Mì Quảng and More – 79 of 365

Mì Quảng

“Ăn kĩ no lâu” goes the Vietnamese proverb.  I know, Don’t worry…I had no clue either what it meant until I asked Anthony.   His translation of “as much as you chew food, as long as you’re full” gets us in the ballpark in an abstract sort of way though still a bit short of clarity.  Further refinement lends the English speaking ear something more palatable with “eat carefully to stay full longer.”  With my point of reference being my homeland of fast and processed foods that do little more than check off the box that we ingested some sort of mess into our bodies at the appropriate meal time, these are definitely words I can eat by in Vietnam.  Every meal in Vietnam is one step further from the Golden Arches and one step deeper into a world previously unknown to me.

I took my friend Sarah to the chaotic Ben Thanh Market with the goal of introducing her to an appetizer, lunch and dessert from the food stalls.  This tourist oriented joint is a full on assault to the senses in every possible way.  Hawkers hassle the wary who just don’t yet know they absolutely need that Tiger Beer t-shirt, and even the more initiated amongst us cannot move five feet without harassment from a hopeful vendor.   “You but t-shirt from me?   Come look, many color for you.  Sir, Sir, why you go?  What price you pay?”  No, just get the you know what out of our way so we can get to the food counters!

Scallops Grilling

My high hope for this lunchtime excursion was with some careful eating, Sarah would stay full of desire to explore a little more of the cuisine here.   After a quick appetizer of six scallops grilled in their shells with a glaze of oil and sprinkle of peanuts at Stall 1114, we moved on to number 1030 for the main attraction…an introduction to mì Quảng which is a unique flavor packed dish hailing from the south central coast.

Mì Quảng’s yellow turmeric noodles mix so well with lemongrass, onion, pepper and more in a red annatto seed oil tinted broth just barely covering the noodles.  Thick chili sauce and limes add heat and bite while the various proteins impart so many different textures and tastes.   Sweet shrimp, cuts of pork, and salty sausages all work together with fresh herbs and vegetables as diverse as shredded banana leaf, basil, mint and coriander.  Some peanuts and crunchy fried rice crisps soaking up the liquid in a Vietnamese version of snap, crackle and pop add even more texture to an already busy dish.

Grilled Shrimp Paste

Stall 1028 managed to cram the last course into our already stuffed bellies.  Round three was all about the ground shrimp paste rolled onto sugarcane stalks and grilled.  The meat takes on the sweet sugar juices and spicy nuoc cham dipping sauce lends some definitely edible fung shei.  An order of four proved too much in the end so we cried uncle, marveled at the mountain of food we had just consumed, and decided a long walk home to be the proper after lunch digestive.

Ăn kĩ no lâu!  Lunch at Ben Thanh proved this proverb is words we can all eat by.  And best of all the two of us ate for less than five dollars each.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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