching our bellies. I collapsed on our bed and enjoyed 3 hours of food overload crazy dreams before B woke me up and informed me that it was time to eat again. Lucky me!

We visit this lady for some Bánh cuốn nóng, little rice dumplings with pork and mushrooms inside.

They were very nice, but most importantly they were small! Was this all we were gonna have to eat tonight? Was I going to get off this easily?

Oh no! It’s B’s biggest weakness! Banana fritter vendors! 

Surely that counts as dessert right? Something sweet to end the night on? Wrong again!

We walked past these little fellas and figured we better eat them too. All the banana fritter did was increase B’s appetite for deep fried goodness…

These little prawn cakes are fried until crispy. Then you wrap them in lettuce and dunk them in the sweet papaya dipping sauce. Very good. 

Minutes before I was set to explode, Bianca found the place she was looking for:

Bun Bo Nam Bo means ‘noodles from the south’. They serve up big bowls of awesomeness – beef, noodles, bean sprouts, papaya, lettuce, herbs, carrot, peanuts and shallots swimming in a sweet sauce.

As full as I am, this is crunchy and fresh enough to eat till it’s finished. “I probably shouldn’t have eaten all that” I think as we waddle to the nearest corner for a final bia hoi.

While we drink, a local man comes up to me, killing himself laughing. He wraps his hands around my left thigh and then wraps those same hands around his own waist. Although he cannot speak English, his message is clear: “Have another beer you fat, western asshole!” 

AND I DO.


HANOI PART 1

Almost 2 weeks into our Vietnam trip we found ourselves in Hanoi. We found ourselves there because we bought plane tickets. Plane tickets to Hanoi. 

Immediately Hanoi asserted itself as the best city in Vietnam. “Enjoy the excitement of Ho Chi Minh with the relaxed attitude of Hoi An!” it yelled. “Walk as many of my streets as you want and I dare your eyes not to pop out of their sockets as they marvel at my people’s clearly superior way of living!”.

Just one hour passes and we start wishing we had added another week to our trip just to hang out in Hanoi. We need to soak up as much of this amazing city as we can in the few days we have here. We also need lunch. Bun cha time!

Just around the corner from our hotel is Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim. We set out in the afternoon on the hunt for pho, only to find that all the pho spots had shut early. So we stumbled into Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim (67 Duong Thanh St) with little idea of what bun cha was other than a fun dish to say over and over as loudly as possible. 

We sit down and are quickly served a plate of rice noodles, some herbs, lettuce and two bowls filled with a sweet vinegary broth. One of these bowls has some green papaya chips floating on the surface while the other is swimming with charcoal grilled pork and pork patties.

After pretending that we knew what we were doing and trying to wrap the noodles, pork and herbs up in the lettuce and stuffing into our mouths, we notice the locals doing it the right way – you pick up some noodles with your chopsticks, dip them into the sweet broth, add some herbs and slurp some pork, herbs, noodles and broth at once. It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa etc.

We also order some fried crab spring rolls (nem cua be) which are as crunchy as they are crabby. They’re real good slurped up with the broth too.

2010 marks the 1000th year since Hanoi was established and the West Lake was all fancied up with balloons and drinking Bacardi like it was its birthday.

Every bench around the lake is taken by body of water enthusiasts, who sit amongst countless couples tying the knot and taking pictures.

There are at least 6 couples getting hitched in this photo!

All laked out, B and I head back to our hotel for a siesta before we embark on another nightly food pilgrimage. This time we’re going to chow down on a recent craze in Hanoi – a greasy combination of a kebab and a banh mi. Seriously!

The doner owner at Cafe Goethe (56-58 Nguyen Thai Hoc St) shaves some pork from his glistening pork pyramid and puts it on a Vietnamese roll with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickled red cabbage. If it was a lot later and I was a lot drunker I would probably proclaim this as the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, but sober at 7pm it tastes pretty great too. 

Around the corner we buy another banh mi kebab from a street cart that has no name but proudly displays its certificate in public health inspection out the front. Maybe its name is APPROVED?

By 8pm we’re two sandwiches deep, clearly it’s time to eat a massive bowl of pho. Hours of stressful “best pho in Hanoi” Google searches lead us to Pho Gua Truyen (46 Bat Dan).

