by Cassidy Armbruster
Despite attending university in the South of the United States where seafood of every type is available in abundance, I pretty much steered clear of it. That is not the case here in Vietnam, and I’m glad for it. I’ve tried clams, mussels, snails, shrimp, and crab legs, and have enjoyed every single bite! Had I not done the Saigon food tour after dark where my hilarious and outgoing tour guide, Loan, encouraged me to try everything (and finish everything), I probably wouldn’t have been as brave. I highly recommend the tour if you’re looking to get out of your shell! In fact, while Anthony Bourdain visited Saigon, he went to several of the same food stops that we visit on the food tour!
We arrived in district two after a few drinks with our tour group at Café Zoom. The rain started to fall, and continued throughout the night, but that didn’t make the trip any less enjoyable. We were provided raincoats that covered us head to toe. District two of Saigon is known for it’s seafood, and rightfully so. This is where I devoured my first clam, mussel, and snail, and I’ve got pictures to show for it below. The best part was dipping the already flavourful mussels into a typical Vietnamese dipping sauce. You squeeze the kumquat and mix the salt in, making for a zesty flavour. I’m not one for a fishy after taste, so it’s a good thing the dipping sauce replaced it with a much preferred salty and sour one.
Most of Vietnam’s East Coast in covered by sea, thus it’s no surprise that Vietnamese cuisine consists of lots of seafood. The seafood comes from both the sea and from fish farms. Fishing jobs are extremely dangerous and demanding. Fishermen can spend months at sea, working up to fifteen hours a day under the beaming sun. It’s a rewarding business, but also a competitive and risky one. There are toxic spills that put fishing at a halt for months at a time, there are diseases that can destroy an entire fish farm, and there are storms that can capsize an entire fishing boat. Boats, are, however made with much care and much superstition. I recommend you check out our Hoi An day tour where we visit a fascinating handmade ship building company if you’re curious as to how the ships are made, and what the shipyard looks like.
Although fishing has become a commercial business in Vietnam, many still practice the traditional methods of fishing, such as spearfishing, netting, and hand gathering (all of which you can see simply biking over a bridge in Hoi An). While relaxing on the beach in Hoi An, you may also notice boats that resemble baskets anchored along the coast. You’re right- they are giant baskets, and they prove just how innovative the Vietnamese are. During the French colonial era, the French began taxing boat owners. But you can’t tax floating baskets can you? That’s right. The Vietnamese avoided the taxes by creating basket boats, or thung chai in Vietnamese. The boats are made from bamboo, coconut oil, and tar, and although the circular shape makes paddling look extraordinarily difficult, they have proved effective for around 70 years.
Some people have warned me away from street food, especially street seafood, and it’s a concern I don’t adhere to, but I do completely understand. This is why I highly recommend you try the Saigon after dark tour. We visit renowned restaurants off the beaten path that you otherwise would not have run into. You’ve got to taste the authentic flavours and experience the culture.