Friday, 24 April 2015

Vegan Adventuring in Nha Trang // A Love Story Between Me and A Sandwich

Nha Trang ended up being a weird one for me; I'd planned a stop there on my travels down the coast of Vietnam because I'd heard that the beaches were great but it was super windy the whole time I was in town which meant that the beach was a total no-go. The waves were crazy high (like Brighton in mid winter) and the wind was whipping up the sand which is always a less than fun experience. Because I couldn't book Nick and I onto an earlier train we had to make the most of our three days in town and so we decided to try as many of Nha Trang's vegan eateries as possible. Our first stop was Bo De where we immediately delved into some steamed buns. 

Now I love steamed buns every which way, faux bbq pork, crispy veggies and beans, mushrooms... any variation that I've tried I've loved. These were no exception which was extra great because Nick doesn't like veggies in a bun so I got to eat both of them. Score! 

They were perfection, perfectly steamed dough, crisp peppery vegetables and to top it off they cost 8000 VND / 25p / 37¢. Complete madness. It blew my mind how cheap the vegan food in Vietnam was. We also tried the Pho which was excellent (and stupidly cheap of course) and I couldn't resist and side of salt and pepper tofu which was delicious but you can't really go wrong with deep fried tofu, salt and pepper. 

The second stop on our foodie tour of the city was Banh Mi Chay, a little veggie banh mi stand at the side of the road near the beach. This is also where the tour stopped because I basically fell in love with this sandwich and ate it for every single meal until we had to leave. 

The bread itself was perfectly light and crispy due to it being made with a mix of wheat and rice flours and it was stuffed full of so much deliciousness that it made me question why on earth I'd never eaten a banh mi before. First the bread is spread with the banh mi sauce which is kinda like a spicy hoisin, then in go lettuce, crunchy pickled veggies and plenty of coriander followed by strips of cucumber and sliced tomato and finally four kinds of fake meat - a wheaty faux pork, a wheaty faux chicken and some kinda baked soy loaf and then a handful of crisp, sweet sesame soy protein.

I am absolutely not exaggerating when I say that this was the best sandwich of my life and damn, I've had some good sandwiches (The Picard and this Croque Monsieur spring to mind) in my time on this planet! I, of course, had to omit the flavourful sauce once I realised what was going on with it's spice level but this was still the most excellent sandwich in the world. I would not eat a terrible sandwich six times in two days. I would also have bought all of her crispy soy protein and eaten it with a spoon because OMG it was the absolute best. 

If you're ever in Vietnam I would urge you to get to Banh Mi Chay and buy yourself a sandwich or six. They're vegan by default although the stall does have butter and cheese available. The lovely woman running this place doesn't eat that stuff though so if you need an extra push to make the journey to Nha Trang go and support a rad vegan making rad sandwiches. Oh and the sandwich costs 10,000 VND / 31p / 46¢ which, although we paid more each time (this sandwich has to be worth at least £1 of any western travellers money), my mind is still officially blown that you can get an outstanding sandwich for so little cash.

Two thumbs up!

Between sandwiches and despite the beach being a bust we did manage to find some fun things to do to entertain ourselves in-between sandwiches. We visited two excellent photography galleries, DDK Black and White Art Photo Gallery and Long Thonh Art Gallery. The photographers were present at both as they're work / gallery spaces which was cool. I liked getting a little peek into the life of a pro photographer. If I had more disposable income or any walls I would have loved to invest in some amazing photographs of Vietnam but those aren't the life decisions I'm making right now and I already have enough art waiting for me in storage. We also passed some time at the pool on the roof of our hotel and with a spot of ten pin bowling. We would have checked out the cinema but the only thing on was Fast and Furious 7 and no, just no.

Nha Trang will be a must visit spot for me when I re-visit Vietnam one day, that sandwich was just so, so great that I'm going to have to eat it again. Luckily my friend Liz from Cooking the Vegan Books claims to have managed to whip up a version of The Sandwich in her own kitchen after also falling for it during her time in Nha Trang. I hope to be availing myself of the recipe next time I have a kitchen and decent stockpile of ingredients to work with!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Vegans Explore Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is part world heritage site and part beach holiday destination which, for me, is a pretty damned great combination. After getting sick in Hanoi, mainly exploring cities on the way down the coast and a couple of back to back travel days, I chose An Bang beach as our first stop in Hoi An. I was in need of some maxin' and relaxin' and I'd read that it was the quieter and prettier of the two beach options. We took the free bikes offered to us at the hotel and rode a slightly challenging 3km to the beach. Cycling, or even walking, on Vietnamese roads is always a challenge because traffic lights seem to be more of a suggestion than a rule and if the place somebody's going is on the other side of the road than the one they're technically meant to be driving on then that's the route they'll be taking. To add a little more fun to our journey there was also some road resurfacing going on which meant cycling on a single lane gravel track for about 1/2km which was definitely challenging. Needless to say we arrived at the beach suuuuper ready to relax.

After a few hours lying on the sand engrossed in a book (this one if you're interested) and hopping into the water to cool off occasionally dusk started creeping across the sky and we decided it was probably best to leave rather than to end up cycling home in the dark. It would also have been a shame to miss these gorgeous dusk views.

