The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking In Vietnam

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Baking In Vietnam

I've just gotten back after a month travelling, most of which was spent in Vietnam. One of the most notable influences of French colonisation is the proliferation of baguettes in the Vietnamese diet. In Saigon (that's what the locals call their manic city, and it's a far more romantic and exotic name than Ho Chi Minh City, so I'm going with it), most baguettes are the rice flour ones that appear in Vietnamese bakeries all over Australia, and probably the States. I find these a bit boring to eat and didn't bother photographing them, but north of Saigon the baguettes are all wheat...and delicious.

Elaborate cake decoration features in some of the bakery displays, also, although I didn't bother with sampling any of the cakey stuff. Too much other interesting fare to get yer tonsils around!

I thought TFL readers might be interested to have a look at some of the baking-related pictures I came back with.

 

Breakfast baguette, Nha Trang

 

 

An 'American breakfast' Nha Trang style

 

 

The further north you go, the thinner the baguettes become. They all have something in common, though - they're delicious!

Hoi An breakfast baguette

...and of course a crumb shot, as best as I could manage it:

 

 

The following were taken at a Saigon bakery:

NB: 9000 VND = approx 40c AUD/American...not the greatest bargain, when you consider 'fresh beer' (made in 24 hours and surprisingly quaffable) is 25c per glass.

 

 

 

 

And finally, my favourite shot of the trip:

Basket of baguettes in Hoi An market

 

Good to have some home comforts back, but I'm still processing my Vietnam travelling experience. Just about every expectation I had was confounded.

I can tell you one thing - they leave us for dead with their MAGNIFICENT fresh daily produce. Fish out of the water mere hours, prawns still flipping, meat from animals slaughtered that day (and sometimes trussed up or in cages awaiting their unfortunate fate), an amazing array of vegetables picked and taken straight to market, and the most spectacular tropical fruit I've ever encountered. I had some pineapple in the Mekong Delta that triggers a salivation response just thinking about it.

Vietnam is one of the great travel bargains left on the planet, but it won't last much longer. If you're interested in going, do it soon.

Cheers all
Ross

Comments

Mebake's picture
Mebake

For a moment, i thought those were you baguettes..Nice trip , Ross!

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I'd be happy to be able to turn out baguettes like those, though. I thought they were up with the French ones for taste - although it's a long while since I was in Europe, so I'm going on distant memory there.

totels's picture
totels

Thank you for sharing this, lovely stuff. Definitely considering a trip to this part of the world soon.

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

And yes, if you're interested in Vietnam, go sooner rather than later. It's already taken off as a travel destination, and going by the construction in progress - especially of big swish hotels along the choice coastal areas - it's going to hit critical mass in the next few years. When that happens, the prices will doubtless rocket in the main tourist areas. At the moment, it's still an outstanding bargain.

MadAboutB8's picture
MadAboutB8

That basket of baguettes is my favorite pic too. Great find, Ross!

Did you travel during Chinese New Year? Few of the cakes appeared to symbolise CNY, Tiger (it's tiger year this year) and dragon.

Agree, Vietnamese cuisine is one of the healthiest, full of fresh herbs and vegies. It's fresh and simple, one of my favorite cuisine.

Sue

http://youcandoitathome.blogspot.com

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

We planned our trip to start after the NY celebrations, which are called Tet in Vietnam. Good point about the tiger, though - we saw a few such cakes in various bakeries, and you're probably right on the button about the Year of the Tiger.

I'm with you on Vietnamese food. The freshness of the ingredients is guaranteed in Vietnam, and as you say, they use fresh veges and herbs in abundance. To be honest, though, the quality of the food did not meet my expectations, generally speaking. I was anticipating something quite special, but most of the time the food wasn't as good as that available in Vietnamese restaurants in Australia (which I don't rate particularly highly - again, that's a generalisation).

My usual travel strategy of seeking out the best of the local food by asking staff in hotels and other locals for their recommendations did not work in Vietnam. People who work in the hospitality industry have so little time and spare money that they rarely eat out - the exploitation of staff by hotel owners is appalling, but that's another story that I'll be including in a series of blog posts on my experience in Vietnam, so won't elaborate further here.

The rest of the population speak so little English that getting eating recommendations is next to impossible without an interpreter. And in my opinion, guide books like Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide are worse than useless for restaurant recommendations. Basically, it's a matter of luck and persistence getting on to great regional food in Vietnam.

