Baking in Vietnam

I've just gotten back after a month travelling, most of which was spent in Vietnam.

One of the most notable influences of French colonisation is the proliferation of baguettes in the Vietnamese diet. In Saigon (that's what the locals call their manic city, and it's a far more romantic and exotic name than Ho Chi Minh City, so I'm going with it), most baguettes are the rice flour ones that appear in Vietnamese bakeries all over Australia, and probably the States. I find these a bit boring to eat and didn't bother photographing them, but north of Saigon the baguettes are all wheat...and delicious.

Elaborate cake decoration features in some of the bakery displays, also, although I didn't bother with sampling any of the cakey stuff. Too much other interesting fare to get yer tonsils around!

I thought you good Sourdough Companion folk might be interested to have a look at some of the baking-related pictures I came back with.



Breakfast baguette, Nha Trang


An 'American breakfast' Nha Trang style



The further north you go, the thinner the baguettes become. They all have something in common, though - they're delicious!

Hoi An breakfast baguette

...and of course a crumb shot, as best as I could manage it:



The following shots were taken at a Saigon bakery:



NB: 9000 VND = approx 40c AUD/American...not the greatest bargain, when you consider 'fresh beer' (made in 24 hours and surprisingly quaffable) is 25c per glass.



 

 

And finally, my favourite shot of the trip:

Basket of baguettes in Hoi An market

 

It's good to be back with some home comforts after a month on the budget backpacker trail, and especially good to be baking - and eating - sourdough bread again. But you know, I'm still processing my Vietnam travelling experience. Just about every expectation I had was confounded.

And something I miss a lot - the incredible fresh daily produce. I know of no other country in the world in which so much daily labour and effort is put into having the freshest of everything available for the markets every day of the year. Fish out of the water mere hours, prawns still flipping, meat from animals slaughtered that day (and sometimes trussed up or in cages still awaiting their unfortunate fate), an amazing array of vegetables picked and taken straight to market, and the most spectacular tropical fruit I've ever encountered. I had some pineapple in the Mekong Delta that triggers a salivation response just thinking about it...and I don't even particularly like pineapple! Or didn't think I did. Unbelievable.

Vietnam is one of the great travel bargains left on the planet, but it won't last much longer. If you're interested in going, do it soon.

Cheers all
Ross

 

 

7 comments

Amazing Trip you had.  You made me feel as if i was there.   Great food too I see.   Was the dragon a cake too, or just a statue?

 

Yes, good question HopesHope - I wondered the same, and concluded that it is an icing sculpture that is meant to go on a cake. None of the cakes are to my taste, I must admit...but certainly demonstrate some pretty nifty decorating skills.

BTW, I only included the breakfast pic to show the tropical fruits that are considered part of an 'American breakfast' in Nha Trang! Thought American readers might be interested in that. In fact, that breakfast was about the only Western-style food we had.

To be honest, though, I had expectations of better Vietnamese food than we encountered most of the time. My usual policy when travelling of seeking out the best of the local eats by asking the locals for recommendations didn't work in Vietnam simply because so few people outside the hotel and hospitality scene speak English. It was very difficult to communicate.

Those who work at the hotels and in tourist-orientated jobs don't usually know much about the local food because they have so little spare time and money that they rarely go out to eat! Unbelievable, I know. I was appalled at the extent of the exploitation of the staff by the hotel owners. I won't elaborate further here because it's off topic, but for those who may be interested, I'm in the process of writing up a series of blog posts on my Vietnam experience in which worker exploitation and and whole lot more - both positive and negative - will be covered. I'll post the links here when the blogs are up online.

Cheers
R

I heard it was slave wages and slavery type of working environment., wasn't sure if it was true or not. 

 

Sorry you didn't have a good experience with the food. I always thought that the Viet Namese were a freindly people.

 

I would love to read your blog on your experience.  Look forward to the links. 

 

Welcome Home Ross, to good showers, and great food, eh?  lol

Not quite slave labour - but not far off. These guys are on-call 24 hours per day, so sleep at their workplace and can be woken up any time there's a need. Plus - get this - they work 7 days per week, all year. Many are from Hanoi and send almost ALL their meagre wages back to their families, keeping only enough for food for themselves. Most of the hotel staff we talked to had uni degrees, but could not afford to work in their chosen field. Why?

Because it costs an astronomical amount to buy your way into a good job in Vietnam! Several of the staff were qualified ESL teachers (and believe me, there's a need for them - and how!). None had actually taught English because it would cost them $20,000 to buy their way into a job. That's an impossibly high figure, given their meagre wages as hotel staff. So, they're stuck. It made me angry. Meanwhile, their bosses, the hotel owners, are making lotsa bucks, sending their kids to Australia and elsewhere overseas for a tertiary education, living in luxurious conditions, etc etc. And this is supposed to be a communist system? Marx would be spinning in his grave.

The accomodation standard for travellers is pretty good, incidentally. We had good hot showers everywhere, and stayed in lower budget accomodation most of the time (eg: $13 per night). My comments above may indicate that I am down on the country, but that is not the case. There is much to say, both positive and negative. I just don't have time or space to say it all here.

Thanks for your welcome home, Hope'sHope. Too full of mixed and unprocessed thoughts and feelings to know whether I'm glad to be back or not at the moment. It's great to be chewing on my favourite home-baked SD pain de campagne, though, I know that much! And both my starters reared up into action as soon as I began feeding them again. The lil sweeties...

Cheers!

I place no judgment anywhere, and I didn't think you were down on the country, what's right is right, and wrong is wrong,. you got angry for a wrong, and that's ok by me. 

 

Ahhh starters, always faithful, eager to work and please, eh?  lol

 

When you write your blog let us know so I can read more.. 

 

Take care Ross

 

Hope

Great bread related travel piece Ross, thoroughly enjoyed the read. The bread in the crumb shot looks quite delish! The elaborate cakes are well - elaborate, not my style also but skillfull indeed,  and the dragon is rather impressive! Welcome back

Good to hear from ya, and thanks for your comments.

Yeeees, the cakes are not exactly tasteful in my book, either...but as you no doubt agree, it's all about context when travelling, and trying new things.

I had an aha moment during a trevelling stint in Malaysia a few years back when I let go of my western coffee expectations and started going Malaysian style. Yes, they use condensed milk as a sweetener, and the brew is thick and dark and not the same sort of coffee experience as we're used to, but it's nice in hot humid conditions. In fact, once I acquired a taste for it, I started preferring it - when in Malaysia!

Can't say I acquired a taste for the very strong Vietnamese variety, though. I tried. Lawd knows I tried. But eventually I gave up on my authenticity kick and started adding hot water to dilute it (and warm it up!). Some cultural hurdles are set just too high, heh heh.

Best of baking to you!
Ross