When I told people I was visiting Vietnam for my next food adventure, I received some mixed responses. Vietnam is a vacation spot that’s either loved or hated; there’s no middle ground. Some acquaintances didn’t understand the attraction; others had been there while serving in the military and didn’t have fond memories of the place. It’s a destination I’d always wanted to visit, so I disregarded the naysayers.
It was off the beaten path and definitely not the typical vacation destination with pre-planned tour group opportunities. But that’s what I loved about Vietnam; it was full of the unexpected. I believe that life is all about making memories and experiencing new things, and that’s just what I did.
One of the many unexpected experiences was meeting American chef Chad Kubanoff, who has worked at some of the best restaurants in the United States, such as Alinea and Daniel. He opened a cooking and street food touring company called Back of the Bike Tours in Vietnam. The tour — given entirely on a motorbike — has taken Ho Chi Minh City by storm.
5 Street Food Dishes That Made an Impression:
Exploring Vietnam from the back of a motorbike was probably the most fitting way we could have experienced the food. Vietnamese traffic is insane — the roads are filled with motorbikes. Cab drivers zoom past you, blaring their horns. Stop signs, lights, and the sound of roaring engines overwhelm your senses.
Even with all this, the food was still the most exciting and exhilarating part. My guide led me to unexplored street vendors all across town. We visited more than 15 vendors, including a medicinal bathtub rice wine vendor, who delivered his products in old Fanta and Aquafina bottles. The taste — like rubbing alcohol mixed with grape Fanta — was one I’ll never forget. As always, however, I had a few favorites:
1. Our first stop was to try the Asian classic green papaya salad (goi du du kho bo). Most neighboring countries have their own version of the dish, with varying condiments and pungency (derived from fish sauce). Typically, the Vietnamese version is sweeter. Its additional ingredients made this one original: dried shrimp, puffed shrimp croutons, peanuts, basil, and beef liver jerky. We ate at the edge of a park while children ran the food between the vendor and customers.
2. While fish balls and fruit ice cream may not sound like a great combination, these two treats went perfectly together. It was like dipping french fries into a Frosty — sweet and salty melded together. The vendor sold the dish from a room that was smaller than a one-car garage. Of course, the environment made the food all the more exotic.