Did she say dog?!?
We are leaving Vietnam tomorrow, and I’m already starting to feel a bit sad and homesick even though I‘ll be back in May to volunteer at the orphanages through the Global Volunteer Network (www.globalvolunteernetwork.org). I can’t believe it only took two weeks to feel like home. Vietnam is different this time around—my third trip—but now I know I’m here to stay. Although I had fears about moving to one of the big cities in Vietnam, I have acclimated and even enjoy the vibrant buzz. Saigon has 10 million people, Hanoi has 4 million, and the traffic, pollution and noise had originally felt oppressive. I could still do without the nonstop honking…
Vietnam is full of contradictions. The old and the new are present in every inch of the city. Elderly in pajamas biking next to Gucci-clad Vespa-driving girls. Women selling fruit on the street outside of art galleries full of $1,000+ paintings. And I am full of contradictions, too. The cyclo drivers are always whistling at me for a ride, a constant reminder of my foreign status. I’m so Vietnamese in many ways, but keenly aware of my American-ness, too. The truth is I get treated better and worse as a foreigner. I can always get a cab ride, but have to pay more for most goods/services. The travel agents charge me exorbitant prices, but my Vietnamese friends treat me like a queen. I figure a 30 percent markup on very inexpensive things is a small price to pay for staying in this wondrous country.
I’ve been traveling with a Vietnamese American foodie friend who visits Vietnam annually. He knows all the great street food and we are having a culinary tour of Hanoi. Our first day here we eat four meals between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.: two kinds of soup, banh cuon (a roll made from rice flour filled with meat or vegetables), and seafood (bloody clams, monster prawns and crab). I was bemoaning the deprived tourists who only eat in restaurants and never experience the joys of street food. My cockiness was noted the next morning when I suffer a quick two-minute bout of projectile vomiting. As liquid was streaming from my mouth into the toilet, I was worried that if I had food poisoning it would put a major cramp in my street food escapades for days! Fortunately, it was just a quick bug and I was back on the street in hours.
For breakfast, I eat bun oc (snail soup) for one dollar. Lunch is fried tofu, fishcakes, mint, rice noodle and shrimp paste. The shrimp paste dipping sauce is a masterpiece exploding in my mouth comprised of shrimp paste, fresh chili, garlic/chili soaked vinegar, kumquat juice, MSG, sugar and oil. And all for sixty-five cents! On my last night in Hanoi, I decide to dine like the locals and eat dog, the Northern specialty. The hotel staff couldn’t believe it and asked for photos as evidence since foreigners don’t eat dog. We eat dog four-ways: roasted, sausage (included peanuts in the sausage), stewed in wine, and my favorite, grilled with lemongrass.
The next day, we travel to Laos and it’s even more lovely than I’d remembered. Immediately, it’s Sabawdee (hello) and smiles everywhere. We arrive in Vientiane, and my stomach is already aching from the prior day’s dinner of dog. So I am tethered to the toilet for the entire day. Guess this is my penance for dining on America’s most beloved pet. That evening, we venture out for dinner and I swear every Laotian dog is barking at me, like they could smell it on me!
You can read more of her travel adventures at http://suckthemarrow.wordpress.com.