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THE FOOD OF CENTRAL VIETNAM, VIETNAM

July 28, 2016

Travelling with kids can be tricky for so many reasons. Meal times can be particularly stressful, kids can be fussy, unfamiliar food can be daunting, and in foreign countries it pays to know what the local specialties are before you go, and where you can find something to please everyone.

The golden rule applies; if a place is busy, it’s most certainly fine to eat there. When Mez and I travelled here before kids we were very adventurous, with kids in tow, we’re far more cautious. Having said this, we have never been sick from food or drink travelling through Vietnam.

Vietnamese food is light, healthy, fresh, bright.
Most importantly, Vietnamese food is DELICIOUS!

Here are a few ‘must try’ dishes…

CAU LAO
Perhaps Hoi An’s most famous dish (legend has it that the noodles can only be made with water from the famous Ba Le well, any other water wont work!) features thick flat noodles with a splash of super rich pork broth (more of a sauce, not a soup) roast pork, fresh herbs and salad leaves, and a topping of crunchy crackling and friend wontons for texture.

Get it at:
The Market Restaurant and Cooking School
3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An

WHITE ROSE DUMPLINGS
Like Cau Lao, the dough for these dumplings can only be made with water from the well, so these are only available in Hoi An. They are delicate shrimp and pork dumplings, and they pair very well with a cold beer/lemon soda to have pre dinner. Every restaurant in Hoi An seems to serve them!

COM GA
A crowd pleaser, much like it’s Hainanese cousin (Hainanese chicken rice), the Hoi An version of chicken rice is served with shredded chicken, mixed herbs, raw onions, pickled papaya and carrots and a super chickeny savoury broth. The rice itself is cooked in chicken broth. Winner winner, chicken dinner indeed.

Get it at:
Cơm Gà Bà Buội
22 Phan Chu Trinh, Hoi An

BANH MI
Banh mi actually means bread in Vietnamese, but in this case refers to a baguette filled with grilled pork/pork floss/pate/chicken/vietnamese sausage/egg (there are many possible variations!) with pickles, cucumber, chili, soy/chili sauce and herbs. Vietnamese baguettes are much smaller than their French counterparts, and are super crunchy, perhaps as a result of the addition of rice flour to the dough. In Hoi An, the most famous place to get your Banh Mi is at Banh Mi Phuong, a hole in the wall bakery made famous by TV chef Anthony Bourdain. When I went, the queue was 30 people deep! I bought 3 banh mi, and 2 cans of drink for a grand total of $5.40. Bargain!

Get it at:
Banh Mi Phuong
2B Phan Chau Trinh, Hoi An

SEAFOOD BBQ/HOT POT

Danang is right on the coast of the South China Sea, as such, seafood is plentiful and fresh and features heavily in the local cuisine. All along the coast there are pick your own/cook your own type restaurants and the variety of shellfish and seafood in general is incredible. There were many things I had never seen before! Ask how much before you commit! Our favourites were steamed clams with spring onions and peanuts, bbq sun dried squid with chili mayo dipping sauce and lemon white pepper dipping sauce, and huge sweet bbq prawns. The kids loved egg noodles stir fried with veggies and tiny prawns. The alternative is to pick your seafood (from aerated tubs and tanks) and cook it up at your table in a lemongrass, onion and okra hotpot. Served with chili’s in vinegar, rice noodles and veg, really good stuff! People watching at these restaurants is very good. Keep your eyes peeled for street vendors, with their motorcycles laden to the hilt with balloons and toys, our kids were mesmerised!

Get it at:
Ba Thoi 2 (for BBQ)
Duong Hoang Sa, Da Nang

Quan Be Anh (for hotpot)
Hoang Sa, Da Nang

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HOI AN, VIETNAM

July 21, 2016

(A photo essay)

Hoi An is a beautiful small town in Central Vietnam wedged between the coast and the Thu Bon River. What makes it so special is it’s UNESCO listing as a world heritage site; among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples and pagodas, a Japanese bridge, wooden shop houses, French colonial homes and an old canal system. These ancient buildings line the picturesque streets, having somehow managed to avoid the ravages of war.

Hoi An Old Town is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of other large Vietnamese cities, as it’s small enough to explore by foot, and most of it’s narrow streets are pedestrian/scooter/pushbikes only, no cars!

Mez and I have been to Hoi An three times now, and a more comprehensive guide to the town can be found here.

We jumped on the complimentary pushbikes on offer at our hotel and headed off for a ride after breakfast, before it got too hot.

This is what we saw…

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VIETNAM

November 5, 2015

Family holiday disasters? We’ve had a few! Wolfie hospitalised in Venice for acute food poisoning at 3 months… The great street food tour of Langkawi, during the month of Ramadan (EVERYTHING was closed!)…the gastro/hand foot & mouth disease/severe morning sickness in Fiji… I was determined to plan, and execute our best Watts family holiday yet.

