Atkins Diet fans in Vietnam can now rejoice. I have found a soup without one single carbohydrate laden noodle. This discovery came by complete accident, too. My friend and I decided to mingle with the locals and found a spot around the corner from the hotel called Quan Thien at 21 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. This place was just what we were looking for in terms of exuding that certain Vietnamese charm usually causing the tourists to run for the hills. Groups of men were were succumbing to the effects of guzzling bottle after bottle after bottle of beer while eating fresh and plentiful looking food.
Amazingly enough I now know enough of this curious language to decipher most of the choices on the menu. We ordered 333 brand beer which the waitress even verbally confirmed. Of course she brought us what she thought we really wanted which was the local Huda brand. Capitulating to her whims, we just took the Huda and drank it. It wasn’t too bad but aggravating none the less that we were looking right at the 333 cans not even ten feet away in a refrigerator yet so far out of reach.
Canh hoa chuối nấu tôm got my attention for no other reason than I recognized the words for banana and shrimp. I just had to find out how bananas and shrimp could possibly mix in a soup. Never before had I seen this item on a menu and no way could I possibly pass up the chance on something potentially bizarre. I thought back to the snail and young banana stir fry in Hanoi and thought perhaps a soup along these lines actually exists.
Once a ceramic bowl of steaming food stuff arrived, I had this figured out fast…the banana in question was banana flower and not the actual fruit. So much for my translation skills. Shredded banana flower substituted for noodles and these sweet strips of brown were a quite interesting change from the normal rice pasta. The shrimp were more impressive actually for in a land where the shells and poop shoot come as standard and edible equipment, these crustaceans were properly cleaned. The little things in life go such a long way.
The actual taste of this soup is vaguely reminiscent of the French onion variety minus the cheese on top course. How do I even begin to describe banana flower though? First off, it does not taste like banana. The texture is much lot like an onion slice but of course lacking any similarities in flavor. It’s actually how I would imagine mating a piece of iceberg lettuce with asparagus in terms of taste. The first bite was ok. The second a little less interesting and then each subsequent bite I liked the banana flower even less.
I did enoy the actual peppery broth well enough to slurp it down again, but I am afraid I may just have to stick to my starchy carbolicious noodle varieties in the future. Sorry banana flower…you are ok as a tiny garnish in other soups like bun bo hue but as a focal point for an entire meal, not so much.