During extensive travels throughout Southeast Asia over the last year, I found myself most adventurous and most perplexed by local cuisine while in Vietnam. After a lengthy stay in Cambodia, where Khmer food paled in comparison to the palate-pleasing flavors of Thailand, I spent my first few days in a Vietnamese border town on the Mekong with relatively few Westerners. Somehow I forged several meals out of local markets, though it meant eating food completely foreign to my tongue in taste and texture. From feathered chicks straight out of the egg in Chau Doc (in retrospect, the words "bird flu" come to mind) to several days of gorging myself on KFC in Ho Chi Minh City, and from hermit crabs plucked straight from the sea and into a peppery sauce off the coast of Nha Trang to the French pastries and white rose in Hoi An, I ate my way through Vietnam with little fear of what it was I was putting in my mouth.
It was the Saffa's last supper in the City of Trees, and after he allowed me to butcher the Vietnamese language while ordering for the two of us (I got suckered into ordering because I could remember how to say "Xin chao"), we swapped tales of our separate journeys through the Southeast Asian country.
The food came fast, quickly following our Kirin and Hue beers (Hue being a beer neither of us remember having, though we both spent time in the town of its namesake). We started with cha gio, a bit-sized deep fried morsel filled with noodles, pork and vegetables with nuoc cham for dipping. I was instantly reminded of something similar I'd eaten on a bus ride where a local woman had given me some sort of steamed meat, which I had to extricate from layers and layers of banana leaves. Dong Khanh's version was a flavorful morsel, and thankfully, was identifiable meat.
Pho followed the cha gio. Pho is unique Vietnam and many towns have versions found only in that geographic locale. The most authentic pho I've had stateside was in a hole in the wall in lower Manhattan, but I had high hopes for DK. While tasty, DK's was not the most impressive I've had, and was missing the traditional side condiments of basil, mint, lime, sprouts and chili.
As an entrée, the Saffa and I split the spicy beef with steamed rice. It was the menu's promise of lemongrass that caught my attention, and when the dish arrived, the long stalks of lemongrass and any trace of its unique flavor were MIA. Too bad.
Delicious? Yes. Authentic? Enough for Boise ... but I sure did like those hermit crabs.
Rachael Daigle was tricked into drinking a shot of cobra juice by a band of laughing cigarette vendors on the Mekong.