There’s a line out the front which is crazy because apparently Vietnamese folks don’t queue for NOTHING. So naturally we’re excited about these noodles.

Huge hunks of aged beef hang next to the counter, dripping fat on to the floor. The aged beef is called chin but out of habit I order pho tai, which comes with rare beef. When our bowls are sat down in front of us I’m disappointed, but still pretty eager to get my slurp on.

Why would I be disappointed? This pho is the real deal, super flavoursome, great noodles and a generous helping of tender meat.

The sriracha chili sauce sits in buckets on the table. Maybe it was made at the restaurant? It’s thinner than what you get in the bottles and a little feistier too.

Out of respect, I finished that bowl of pho to the bottom. It’s important that you do that when pho is good. And this bowl was great, but as we walked back to our hotel I couldn’t stop thinking about how good the pho chin with the aged beef would’ve been. For the next four nights I slept uneasily, pondering over what could have been.

BUT FOUR DAYS LATER WE RETURNED TO PHO GIA TRUYEN AND I PROUDLY ORDERED THE PHO CHIN…

…AND IT WAS SPECTACULAR. SPECTACULARLY SPECTACULAR.

So of course I smashed my bowl with much respect. But in a rare feat of being able to eat as much as her fat boyfriend, Bianca respectfully finished her bowl of noodles too! The pho chin was that good!!

RESPECT.

HOI AN 2

At night in Hoi An, the tide rises and the river extends itself up the streets. Some of the buildings in town are used to having their whole first floor completely filled with water during the wet season!

B and I head to the other side of the river in search of a snack that makes no sense to me: banh dap, a sticky rice cake stuck between two crunchy rice cakes, served with a shellfish dipping sauce. “How the hell does that work?” I would think every time B reminded me of this snack we had to add to the long list of mad shit we needed to eat in Vietnam. “Is it like a sandwich?”

“No it is not like a sandwich at all, good sir” I think to myself as I snap the above photograph. Banh dap is a big sticky glob of rice batter, squashed between two thin, toasted rice cakes. It’s tasty as fuck and the dipping sauce rules too. It’s hardly big enough to be our lunch though, maybe we should go back to that amazing banh mi spot we had those life changing sandwiches at yesterday. Yes let’s do that!

OK LOOK AT THAT! Amazing right?! Now look at the pic of the banh mi we had yesterday – this one is bigger and better! You can check out what Bianca had to say about it here. She breaks down all the ingredients we think were stuffed into the baguette: Processed pork, roast pork belly, fried egg, pate, onion, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mint, coriander, soy sauce and 3 kinds of home made sauce.

We took a video of the awesome sandwich being constructed which I’ll put up soon, it’s so awesome to watch! In the meantime hopefully these photos will satisfy our banh mi lust (yes that is a thing now).

Since heading back to the banh mi stand ended up being so goddamn awesome we decided to pay another visit to the lady who sold us that killer bowl of cao lầu. She was happy to see us again!

The day before we ate our bowl of soup while the vendor next to us bugged us to buy banh xeo from her stand. We bought one of her little fried pancakes today and I’m glad we did!

Banh Xeo is different here to what it was like in Ho Chi Minh City. Here the pancake is much smaller and you roll it in rice paper before you dip it in sauce! It is as crunchy as it is delicious, although I definitely prefer the banh xeo we had in Ho Chi Minh. This one is a great little taste to have before a big bowl of yesterday’s great memories is plopped in front of us.

Is it as good as it was the day before? Of course, maybe even better! Will I be able to have another bowl of these beautiful noodles again before I kick the bucket? I hope so!

Thanks for the good vibes, Hoi An. Thanks for the fresh beer. Thanks for the cheap suits and shirts. Thanks for letting me laugh at the young locals desperately forcing flyers for the one nightclub in town into my hands every day. Thanks for wetting my shoes during high tide. Thanks for that fucking sandwich! And for the two fucking sandwiches I had after that! Thanks for those noodles too, can you please send us a few bottles of your magic water so we can make them here? Thanks.

