Thoughts on Local Vietnamese Food in Hanoi

The motto of PacRim is “expect the unexpected”, a fitting title given the irregularity and exceptional nature of the program. This motto is one of the many aspects that so strongly drew me to the program. My curiosity for difference, but mostly for the attainment of new knowledge and experiences ultimately put me on the path to experiencing and participating in PacRim 2014-2015. This assignment to enjoy a local dish that is “strange” and outside our normal range of food experiences, came not as surprise since in order to experience a new culture and location, and to learn of its daily life and customs, a tasting of local food is essential; however, the result of our food adventure was unexpected in so many ways.

We began the night with the expectation of snails, a local dish, that I had guessed were related to French colonialism. The snails were cooked in lemongrass and ginger. The snails took a bit of prying but were eventually coaxed out of their shells with a silver shard of metal, which removed the Mollusca from its shell, which could then be dipped in a sauce, which due to its popularity I assumed was fish sauce with flecks of chili.

Local snails cooked in ginger and lemongrass, with chili fish sauce.

It was a somewhat sweet sauce, with an acidic undertone, and a spicy bite from the plentiful amount of chili. The snail reminded me of clams, with its slightly chewy and slimy nature; but despite the potential of grabbing a slimy one, as one Pacrimmer did, it was delicious. Despite the delicious nature, while eating the snail, it was a slight concern to be thinking of the receding nature of the land snail populations within Vietnam. A common occurrence in many nations with increasing populations and economies, where delicacies become more accessible and reasonable in price, driving up demand and placing strain on the environment and the species, sometimes leading to extinction of the species. Hopefully, this delicious dish sticks around and the fate of this species of land snail doesn’t follow that of other land snails.

Long ago, in my younger years, I had tried snails, but since that time I had long forgotten the experience of eating snails, but our next dish was an experience I will more then likely not forget or claim to have experienced before. In our adventurous nature we chose to order a plate of un-hatched and fertilized quail eggs. What arrived were tiny brown speckled eggs, with a plate of lime, salt and pepper.

Un-hatched and fertilized quail eggs. Un-hatched and fertilized quail eggs.

We peeled the eggs to reveal a quail fetus, which upon a biologist’s inspection, found the head, the neck, feathers, and in some a beak, as well as, the placenta. The un-born quail plopped out of its egg into our bowl of chili fish sauce where it was quickly picked up. To my surprise there was no slimy nature it, no crunch, but instead the similar taste of hard-boiled eggs, a fascinating and different experience. The thought and exploration of the fetus was a bit off-putting personally, but I popped in my mouth and was surprised and pleased by my appreciation and like of this different delicacy.

On a slightly less but still equally delicious side we also chose to try clams in a turmeric sauce, green mango, friend sweet and regular potato and a flattened and fried French baguette dish. Post dinner we wandered back and stopped in a chè place, to enjoy some sweet che with a mixture of various jellies, fruits and tastes, and once again I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled at the deliciousness of Vietnam. The food was delicious, the adventure exciting, and the experience unexpected, as per the PacRim mantra, overall the evening was a huge success.