The requirements were simple; our destination needed to be hot, the food needed to appeal to all, safety was of course of utmost importance, and transport there and on the ground needed to be safe & fast.

Mez and I had been to Vietnam before, pre-kids, and LOVED it. Perhaps it was time to give it a go with the kids in tow. I researched (Weather, rainfall, monsoon patterns etc!) and I researched… and then I researched some more. Finally I booked it, and we were away!

We had a two week break, and split our time between Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Danang..

Ho Chi Minh City is a dynamic and modern city, and had changed a lot since we’d last visited. Traffic was greatly improved, but motorbikes & scooters still rule, and the first thing we heard upon waking, and the last thing at night was the beeping of horns! We played games of ‘spot the scooter transporting the most humans’ and ‘spot the scooter transporting the most random load’ …There are many museums, cultural and historical places of interest to visit in HCMC, but our kids are a bit young, we’re not there yet. We used the city as a place to acclimatise and then jump off to the central coast. Having come from the middle of winter in Sydney to the humidity of HCMC, we all need to adjust and get our bearings. A couple of days poolside in HCMC was perfect before our journey further north.

The flight to Danang is only an hour, and there are multiple flights a day. Upon arrival in Danang, we headed straight to Hoi An, a thirty minute drive inland to the very pretty Anantara Resort. The soft peach of the colonial buildings is very much like staying at a mini Raffles! The old town of Hoi An is seriously photogenic; bougainvilleas tumbling down the yellow shopfronts, fruits & flowers of every shape & colour overflowing onto the footpath at the town market, and the quaint traditional fishing boats chugging along the river. We were lucky to have arrived on the right day of the lunar calendar to witness the full moon lantern festival, and we lit ours, and released them down the Thu Bon river along with our wishes for happiness, luck & love! Hoi An has hundreds of restaurants…we were spoilt for choice! We made a wonderful discovery of “Com Ga”, (a dish similar to Hainanese Chicken Rice), rice cooked in chicken broth, served with shredded chicken, vietnamese mint, loads of onions and sometimes a green papaya & carrot pickle, served with the loveliest chicken broth…we ate it EVERYDAY! We had 4 perfect, lazy days of swimming and eating and doing little else… Good times!

We left the Thu Bon river behind, for a sea change…back to Danang to the Hyatt Regency, seriously one of the largest hotels I think I have EVER stayed at! This hotel caters brilliantly to families, with dedicated kids pools & a waterslide, a kids club, a rock climbing wall and most importantly, family friendly accommodation. We had a ground floor two bedroom apartment with kitchen and two bathrooms, a balcony and access straight out the front to all amenities. The space and privacy after interconnecting rooms was great! This property is right on Non Nuoc beach, dotted with traditional basket boats & jumbo jellyfish, with the famous Marble Mountains just across the road. In the heat of the day, the kids disappeared to the kids club, to paint and draw, and glue, and play with other kids whilst we snoozed and read…perfect! Once cabin fever set in (i can’t help it, I need to be getting the most out of every trip!) we jumped in a cab and headed inland, to Ba Na Hills, a well known Vietnamese amusement park, an easy 45 minute drive away. This park is truly unique, for several reasons. Firstly, it boasts the longest continuous cable car in the world, we were in the cable car for 17 minutes!!! The resort is also a replica of an original French retreat from 1919, and it’s so European in it’s styling it’s freaky, you could really be in France! The price of entry covers everything except for food, and there is so much to do; a luge, a three level amusement arcade with games & rides & an indoor playground, cellars, and cafes, mazes, a funicular, more cable cars (different ones!) and religious landmarks…we ran out of time! Being on the coast, seafood is spanking fresh, and a short cab ride from the hotel is a strip of restaurants, with fishtanks and seafood on display that I had never seen before, let alone eaten before! BBQ clams with peanuts and shallots were the highlight, washed down with icy cold Bia Saigon! The Han Markets in Danang deserve an honourable mention too, if you’re into that sort of thing…really very interesting displays of dried squid and prawns, and the fresh seafood section in particular was beautiful, as was the fresh fruit piled high into pyramids!

And then, it was all over! Time to go home.

I read not one, but two books, worked on my tan, caught up on some zzz’s, the kids made friends, swam all day everyday, and enjoyed a kids club experience! We ate incredible food, day in and day out, and enjoyed several icy cold beers! The kids are already asking if we can go back next year…! The verdict: Vietnam was VIETNAMAZING!!!!!
Trip Notes:

We stayed at:
Intercontinental Asiana Saigon

Anantara Resort Hoi An

Hyatt Regency Danang

We flew internationally & domestically with Vietnam Airlines. Utilitarian, but good!

Where we ate:

Com Ga Ba Buoi
22 Phan Chu Trinh
Hoi An

Ba Le Well
45/11 Tran Hung Dao
Hoi An

Ba Thoi 2
My Khe Beach
Danang

Ba Na Hills Amusement Park

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