cheap eats through vietnam

 

Vietnam is the food capital of Southeast Asia. Period. The street food is king and the prices are unbeatable.  Here are a few highlights of different places that’ll fill the belly without breaking the bank.

Ho Chi Minh City

Cô Giang Street Food

The road is lined with carts serving all the street food you could possibly desire at prices that might be the cheapest in the area. A personal favorite is bo la lot, the charcoal-grilled leaf-wrapped beef meatballs served with a tray of vegetables, rice paper, dips, and occasionally noodles.

Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa

Not a clue what went into this banh mi but I enjoyed every second of it. Makes perfect sense why there’s a line of locals out the door. Don’t think, just order one and dive in.

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Đà Lạt

Quán cơm chay Âu Lạc 2

Inexpensive, enjoyable vegetarian food; the joys of going to a Vietnamese buffet-style restaurant without having to worry about what part of what animal you’re eating. Looks interesting? Throw it on there.

Hội An

Madam Khanh – “Banh Mi Queen”

Oh Madam Khanh, how I wish you were my grandmother so you could cook for me all the time. Without trying to hype anything up, this was my favorite thing I’ve eaten in four months of traveling Southeast Asia. Only went twice, but had to actively stop myself from going more. Will leave it at that. 

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Rosie’s Cafe

With overpriced coffee galore in the Ancient Town, Rosie’s was a nice change of pace on a side street away from the madness. 

Huế

Dong Ba Market Street Food

As a rule of thumb when you see a street food setup with a crowd around it, you know it’s going to be good. This was no exception. One of the best meals I’ve had in Vietnam, for 50k vnd I was given lemongrass pork skewers, bbq pork, greens, and rice paper to make the best fresh spring rolls I’ve had in the country yet (and not because of my expert rolling skills). Still rocking around 7 PM, I can’t tell you exactly what hours they’re around.

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Cà Phê Muối

Not entirely sure what salt coffee is, but what I can tell you is that it was the best cup of coffee I’ve had in Vietnam. Reminiscent of caramel, I had no choice but to order a second cup after. The spot has a local feel and the prices match, so it’s a great stop after you’ve checked out the Imperial City.

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Phong Nha

Thang Nhung

The self-proclaimed “Best Spit Roast Pork & Noodle Shop in the World (probably…)” might be able to lay claim to that title in Phong Nha at the very least. Though the pork is a bit fatty, the prices are fair.

Tuan Ngoc Restaurant

Without too many other options in town, the portion size was generous for the prices. 

Ninh Bình

Trung Tuyết Restaurant

The portion size to cost ratio at this restaurant might be the craziest I’ve seen in Asia. A “small” plate of whatever you order could feed a family of four, pets included. 

Binh Tay Restaurant

A few doors down from the above, the omelette was one of the best I ate in the region and at a similarly laughable price.

Cat Ba Island

Buddha Belly Restaurant

Though the variety plate they advertise ended up tasting like a giant plate of mushy vegetables, the price for the amount of food is good for the area. They don’t play around when it comes to vegetarian options though. 

Yummy Restaurant

The prices are a bit higher now than they would’ve been thanks to all the attention the place has gotten, but the food is still good quality.

Bakery Family

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. The baked goods are cheap and delicious, but the cup of coffee I had was stale. Normally that wouldn’t bother me too much, but in a country like Vietnam where the coffee is nothing but delicious, it hurt my soul a little.

Hanoi

Bún Bò Nam Bộ

A bit pricier than standard street food, but very enjoyable. Not entirely sure whether it’s a salad or a soup or a bowl of noodles so when you try it let me know. 

Phở Gia Truyền

Arguably the best pho in Vietnam with a line out the door of locals who will confirm it. The meat is cooked in the broth and melts in your mouth, reminiscent of a delicious pastrami. If you enjoy noodle soup don’t miss this spot.

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Bánh Mỳ Đức Long

Because sometimes in life you just want a kebab. For me, that’s always. This place does it right with chicken and pork options and a few different types of bread.

Bánh cuốn Gia truyền Thanh Vân

If you haven’t had banh cuon, or steamed rice rolls, this is a great place to start. Though a tiny bit pricier than what you’ll find on the street, they’re delicious.

King Roti

Four options for dessert. Get one and you might end up getting all of them.

Cafe Giang 39 Nguyen Huu Huan

If you’re in Hanoi you need to try a cup of egg coffee. If you’re going to try a cup of egg coffee, you might as well try it at the spot that invented it.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the combination, but I enjoyed the experience.

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the one-day hà giang loop ride from hell

The Hà Giang Loop is a scenic three-day motorcycle ride through the northern mountains of Vietnam that touches waterfalls, remote villages, and even China.

What I experienced was far from that.