Of course, there's always pho, which is pretty good most of the time, and the point-and-pay option at street stalls - we picked up some nice snacks by pointing without necessarily knowing exactly what we were eating.

I suppose my expectations might have been unrealistic. I saw Rick Stein's Far East Odyssey a few months before we went, and the food he showed in Vietnam looked tremendous. Ditto Luke Nguyen's two series on northern and southern Vietnamese cuisine respectively. Then again, it's clearly a major advantage to have researchers pave the way for you, and in the case of Luke Nguyen to speak Vietnamese and have family to call on. I suspect the average traveller finds it as difficult as we did to penetrate the surface of Vietnam. Fascinating and frustrating in roughly equal measure...

 

 

MadAboutB8's picture
MadAboutB8

I have to correct myself...actually Tiger year was on the way out, and Rabbit year is in. It's the rabbit this lunar year.

It's right-on with Lonely Planet, I think it's only good half of the time, if not less. I find travel blogs are helpful, but again, it's only if you find the right one. My strategy is usually starting with TripAdvisor, browsing around and see what other travellers said, then cross checking with other posts on travel blogs. I found a real piece of gem in Japan this way.

The other good trick is go where the local goes...if the shop is crowded with locals, then it is to go:)

I love Luke's show too...coming from SE, I can relate to his cooking adventure a lot.

Sue

http://youcandoitathome.blogspot.com

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Hopefully, then, the tiger cakes are not left over from last year!

Good strategy to cross-check guide book recommentations with TripAdvisor and blogs. I've found there are a lot of ravers on TripAdvisor also, who posture as experienced travellers when their comments suggest otherwise. But what can you do - you can only make a judgment, then see how it measures up once you get to your travelling destination. Everyone's perception varies. I guess that's half the fun!

Yeah, crowds of happily partaking locals is probably about the best indicator there is of a good local food venue.

You're from Thailand, I think? One of the food-obsessed nations of SE Asia, and what a wonderful cuisine - surely one of the great cuisines of the world. Next trip to Vietnam (which will be to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa etc), I'm hoping to incorporate a sojourn to Chang Mai and other parts of Thailand. Can't wait!

Cheers!
Ross

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Thank you for sharing your experiences in Vietnam. I know it has changed a lot from when I was there for 2 years back in the day but the people and food are fond memories.

A close friend of ours has been working on a photography based book project there for about 3 or 4 years. He loves it and is breaking down the barriers of the local culture so he can record the people as they live in the back country. He tells me of being invited for a meal in the back country where the people are living in primitive shelters and seemingly poor. However they are able to quickly put together a wonderful elegant meal with all the trimmings and soon a community celebration is underway with smiles and happiness. Very kind people who have accepted him.

Good to see your post Ross.

Eric

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

So you were posted there as a soldier during the war? Have you considered returning for a look at the country today? I cannot imagine how it must have been for you, but I did see a lot of guys there of veteran age, and on quite a few occasions they were sharing a beer with Vietnamese guys of the same vintage. I fancied they were revisiting the past, perhaps even drinking with people who they'd fought with or against.

I had some issues to work through to do with the war, but as someone who had faced the prospect of conscription and joined the protest marches that eventually forced a change of government. Fortunately, Australia withdrew from Vietnam a year before I was due to have my name in the ballot for the next wave of conscripts. Nevertheless, Vietnam was an intrinsic part of my youth for various reasons, and the arrival of the boat people after the Americans left and the Viet Cong took Saigon changed the face of Australia quite radically. Like many, my perception is that the Vietnamese are amongst our best immigrants.

I can't possible do justice to this topic here, so won't go on. Suffice it to say a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels and War Museum in Saigon had quite an effect on me, and not quite in the way I might have expected. I will cover this in a coming series of posts on my blog. Will put up a link here when it's online, for anyone who might be interested.

Your friend is to be envied. I would love access to the communities in the way he has, but of course that's something that could only come over time. I don't doubt for a moment the capacity of the minority peoples, as they term them in Vietnam, to throw together an amazing meal despite living in primitive conditions. The whole country labours daily to bring fresh food to the tables. I've never encountered anything like it.

