In the mean time, I have also had a lot of good and interesting food. Many of my friends and colleagues like Vietnamese food - a lot. Perhaps it is because Vietnamese food and Chinese food share a lot of similarities in terms of both ingredients and cooking methods; yet there are also significant differences. There seems to be just enough novelty set amidst strong security through familiarity.
On a morning, en-route to a community centre in the Mekong Delta from Saigon, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for pho - the famous Vietnamese noodle soup. I thought the bundles of greens on the table were decoration, like the flowers in some restaurants. They turned out to be spices/condiments for the noodle soup. That reminded me that I have much to learn.
For lunch, we stopped at a rustic restaurant on the banks of one of the major branches of the Mekong River. They serves big-head prawns that are longer than my hand. Some are roasted and the others boiled in congee. Both are delicious. If I were to choose, however, I would prefer them boiled.
As a parting gift, our friend introduced us to a special coconut. Usually the inside of a coconut started as a clear liquid. Gradually a layer of soft translucent flesh form on the inside of the shell. In time, the flesh thicken, whiten and harden. The flesh of a mature coconut is white, opaque and hard. This special coconut is white, opaque and kind of soft - such that you can scoop it out with a spoon. It is said that only one in ten coconuts turns out this way. They normally eat it with crushed peanuts, syrup and ice.
At the conference, they served us a soup made with meat - pork ribs, I believe - and many vegetables. Among the vegetables are shreds of banana flowers. It is very good.
In the evening, on the street near the big market in the centre of the city, hawkers were selling colourful, sweet, sticky rice. I was told they taste the same, despite the different colours. I haven’t tested it myself, even though I have seen them quite a few times.
At the Museum of Medicine, they were big jars of liquor with all kinds of herbs in them. Some of which contain sizeable cobras. I suppose these are not exactly food, yet they are edible. I have not tried those either.
It is a joy to be in Vietnam, partly because of the food. And these is so much to discover.