Vietbodia, Pt 1: Ho Chi Minh City

When people ask me about my South East Asia trip I usually say, “It was really good. When it wasn’t hilariously bad.” It was pretty much the tagline of our whole adventure. Between the scams (which ranged from harmless price hiking from cheerful coconut vendors, to outright credit card fraud) and the food (from amazing seven course meals to poisonous salad sandwiches), we managed to experience the highs, lows and everything in between.

To start with the bad? I didn’t get my passport back in time from the Vietnamese Embassy and couldn’t fly out with the other girls. A last minute Thai Airways flight, and a very kind father, meant that I met them three days late in Ho Chi Minh City.

It certainly was a surreal way to start the trip. 6 hours on my own in Melbourne Airport, followed by an overnight flight in which I dreamt that I was on an overnight flight. Except that we were all in fancy dress, and I won a prize. I was dressed as sleeping beauty. I made friends with the middle aged lady sitting next to me: “Did you have a good rest?” she asked when I woke up. I said yes, and apologised if I'd been snoring.“Oh not at all!” she said smiled kindly, “I think you had a good sleep.” I began to think of her as Aeroplane Mum after that. She and her husband were travelling to India.

Bangkok airport. The first shop I see is selling life size porceline dogs in bonnets. 10 kilometres of high end shops follow. Areoplane Mum and I keep running into each other on the way to our next gate. “Isn’t it all so fancy!” she says.

One more flight, passing wordlessly through militaristic airport security, and finally, finally, I meet up with my girls in Ho Chi Minh City. In the taxi from the airport the city seemed huge and nonsensical. The traffic was extraordinary; crossing the street was like stepping into a river.

Our hostel was tucked down an alley that reminded me of Melbourne; tiny shopfronts, bicycles, balcony gardens. It was also five metres away from the cheapest, and best, Indian food I’ve ever eaten, and fifteen metres away from an amazing french bakery.

Yes, that is a dragon and a horse in the background. My first great Vietnam food monent - and the first meal I ate in Vietnam - was pond week. Pond weed, or Morning Glory, or Water Spinach, Ong Choy, Kangkung, Pak Boong, as it's variously known, fried with garlic and served with sticky rice. Absolutely delicious. I got more than halfway through before I remembered to take a photo.

It inspired me to go searching through my local asian grocers to see if I could find any. Happily, I live just across the road from the Dickson shops in Canberra, home to at least 7 asian grocers, two of which are Vietnamese. I went and got promptly distracted by herbs and rice paper. So today I have a fresh rice paper roll recipe for you, and a promise to keep you updated on the search for Morning Glory.

Rice Paper Rolls

These guys are seriously easy, healthy and delicious. This is a very basic recipe; feel free to play around with fillings, sauces, marinades - try them with some prawns and avocado, maybe! There's no limit, just think of them like sandwiches.

What You Will Need

A lovely Asian Grocer with a good selection of fresh greens.

Vermicelli Noodles
Your favourite firm tofu - I love Soyco's Japanese Tofu.
Rice paper
Sesame oil
Vietnamese Mint

What you need to do:

Julienne the vegetables and the tofu to the length of the radius of the rice paper
Soak the vermicelli, drain, and toss in about a tsp of sesame oil
Soak a rice paper sheet
Lay on a clean tea towel
Place noodles, vegetables, tofu and mint in a row closer to one side than the middle

Fold over the right side; than the top and bottom; and then roll to close. The rice paper will adhere to itself.

Serve with soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, or any manner of dipping sauce. I like peanut soy, which is roughly: some peanut butter, half as much soy sauce, a squeeze of lime, a shake of chili seeds, a tsp grated fresh ginger, and a couple of minced garlic cloves.

An easy, delicious, and healthy dinner. Or, pack some for lunch, and enjoy the envy of your co-workers. Goodness, all that and I'm only one day in. More of Vietbodia to come...

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