HOI AN

A week into our trip we fly into the pretty city of Hoi An. The brightly painted, old style architecture and small streets made it feel like a Vietnam themed Disney park. We marveled at the town’s beauty for a few hours and soon enough our tummies were rumbling again. It was time to eat one of the main reasons we came to Vietnam.

I have obsessed over this youtube video since the day I saw it. I have eaten banh mi’s on the reg for years and easily rattle off my favourite spots to eat them in Sydney but when I saw that video I lost it. I had never seen a banh mi that looked anywhere near that delicious! I had to have it, and on this glorious day Bianca and I got to have it!

The directions on this blog post lead us to the entrance of Hoi An’s market. We order the ‘Banh Mi Deluxe’, a crunchy, spicy, porky affair – complete with a fried egg on top! It is AMAZING, beyond anything any rival banh mi has ever dared to offer me in my life so far.

Merciful heavens this sandwich was perfect. We had to fight all urges to have another (we had one the next day instead!) because in the market around us we could see and smell a crazy dish that you can only get in Hoi An.

Cao lầu is a bowl of noodles made with water gathered from a well just outside of town. The noodles are thick, brown and can be seen drying in the sun all over the market.

They serve the noodles with roast pork, pork cracklings, greens and an amazing sweet and spicy soup. Holy balls does this dish taste good. Of all the dishes we ate in Vietnam that I wish I could recreate at home, this one is at the very top. The soup is so sweet and bold and the noodles are perfect for slurping. The chili paste we’re given to mix in to the noodles is awesome and fresh too. Of course we had to come back here for lunch again before we left!

That night we had dinner with our pals Sunshine and Andee who were visiting from Melbourne. They took us to Morning Glory, a restaurant they’d eaten at least once every day for the whole week they’d been in Hoi An!

After staying in ridiculously big resorts in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, it was nice to rest our heads in one of the sweet little villas at the Southern Hoi An Hotel while we were in Hoi An.

HO CHI MINH CITY 3

We begin our last day in Ho Chi Minh City with a fantastic bowl of pho tai from Pho Hoa (260C Pasteur Street, Ho Chi Minh City).

I have a pretty important rule when it comes to pho: if it’s really good, you have to show that pho some goddamn respect and finish the whole thing, no matter how full you are. It’s a rule that keeps me in size 34 jeans each year. 

The pho tai at Pho Hoa is a great way to start the day. The broth is a little sweet, not salty, and they are generous with the slices of raw beef. I showed the bowl of pho some respect and smashed it.

Phull of pho, we walk back to our hotel and pass a cage full of puppies.

As I pat them I hope they are puppies with a future as pets, not as main course somewhere that evening. We haven’t seen dogs on the menu yet and I hope it stays that way!

Dogs don’t feature on the menu at Quan An Ngon (what a segue!) but it features pretty much every other popular Vietnamese street food, cooked by street eat chefs who line the walls of this massive restaurant. It’s an easy way to eat as many specialties as possible without venturing through the city looking for every specific food cart. It’s also a good way to kill a few hours before our flight in the afternoon, so Bianca and I begin a mini degustation with matched drinks!

First up: bbq’d cuttlefish! With beer!

Next were these snails with pork and lemongrass (Ốc nhồi lá gừng). The snails were diced, combined with minced pork and glass noodles, stuffed back into the shell with the lemongrass stem and steamed. You pull on the lemongrass and the little snaily parcel pops out! These were enjoyed with beer.

I don’t remember the name of this porky dumpling thing but I do remember that we ate it with some beer on the side.

Bò Nướng Lá Lốt - beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled. You wrap these meaty little parcels in the rice paper with some noodles and greens rolled in there too. Also you eat them while drinking beer.

Pigs ear spring roll! I think we mixed it up at this point and had a soda and fresh lime.

Finally we knocked it up a notch with this bad boy:

Filet mignon with fried egg, french fries and baguette with dipping sauce!

Since I was with none other than THE SANDWICHFACE, she quickly started stuffing these ingredients in the baguette and boom! Cholesterol roll!

We crammed the french inspired heart attack down into our already full stomachs and bid farewell to Ho Chi Minh City, grateful for it’s accommodation for the last 4 days. 

