While we’d all like to think of ourselves as culture vultures, there are definitely a few things that even the hardiest of food lovers may wish to avoid when abroad, and SE Asia isn’t exempt from this list. I’ll update this list as I move around so keep checking if you’re following the trail. Some of these are more my personal opinion, so perhaps think of them more as guidelines…
- Tap water [DON’T]
I know this one generally goes without saying, but it’s still important so I’ve stuck it at the top of the list. Don’t freak out if you forget to rinse with bottled water when brushing those pearly whites, but try and avoid downing the stuff.
- Chien [DO]
Don’t worry if this is screaming ‘dog’ if you parlez vous the Français; in Vietnam it’s nothing more exciting than chips.
- Dog [DON’T]
Ok this one is entirely up to you, but even if you aren’t a fan of man’s best friend, I’m pretty sure your gut will instinctively tell you to avoid. Mostly favourable in Vietnam, look out for thit cay in the south and thit cho in the north.
- Vietnam – Eel, frog, offal, snail [DO/DON’T]
I know some of you will probably have tried all of the above, and even went back for seconds. I, however, am not a fan of any. You may think me dull and try to convince me with the age old: ‘It tastes like chicken’ line. I’m 25 - some would say old enough to make culinary decisions; leave me alone!
eel – luon
frog - ech
offal – thit long
snail – oc
When you see these in a menu, there may be a few accents and hats thrown around (similar to French). Unfortunately I don’t have a Vietnamese spellchecker to hand, but they’ll be easy to spot.
- Tofu - for the tofu skeptics [DO]
Ok, this will come as a shock to two of my dearest friends – The Vegan and Lynelyn. I’ve refused tofu for as long as I had the pleasure of living with The Vegan and Lynny, the vegetarian. Who would want to eat something that looks a bit like the kind of soap you can pick up from the ‘Lush’ shop as a substitute for a nice bit of chicken (free-range please, I try to do my bit and so should you).
However, tofu is hard to avoid around SE Asia; it comes as part and parcel of most stir-fry’s and rice dishes, and unless you know enough Thai/Vietnamese etc to ask them to avoid adding it to your meal, you’ll just have to go ahead and try it. It actually tastes pretty good and I promise the two aforementioned friends that I will have some of that tofu lasagna I kept avoiding on my return….
- Vietnam - Hoa qua [DO]
This is one of my favourite discoveries since arriving in Vietnam and is available everywhere. Hoa qua means fruit shake in Vietnamese and they come in all kinds of fruit flavours. I haven’t quite nailed the ingredients yet, but fresh fruit is essential, none of the concentrated juice carton stuff. A bit of ice thrown in and some kind of yoghurt whizzed together (I think), et voila.
I promise to have a post solely for this drink when I learn enough words to ask how it’s made; it tastes incredible and is amazingly refreshing, but not so cold you can’t enjoy it back in the UK winter months.