The kindness of the people is fabled, but to be honest, my findings did not coincide with the popular perception. We met some lovely folk, and came up against some rudeness and hostility. I'd have to say it was yet another instance of exploding a stereotype through exposure to the reality. But I have this niggling sense that the place was inpenetrable, and that whatever I now know about Vietnam as a result of my travelling is miniscule compared with what there is to know. That's the same anywhere with travelling. It's illusory to think that you can 'know' a country by travelling through it, as anyone who has set down roots in a country through which they previously travelled will know. But in Vietnam, this is especially so, I found.

Cheers
Ross

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Ross,

Here is a link to my friends web site. You can find other work if you nose around on the site or google. He's pretty well traveled and respected in that niche.

Eric

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I've had a browse through the pics onsite - nice. Might consider doing your friend's course if he's still running it when I make it to Hanoi (hopefully towards the end of this year).

lazybaker's picture
lazybaker

I know of one blog that talks about food and places to eat in Vietname, mainly Hanoi. I think the blogger is from Australia who lives in Vietnam.

His blog: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I did actually consult quite a few food blogs before leaving for Vietnam, but don't have a lot of faith in the recommendations of westerners compared with local knowledge - especially those writing travel blogs. I wrongly assumed my tried-and-true strategy of asking the locals would work as well in Vietnam as elsewhere in SE Asia, but I didn't figure on the almost total absence of English amongst the greater population, or the hotel staff not being familiar with local eateries.

Anyway, I've learnt my lesson. Before I go next time - and there will be a next time, because my sense is that I only scratched the surface this time - I will learn some basic Vietnamese, and check out blogs like the one you've linked to. AND take some notes instead of just reading through. Thanks for alerting me to that one. It gives me a lot more confidence that the blogger is actually living in Hanoi - which will be our kick-off point next visit. We only got as far north as Hue this time.

Cheers
Ross

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I grew up on Okinawa, similar in climate to Viet Nam.  I'm wondering how those baguettes did in the humidity, especially those sold on the street--were the crusts able to stay crisp? 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

The climate in Vietnam varies greatly from north to south, and there are also seasonal influences that are greater the further north you go. It was relatively cool in Hue, for example, and rained on the last two days we were there. We heard reports from other travellers that Hanoi was cold enough to require jumpers (sweaters) day and night. And up in the highland area of Dalat, we were wearing polar fleeces at night - the locals were rugged up the whole time! So, no problem with the baguettes in these areas. The humidity was only moderate.

Saigon and the Mekong Delta are another story. Pretty hot and muggy in these areas, but I mostly had the rice flour baguettes there, and only for breakfast. They were OK, with the crusts still crisp - just not very tasty compared with the all-wheat ones that proliferate further north.

Nha Trang was quite warm and humid, as was Hoi An, but again, the baguettes I had in both places were for breakfast, not long after they came out of the oven. They were very nice, including the crusts. I'm not sure how they would have fared as the day progressed, though. The basket of baguettes in the last picture looked magnificent, but that pic was taken around 6am.

Sorry I can't precisely answer your question.

Cheers
R

Shiao-Ping's picture
Shiao-Ping

 Hi Ross,

Your travel reminds me of Laos where I went many years ago to hunt for jadeite with a gemmologist.  Thanks for sharing your travel experience.  The pictures are great!  (Eric's photographer friend's website has some beautiful pictures too.)  Because I come from Asia, generally I don't explore in Asia.  But I can see myself going to Hanoi some time down the track.  Food influences from the world is an interesting topic.  Fusion in the food scene has long ceased to be a trendy word.  You know one thought leads to another, to yet another, and another.  Your picture of French baguettes in Vietnam - do you know what it leads me to? - the image of Desert Rose, one of Sting's songs!  There is a lot of love in the world, but not enough.  I know it will be a stretch here for me to say that, but it's an Easter morning and I am just waiting for my children and my husband to wake up for us all to go for a walk.  It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day, so Happy Easter!

Shiao-Ping

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Sometimes, there are those moments...and they're worth all it takes to arrive at them.

I'm kicking off my Good Friday with a simple but indulgent breakfast of smoked salmon on thinly sliced lightly toasted and buttered pain de campagne, followed by some fresh-baked SD hot cross buns. I'd better go and put the oven on! I don't know what I'm looking most forward to - having the buns with a cup of fresh-brewed coffee or the aroma that will fill the house while they're baking!

Safe and happy Easter to you and your family, Shiao-Ping - and to all at TFL.

Ross