If it’s 3:00 pm on a weekday afternoon, while the rest of the town is taking their daily siesta, myself, never being much of a napper (plus it’s hard to justify napping when I can sleep till 10) can often be found tooting away on my little yellow bike looking for one of my favorite afternoon snacks. Being prone to some rather unfortunate food allergies (gluten and dairy) I am always hesitant to try new “mystery foods” which are everywhere in Vietnam.
I learned a lesson from my last abroad experience in New Zealand in which my daily diet consisted mostly of beer and cheese (my roots are in Wisconsin) and my allergy prone body reacted accordingly by swelling up like a balloon and causing all sorts of pain and mishaps. I have thus been careful to not fall prey to the many beautiful and delicious gluten and dairy temptations here. Luckily for me, I’m absolutely in the right country.
Fellow freaks, have no fear, there is salvation in Vietnam!
Glory Number 1: Sugarcane
Known as Nuoc Mia, fresh sugar cane will satisfy any sweet tooth in a natural and healthy way and for the glorious price of 5,000 dong (about 25 cents). They take fresh sugar cane stalks and press them through a machine (think of those machines that press pasta) about four times and straight into a glass over ice. Amazing.
Glory Number 2: Popcorn
I can’t quite explain it, but starting about a year ago I became addicted to two new foods that I never quite craved before: raisins and popcorn. My popcorn addiction grew steadily through this past summer as the possibilities seemed endless. I ate it sweet, salted, and every variety in between (often rummaging through the spice drawer and throwing no less than 5 different spices on top of it). While the typical salty popcorn is a rarity here (this country will choose sugar to salt whenever possible) they make their kettlecorn fresh and sell it right on the street for 7,000 dong.
Glory Number 3: Che (also known as pure coconut bliss).
Che is the lactose intolerant person’s dream come true. Throw in some coconut milk, a mixture of jelly like substances, some peanuts and some ice and you have yourself a (healthy?) lactose free milk shake ranging in price from 3,000-7,000 dong. And, it comes in several different varieties and forms so every experience is a surprise!
Glory Number 4: Banana Lady
Located at the end of our alleyway on Vo Van Tan street, lives the most glorious concoction of all. Everyday, this woman stands from the early morning until about 9:30 at night (perfect treat after a night of teaching attitude prone teenagers for three hours) bringing goodness to the world. She sells several things that I am beyond addicted to knowing to be spotted here for desert, snack time and who are we really kidding – I’ve had banana lady for breakfast and dinner as well.
The first thing I discovered was bananas wrapped in sticky rice and then grilled in a banana leaf until it the banana melts into the rice. Then, this angel gives you a bag of steamed and sweetened coconut milk and peanuts to pour over the banana creating a gooey mess of bliss. I recently discovered that she also sells caramelized bananas that also melt into the coconut mixture.
Her final treat is her peanut clusters in which she mixes peanuts, honey and I swear a little bit of ginger together into the perfect snack! Each of these costs 8,000 dong, making it impossible to say no.
You can’t have too much of a good thing.