4 days was not enough time to scrape the top of the manic barrel that is Ho Chi Minh City. I can’t stress enough how big the city felt. Bigger than LA, New York, Tokyo. Weird right? And it was getting bigger – every street was in a constant state of construction, day and night. People didn’t seem to sleep! Maybe it was the iced coffee they sell on every corner keeping them up. Make sure you drink a gallon of that brown gold too, on ice with condensed milk. The vendors pour it from empty pepsi bottles. The dodgier the coffee looks the better it is, and we wouldn’t see the proper roadside stuff anywhere besides Ho Chi Minh City! Drink as much as you can!

HO CHI MINH CITY 2

On our second morning in Ho Chi Minh we headed straight to the rooftop of The Rex Hotel for cocktails. I have been surprising myself with how early we’ve started drinking each day, and by surprising I mean congratulating.

The Rex Hotel is real nice. At night they light the place up something crazy. This spot was important for American soldiers during the war but that has nothing to do with B and I eating mad shit so we’ll move on to lunch.

We hit up Ben Thanh Market for a bowl of grilled everything on noodles. It’s tasty and provides a good distraction from the chaos surrounding us in the markets as shop owners repeat the 10 words of English they know over and over at potential customers.

So lunch was good but you know what’s even better? Second lunch, this time from a street vendor hawking banh mi’s. Their carts are easily identifiable from the image of the laughing cow cheese logo stuck to the front.

We get a banh mi deluxe – a fried egg, some cured meats, herbs, vegies and some spicy as fuck bits of chili, stuffed into a baguette and wrapped in newspaper. 

A few hours pass and we don’t eat anything but I’m sure we do some cool shit, I can’t remember. What I can remember is maybe the best meal we’ve had so far at Quan 94.

Confusingly, there are two Quan 94s. The original one was at 94 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, then they moved to 84 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, keeping the Quan 94 name. But then some shady impostors moved in at 94 and opened a restaurant called Quan 94 serving exactly the same shit! So when you go hunting for this place, and you definitely should, make sure you go to number 84 Dinh Tien Hoang Street. You’ll be greeted by the sad stares of your future dinner:

Quan 94 serves a lot of stuff, but you really only wanna come here for the crab. And they serve those crabs up in a lot of ways. The best way they do them is cua lot – deep fried. 

Deep fried soft shelled crabs are the new KFC: Kentucky Fried Crab!! If the banh mi photo above didn’t fulfil your ‘Levins stuffing food in his mouth’ quota, maybe this will:

We also ordered some mien xao cua – crab with vermicelli noodle – which was great with fish sauce:

And now my awful attempt at remembering Vietnamese almost got us into trouble. I heard the crab spring rolls here were top notch so I tried to order them from the text only menu and we ended up with a bowl of crab soup:

It looked daunting but tasted pretty great, the broth was real peppery with nice big chunks of fresh crab. 

After we tried to explain to the waiter what we wanted, he grabbed an English menu from a nearby table of non-English speakers. Where was this menu when we needed it!

Finally, we ordered cha gio cua – spring rolls with crab.


It was a crunchy way to end our meal, but sadly it wasn’t the way I ended my night. I foolishly started the day by not thinking and smashing a huge glass of Ho Chi Minh City tap water. This later came back to haunt me and I had the pleasure of seeing our meal at Quan 94 again as I threw up in our hotel bathroom.

Until next time!

HO CHI MINH CITY

We woke up to this view of the river every morning from our hotel, Renaissance Riverside. It’s a nice hotel but the city is much nicer. Why not start the day off with a nice bowl of pho from this babe:

There are a tonne of great restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City but the best food is just a couple of bucks from the street vendors all over town. This pho was pretty serious business, with a smattering of beef tendon, lotus root and crunchy pork crackling. It cost us 10,000VND, which works out at just over fifty cents.

With breakfast out of the way we started our ascent to the north of District 1, where we would find our second breakfast for the day…

I eat a lot of Vietnamese food in Sydney and after seeing an episode of No Reservations, where Anthony Bourdain and his old boss chomp their way through Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, I knew I had to come here. Sometimes I feel like No Reservations can be a little wanky (I hate it when Bourdain focuses on the spiritual side of a city he’s visiting and forces the viewers to ten straight minutes of him sitting in a temple NOT EATING ANYTHING, complete with awful free copyright production music playing in the background – panpipes and harps!) but this episode was free from wank and instead full of incredible food that I absolutely had to eat. And now that we were in the same country as this food, we had no excuse but to find all the dope spots Bourdain and his old French mate ate at.

