Dong (pronounced as zong with a hard, downward tone) is a vegetable that is rather popular in Vietnam during winter. My friend this lunchtime boiled some, and it didn’t surprise me that the translucent-looking vegetable doesn’t taste anything, though my friend promised me it is packed with fiber (I translated to her as “roughage”) which I believe is true.
Foods in Vietnam, like in all Southeast Asian countries, are predominantly rice-based. Pho ga and pho bo, both popular traditional Vietnamese noodles are made of rice, so are ban coun pictured below and xoi which are my staple breakfast. They’re the country’s version of a fast food because indeed they can be bought “to-go” and can be eaten conveniently while walking.
But as somebody who grew up in the Philippines and became accustomed with dishes having both western and oriental flair, Vietnamese cuisine’s novelty is not enough make me forget about adobo, sweet-and-sour spaghetti, palabok, and other sweets. We seldom consume sweet delicacies in my place, so my sweet tooth has been half-starved all this time.
This afternoon, after my class, my craving for pasta brought me to Kim Ma Street, several meters from Daewoo hotel. I ordered carbonara and a concoction of local beer and soda which tasted not bad. I reasoned it’s the Vietnamese version of shandy. The pasta was well-done and the sauce just right. The restaurant, simply named Pepperoni, is a good value for my money, although I think that a small plate of pasta and beer for 75,000 dong is rather ludicrous for locals (and a student like me).
A friend of mine who is the managing director of a multinational company in Singapore made a declaration that the best food in Southeast Asia can be found in Vietnam. I’m yet to confirm that, though. For food, as all other commodities are political in nature. This apparent superiority of taste is not dependent on the country of origin of the cuisine but on the class of people who consume the food. Take for example a Pho ga (chicken rice noodle) served along the side walks of Tran hung Dao which could cost between 15,000 to 25,000 dongs will taste different once it is sold inside the air-conditioned halls of Hanoi Metropole or in the Intercon with an ambiance of luxury. These taste ratings which are usually adjudged by tourists are not a reflection of the unique quality of a nation’s cuisine. In fact it mirrors the quality of a country’s tourism bureaus that aim to attract as many tourists as possible.
So the Philippine cuisine not making any mark in the international scene does not say anything about the culinary tradition of the country but the ineptitude of the Tourism Department to allow these tourists have a taste of Filipino food.
I will not make a comparison here because I’ll just turn out being biased for food in the Philippines. In fact I cannot anymore wait to eat in Jollibee and have a helping of my favorite Jolli-Spaghetti and Chicken Joy, or a bowl of La Paz batchoy in the market of Iloilo. Filipino cuisine is after all the best in the world.