The Tattooed Chef Rides Vietnam
Vietnam is an exhilarating place to ride. A great combination of quiet country tracks, bustling towns, frenetic cities and roads that go from bitchimun, to rock, to dirt, to mud to overflowing monsoonal rivers and land slides. To how the hell did I get on this road in the first place?
A country where surprise, adventure, food, fun, humility and potential death are around every corner, and all the while you learn more about yourself via the good nature of a relatively poor, however, not dispirited agrarian people, the whole country possesses a sense of shared experience through environment that is lost to our advanced economies, some how as you travel these remote areas you feel almost a fraud for having so much choice to be there or not, to view the harsh simplicity of their lives and not have to commit, although so often you wish you could.
To travel Vietnam by Motorbike you must first understand the road rules, although subtle, they are vital for your survival and riding pleasure. No need for a handbook, just look after the 15 degree arc in front of you. In tricky situations stick with whoever makes the first move and remember to follow through. Most importantly just keep moving, avoid the cops at all times and all situations, the Vietnamese will, so don’t be the bunny, Its no small irony that Hanoi Traffic Police are the best tailored public servants in the country and will physically tackle you off your bike if you jump the lights.
With a keen understanding of the road rules, and after making peace with your chosen deity you are ready for the open road.
Of course you will need a motorbike and the Russian Minsk two stroke is the go anywhere, cool choice, it doesn’t have a five star environmental rating, however, not much with a motor does in Vietnam.
Life in Vietnam is lived by the roads and on the streets, and this is the best place to eat and drink.
A great way to start the day is with an Open Duck Egg Omelette with Spring Onion, Bean shoots and a little Oyster Sauce, sprinkled with locally mined Salt that goes from grey to black depending on where you are. The subtlety of these Salts rivals the European harvested Varieties.
Another breakfast favourite, particularly in the North, is Pho-ga, a Chicken Noodle Broth with Chilli and Fish Sauce. At first it seems at odds with the tropical heat, however, a good sweat at breakfast metabolizes the system and leaves you feeling refreshed.
Vietnamese Coffee is a personal favourite, very finely ground, served at the table with its own Dripolator and Condensed Milk. This also makes for the best Iced Coffee.
While on the road keep an eye out for fresh Sugar Cane Drinks, the Cane is crushed through a roller with Salt, Lime and Ground Star Anise over Frappe Ice. Deluxe.
Lunch could be Fruit or Pork Fat with Rice and Fish Sauce or Squid Fried with Peanut Coating or a Prawn Pancake with fresh Salad washed down with Bia-Hoi, this is a fresh Beer served warm out of large Kegs in bars that pop up late afternoon on Hanoi street corners. The surplus is put in plastic cool drink bottles and transported to the surrounding country side where it is stored in freezers that don’t work properly. The result is the most refreshing Ice Cold Beer you could imagine.
Towards the end of the day between the monsoon rains and the sun going down is the most dangerous time on the road, bicycles, animals, trucks, cars, carts, buses and motorbikes, five lanes of traffic on a two lane road.
On this particular day turning off the highway to the city of Qui Nhon, tired and hungry I searched for a familiar sight. I find and an old toothless lady with a Conical Hat, a small charcoal fire with two pots, one with Broth the other Noodles, some prepared Meats under a cloth and a table with Salad, Vegetables and Condiments. Warm Beer, Ice, Vietnamese Cigarettes and Green Tea to finish.
After some cheerful conversation that neither of us understand, I pay my 12 000 Dong and go searching for somewhere to sleep and plan the next days ride.
The Tattooed Chef travelled 6000km over three months in 2000 (55th Anniversary of the Vietnamese Communist Party) and highly recommends Vietnam for adventure, cultural and food travel, especially off the beaten track.
BBqed Tiger Prawns with Vietnamese Salad and Nam Jim
600grms Tiger Prawn Flesh
1 Tsp Grated Ginger
1 Tsp Grated Garlic
1 Tbl sp Sesame Oil
1 Tbl sp Fish Sauce
Rub Tiger Prawn flesh with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and fish sauce. Divide into 4 and skewer.
50grms Palm Sugar
2 limes - Zest, Pulp and Juice
1 Fresh Chilli - sliced
Fish Sauce to taste
Nam Jim - Boil Palm Sugar and water add sliced chilli and cool. Add lime pulp, juice and zest, fish sauce to taste, this should be a balance of flavours.
1 Tbl sp Chopped Chinese Chives
½ Iceberg Lettuce
2 Tpl sp torn Vietnamese Mint
½ Cup Bean shoots
2 Oranges Segmented
½ Cup Vermicelli Noodles, cover with boiling water for 2minutes and drain.
Shred Iceberg Lettuce toss with Vietnamese Mint, Vermicelli, Bean shoots, Orange segments and Chinese Chives top with bbqed prawns dress with Nam Jim.
Mick Hill from Australia