Our field class far surpassed my expectations. I expected as a vegetarian to be more of a spectator to observe as my classmates experimented with various Vietnamese street meats. I was so pleasantly surprised to have my expectations proved wrong. I was grouped with other vegetarians from the class and provided such generous accommodations at every stop along our culinary tour of Ho Chi Minh city. Our tour guide was so determined to make sure I was well fed that at one stop she ran off to a market to buy an extra veggie dish to ensure I was included in the feast. My only wish was that I hadn't have eaten breakfast on the ship that morning to save more room for the delightful array of delicacies I would later devour throughout the day. I was so grateful for such a well-planned, tasty, and fun-filled day of learning with my classmates.
The day began with an exploration of street markets. Locals sat under umbrella shades amongst their produce selling vegetables, fruits, rice, noodles, cakes, breads, meats, eggs, and even clothing. Our guide bought some jackfruit and some unique cakes and other rice-based treats for us to try. We stopped for brunch and gathered on tiny plastic stools around child-sized tables like the locals. There we tasted iced Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk, a crispy pancake filled with bean sprouts, fresh spring rolls, and a potato dish all served with fermented soy dipping sauces. I usually hate coffee but I was completely delighted by this Vietnamese specialty. I could have drank three more!
We next stopped to taste Banh Mi sandwiches at another tiny street side table set. The guides showed us how the locals eat, opening the crunchy french bread and filling the sandwich with soy sauce, veggies, or eggs and meat for some. Afterwards we meandered through the fresh flower market and then headed to a Pho restaurant called Bánhcanhbéncó. While most students ate traditional pho soup, they brought us vegetarians a delicious bowl of rice noodles and fake meat substitutes made from tofu and wheat. We added savory soy sauce and squeezed fresh limes to complete the tasty noodle bowl Vietnamese style.
The rest of the afternoon we spent taking a cooking class. It was by far one of my favorite activities throughout my adventures so far on Semester at Sea. We learned how to cook fresh Vietnamese spring rolls and peanut sauce, green mango salad, and finally lotus fried rice. After we prepared each course we were escorted into another room to enjoy our creations with a cool glass of iced ginger tea. It was so luxurious! I was delighted to learn how to make spring rolls and am so excited to bring home that knowledge to share with my family and friends. The green mango salad was most likely my favorite salad I’ve ever tasted. It was the most delectable medley of green mango, carrots and various fresh spring greens with marinated and grilled meat- substitute strips and sprinkled peanuts all tossed together with a sweet and spicy vinegar dressing. The wheat/tofu based “meat” strips were the most delicious texture and flavor and the salad dressing complemented the savory flavors so perfectly.
I cannot wait to make it at home! We were all given a recipe booklet to remember our tasty Vietnamese feast and bring some of the culture home to share. I was so grateful to be able to cook and taste such fresh wholesome foods while gaining insights and understanding of Vietnamese culture.