When I look back on my life I really do feel sorry for my mom in some ways. The biggest one is my texture issues with food. To say I am finicky is a bit of understatement. Mind you not to tastes of foods but the texture and consistency of them. My mom basically said here is what I made, eat it or not. I survived my teens on Ramen noodles!
One of my greatest mental barriers coming to Vietnam was the food. Would I be able to eat anything? What were the textures of things? Would they modify my order to my specific instructions? There was anxiety. But I love and loved Pho in the states. I eat it quite often actually. So at least there would be one thing I knew I could count on. Also I am living in Hanoi where Pho originated.
I made myself a promise to be open and try new things, but there is just some natural reactions my body has to things. I am sure I need to seek help for this. Arriving to Vietnam I was in an area without any westernized food. The hotel had a breakfast buffet that really did not have breakfast foods. Do you know why? Because in the Asian culture they do not separate different foods for different meals. They eat what they normally eat at any time of day. If you really think about it I am sure that is how our ancestors ate. It makes total sense. However in American we have sausage, eggs, pancakes…Here they have noodles, soups, fish and things I do not know.
I will say that the food here and I have not had the best relationship. Oh you thought this was going to be a blog about the amazing cuisine here? No. This is about my amazing resiliency to it;)
So my first week here I had work in a beach town. I talked my coworkers into going to a beach restaurant to eat. Mind you I was still thinking at that time that restaurant means tables and menus. This was not the case. I literally had to walk down to the water where the fisherman opened a net and had me pick what I would eat. But that is still moving? I thought fish came battered and fried? No fries with that?
At that meal I got a white fish and crabs. I got a reputation in the office after this meal. The fish came out whole. Which means the head, fins, scales… Oh no! There is no way. My coworker Tuan, was kind enough to try to de-bone if for me. But that left the head and entrails. I put my big boy pants on and tried everything. But after that they laughed and mentioned that I do not want any heads on my food.
After a couple of experiences like that I have learned to ask what they are ordering for me and to clarify as well. They take great pride in their food and they think Vietnamese food is the best in the world. But there is just too many heads involved for me to be able to agree. I have had an entire chicken head float up to my surprise in a hot pot. I was at another work function near the beach where they asked if I would like some fish soup. My coworker, again Tuan, told them no head for me. But what that meant was the rest of the whole fish sitting in some broth with the guts of the fish hanging out of the hole where the head was minutes prior. At that same meal they said I had to try the “finger of Do Son”. They said it was famous and since I had not tried it before I would. It looked like a giant piece of bamboo steamed. Then they cracked it open! And out came what can only be described as a giant worm looking thing for my enjoyment. I did eat it. Then I promptly turned to my coworkers and said “never again”.
So the things that are a go:
- Pho Ga and Pho Bo: That is chicken and beef Pho. Pho Ga tends to be eaten earlier in the day while Bo later.
- Bun Cha and Bun Ca: This is what Obama had on his visit here. It is grilled pork or fish with noodles and a special dipping sauce. Just make sure to order the fish with no entrails.
- Mountain Goat
- Yeah that is about it.
So the things that are not a go that I have tried:
- Jellyfish: Too slimy people!
- Duck blood: No really it is a thing. It comes in these congealed cubes that are in soups. Think jello.
- Crickets: Do I really need to go further?
- Obviously the Do Son Finger
- Mystery meat: There seems to be several cuts of meat blended and smashed together. I just cannot.
- Stinky Tofu: It stinks because it is cooked in dung.
So the things that are not a go or even try:
- Dog! Yes they eat dogs.
- Snake. If it did not have so much blood with it I might.
- Balut (look it up)
So they will not eat if their guest does not eat. This has led to some awkward meals. I have learned to look like I am eating while not actually eating. That has helped really helped in me achieving my super model goal weight. One of those positive side effects.
As much as I have had issues with the food there are some valuable lessons. First is that they do not waste anything from an animal. At the basic levels that is amazing. We waste so much food or parts of animals. I see the greatness in that and I admire them for that. They also are all about communal meals. There is very little individual meals. It is all about ordering of the table and everyone eats. And they eat everything. There is never anything left. That is hard for me because I am full. They share. They converse. They laugh and they appreciated. The meals are great because of that. I will just continue to push my meal around and eat those Fruit Loops when I get home!