Our first dish: Banh Xeo, at 46A Dinh Cong Trang

Banh Xeo is a Vietnamese pancake filled with prawns, pork and beansprouts, fried on one side and folded in half. It’s served with a plate full of different herbs and a dipping sauce.

You tear off a bit of the pancake, wrap in herbs and dip it in the sauce, just like B is doing below:

The place also dished some boss spring rolls that were crispy on the outside and dense with pork and spice on the inside. Real good.

We’d not even wiped the oil from our lips and it was time for our next breakfast, our third for the day. Maybe we should call this one lunch, even though it was still in the AM when we ate it. 

After scaling one end of Hoang Sa to the other, walking along the brown river and stopping for morning beers (the best kind of beers!) along the way, we finally found who we were looking for: The Lunch Lady.

The Lunch Lady is a street vendor who simmers a wild new pot of soup every day, spooning it into the bowls of lucky bowl holders who rock up from 11am till when she runs out of her holy elixer. Gastronomy Blog has done a very thorough post that lists what kind of soup she cooks each day, as well as the best map of how to find her.

We were psyched to be here on a Friday because Fridays are when The Lunch Lady makes Bun Bo Hue, the beefiest soup there is! And holy moly would you look at this motherfucker:

I SAID LOOK AT THIS MOTHERFUCKER!!

Words can’t do this bowl of soup justice. It had it all. Slices of beef, pork sausage, pig’s blood, thick noodles, herbs and oh man, that spicy, beefy broth. 

B was so in love with her soup she demanded I take her picture with it:

But I decided to one-up her and had my picture taken with The Lunch Lady herself:

What a babe! Oh and The Lunch Lady is in this photo too.

Friends and family of The Lunch Lady run the stalls that surround her soup stand, selling rice paper rolls, drinks and chế, a sweet dessert that comes in a Pikachu bag!

On the long, hot walk back to our hotel we were deep in thought. Would our life be the same after eating The Lunch Lady’s delicious soup? Is ‘Lady’ The Lunch Lady’s maiden name, or did she take it on after marriage? Would various Pokemon adorn the rest of our beverages in Vietnam? And most importantly, what would we have for dinner?


Cha Ca La Vong is a restaurant that serves just one dish: Hanoi style fried catfish with tumeric and dill. Even though we were headed to Hanoi in just over a week, we’d heard that this Ho Chi Minh City restaurant does the dish better than anywhere else in Vietnam. And it was pretty damn good!


After our fourth and (unfortunately) final meal of the day, we lay in bed with our hands clutching our engorged tummies, content with the food we’d eaten and making an oath to each other not to blog about any other activity we partake in while we stay in this beautiful city.

SAIGON NIGHTS

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City pretty late and even though Singapore Airlines had ensured our bellies were full of slightly above average plane food, we needed to go out and hunt. Eating mad shit was the reason for our Vietnam trip, after all.

After a few blocks of walking we came across this bro perched on a plastic stool surrounded by exactly what we were hunting for: MAD SHIT. He was circled by an array of cured meats, herbs and vegetables; the makings of an amazing banh mi. And hoo boy was it amazing.

The baguette alone was perfection. They use rice flour when making bread in Vietnam, and after breaking through the awesome crack of the crust, it gave way to a soft, airy middle. 

It was a good way to end our night / start our holiday. 

PORK FLOSS PANCAKE

Earlier in the year I had my friend Mel round for tacos. Ever the good guest (probably the best really), Mel came bearing gifts; a chef’s blowtorch, a bag of biltong and a can of pork floss. I’ve used the blowtorch a couple of times and we smashed the biltong in less than a week but I only got around to opening the pork floss yesterday.

Trying to fight my Sunday hangover, I found this dope pork floss pancake recipe on Chowtimes and was lucky enough to have all the ingredients in the kitchen. It tasted real good with fish sauce & lime. Pork floss is totally bad ass too, what else should I cook with it?