The day started off as well as any other with an hour of riding through small towns and villages emerging into a beautiful stretch of mountains and winding roads before the weather decided not to participate and the rain started to pour. Not dismayed (I did have a thin rain jacket to protect me after all), I continued to toot along at my favorite speed of 30km/h, though what I didn’t see coming was the cold of the mountains coupled with said rain. Within minutes I went from being a bit chilly to being cold to shivering uncontrollably to being convinced I was going to catch pneumonia.

After pulling off into the first town to try and dry off/warm up/eat lunch, I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself enough to continue riding for three days in thunderstorms. Instead of backtracking the road I took, Google Maps (up until that point one of my best friends in Southeast Asia) presented me an alternative that would only take “38 minutes longer.”

Lesson: However long Google Maps tells you it’s going to take, double it. At least.  

Why not right? It’s 2 PM, so I can’t possibly get back later than 5 PM this evening.

Wrong.

After a beautiful first 45 minutes driving through empty roads past quiet villages and beautiful nature, my trusty navigation told me to turn onto a rock and mud path. As I was too far to turn back and there was no possible way to cut across the river, I began to climb switchbacks buoyed by a local kid on a motorbike nodding his head when I pointed and mentioned Hà Giang. Following me for a kilometer or two, our last point of contact was when he shouted and I turned around to see my bag being dragged in the mud.

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At this point still relatively confident I would make it back, I continued climbing up roads that to be called hiking trails would even be generous. Large boulders and tracks of mud abound, I saw no other people for about an hour and a half. That’s when things got a bit wild.

The sun was slowly creeping away, my bike ran out of fuel, and the phrase “are we there yet?” was in full swing. Every time I looked at my map it was as if I’d made no progress, and the reality kicked in that I was in the middle of the mountains about 30km from society with no emergency exit: there were no side roads to cut through, no food or water, no small villages, no abort button. Even if I had a working cell phone, there was no possible way anyone would be able reach me except climb said path in the dark, which wasn’t going to happen.

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Note the distance left at 5 PM after a 2 PM start.

The range of thoughts included:

“Am I going to have to sleep in the bushes somewhere?”

“There’s no way I make it down in time, and when the sun goes down I’ll just have to push the bike 20 miles home.”

“Google Maps is trying to fucking kill me what was it thinking sending me here.”

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When the road finally began to improve.

To spare you all the details, after five hours of riding down hills with the engine off and up hills with the engine on to conserve what little fuel I had left and falling over and losing a bike mirror in the process, I managed to find a hut that sold me enough fuel to make it back in the darkness. Six godforsaken hours later I made it back.

Ride safe y’all.

Tl;dr It started raining while riding through the mountains and I got too cold and wet so had I to take a detour and get lost in the middle of the mountains about 20 miles off the path with no gas and the sun going down.

the da lat weasel coffee farm

“That’s that shit I do like”

Coffee (cà phê) in Vietnam is great. It’s strong, inexpensive, and delicious. Drink it with condensed milk, yogurt, even a raw egg if you live that masochistic brotein lifestyle. There is one kind of coffee that shits on the competition though.

Literally.

Straight out of a National Geographic/Bizarre Foods collaboration, the most expensive cup of coffee in the world is roasted from beans eaten, digested, and passed by a civet (Asian weasel creature). Selling for $1000/kg, the beans are grown and “amplified” on a small handful of farms found in Vietnam and Indonesia.

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In brief, their diet consists of bananas, coffee beans, and chicken soup, and each civet “works” for 4-5 seasons and then retires with a great pension. The coffee season only lasts from October to January, so the rest of the year the civets Netflix and chill.

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While in Da Lat, Vietnam, you can check out the OG weasel farm Cà Phê Chồn Trại Hầm and see it all for yourself. As we were there out of season we weren’t able to witness the process itself but we had the chance to see/taste/experience what a $50 cup of coffee tastes like. There were also puppies. Who doesn’t love puppies? Overall, it was a unique and easy way to spend an hour or two seeing something I guarantee you won’t see elsewhere (unless you head down to Indonesia).

Cost: The tour was free, and a cup of coffee is either 100k or 200k vnd depending on how strong you want it. If you’d like to purchase a 10g bag as a souvenir, it’ll run you another 200k vnd.

How To Get There: A metered taxi (we went with Mai Linh, the green one) each way will cost you about 75k vnd and take 15 minutes from the city center, so don’t feel pressured into taking some full-day tour. Our driver didn’t even know the place existed and stayed to check out the tour with us. An easy solution was loading up Google Maps directions and letting your driver just follow them. You’ll see signs as you get closer. 

WARNING: I would avoid visiting and experiencing the farm before a long bus ride or physical activity. Take that as you will.