Hunger soon struck and we decided to check out the Hoi An branch of Karma Waters. Despite having a hankering for another of their hot dogs I decided Pho would be a better bet. Whilst it was good it wasn't anywhere near as good as either the hot dog or the bowls of Pho we'd been dining on at backstreet veg places during the preceding weeks.

We also tried the banana pancakes, a ubiquitous snack amongst other egg and dairy eating travellers, which we were yet to try. We were left almost wishing that we hadn't because they were quite solid and whilst the mango jam perked them up they definitely weren't a fave'. They definitely looked like the ones we'd seen at non-vegan street stalls in Hoi An though so they were good in that they made us stop wondering whether we were missing out.

The breakfast at the Vaia Hotel where we were staying was okay, bread, jam and juice followed by a fruit plate. I should't really complain because the bread was excellent but I was usually starving about two hours later and I definitely wished I hadn't run outa peanut butter!

The beach had been so great the day before that after scoping out the weather forecast we decided to go back and get our lounge on for a full day. We took a picnic of crackers, peanut butter, seaweed snacks, Oreo's and fruit, splashed out on some sun loungers and spent the day skipping in and out of the waves. Perfection.

Again we headed back before dusk because of the scary cycling sitch' but that meant we hit the hotel just in time for happy hour where all guests get a free mojito or glass of sangria. Fun!

After our slightly disappointing dinner at Karma Waters the previous night we decided to find somewhere a little more authentic for our evening meal. We took a walk to Tam Quang Minh and said yes when they asked us if we liked to eat soup. 

Saying yes was such a great decision because these steaming bowls of Pho were some of the most delicious I've eaten in Vietnam. Fake meat, super flavourful broth, loads of herbs and lime. Yum.

We went back the next day and they asked if we liked rice... of course we said yes again. This wasn't quite as delicious as the Pho but as it cost around £1 for both of our meals I wouldn't even consider complaining. The mock meats were wonderful, one had a delicious sweet and sticky sauce and the other was kinda caramelised and had a little crunch to it. I would totally eat whole platefuls of both! I also enjoyed both mine and Nick's aubergine whilst he ate both portions of spicy cabbage. Teamwork!

Feeling suitably relaxed by a couple of back to back beach days we decided to get up early on our third morning to set about some proper sightseeing. Hoi An's old town is delightfully charming. The gorgeous French colonial style buildings sit side by side with Japanese edo era architecture which is a contrast that I loooove.

Apparently this is the only Japanese bridge in the world that has a Buddhist temple halfway across. It's also guarded at one end by a pair of dog statues and at the other by a pair of monkey statues - cute.

In fact everything about Hoi An is cute, the buildings, the lanterns, this puppy...

We took advantage of our hotel's free bicycles again during our days exploring the old town and we headed out in the morning during the hours when it becomes a walking and cycling only area. This is a wonderful idea that I think almost any city could implement and it would add to the joy of exploring. Being able to cycle or walk without worrying that I'd be knocked over by a scooter at any moment made it much more fun although of course dawdling tour groups made cycling without a bell amusing / mildly irritating.

We refuelled with juice at riverside spot Fusion Cafe more than once during our explorations, it was definitely a good people watching spot and the apple, lime and mint juice was excellent. I think that juice combo might be one of my favourite discoveries of the trip, it's a little like a non-alcoholic mojito.

One place I was excited to dine at was Minh Hein Vegetarian which was excitingly within cycling distance of the old town. Minh Hein is probably Hoi An's most famous veggie spot. They make veganised versions of a lot of traditional dishes including Cao Lau, a regional noodle, (faux) pork and greens dish, and White Rose. 

White Rose are dumplings so-called because they look like white roses and whilst they usually contain shrimp or pork these were, of course, the vegan version. I also ordered the fried aubergine with garlic and Nick ordered a spicy tofu dish because it's literally the only way to stop me stealing his food! I kid. Kinda.

The fried aubergine with garlic also came with peanuts and no chilli which I was happy about - communication win. The aubergines in both Vietnam and Laos really are melt in your mouth delicious and I feel like despite there being so many different types and cooking methods aubergine dishes are always the ones I end up loving the most. The White Rose was tasty but I didn't ask for it without chilli because I'd read that the dipping sauce comes on the side, that's not the case at Minh Hien so after one delicious nibble I had to pass them over to Nick to polish off.

We also grabbed an order of Bánh Xèo to share because ever since Cici introduced us to them in Hanoi they've been up there with our favourite Vietnamese dishes. This version could have been better if the wrappers had been soaked properly but they were on the crunchy side which made them challenging to use.

Despite their slightly disappointing Bánh Xèo I would highly recommend visiting Minh Hien for their veganised local classics like White Rose, Cao Lau or anything with aubergine.

On our last night we finally made it to An Nhu Quan Chay which I'd heard about from Caryl and Paul at Vegan Food Quest who recommended the hot pot. Never one to deviate from a personal recommendation we dove right in.

The Hot Pot was filled to the brim with mushrooms, silken tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms and more mushrooms. I loved it. I was also pleased to see that it came with the fermented tofu that I'd fallen for in Hue. We threw in handfuls of greens and I ate far more than my half of the fermented tofu. I really wish I was eating this right now. I'm eating grapes. They aren't as good. I just added this spot to Happy Cow so that other veggies visiting Hoi An should be able to find it and eat delicious hot pot too!