Day 13: Vietnamese Vegan Vibes
Plant based options galore
We return to our dearly beloved Au Lac Healthy World, eagerly and quite quickly. Planning our stay near a vegan establishment, especially one with so many types of food, is paying dividends.
I am pretty boring so I opt for the “beef” pho and iced Vietnamese coffee. As we are waiting for our food, we check out the adjoining grocery store which has every type of mock meat possible. In the midst of ordering our meal, they somehow forget my pho (we experienced the same issue yesterday with another employee — and I am low key chalking it up as an issue due to language barrier). Once the matter is resolved, I relish in the familiar scent of pho and the textural and scented variety of the mock beef, mint leaves, vermicelli noodles, and mung beans. It tastes like home. This is perhaps the best vegan pho I’ve had. I feel like I could eat this meal indefinitely. 134,000 VND (for two)
On my way out, I could feel the heat beating down on me. I order a sugarcane and coconut juice to-go and it is the sweetest and best drink ever. I savor every drop. 28,000 VND
The family and I head to my dad’s youngest sister’s home. Their retail business is at the ground-level and their home is on the second and third floors. After a hearty round of jackfruit, durian, and soursop as snacks, The Grownups insist on eating out.
As loudly as we declare our lack of appetite, they won’t take no as an answer. My aunt accompanies me and bæ to a vegetarian restaurant down the street from their home. Though they don’t seem to be well-versed in English, the menu fortunately has English translation. I order summer rolls, but it seems like we need a minimum of two orders of five rolls. We concede. I don’t regret it at all, given the deliciousness of the peanut and “fish” sauce, but we definitely have some for takeaway. 100,000 VND
Afterward, we venture to the Ben Thanh Market where vendors of all stripes, from knockoff goods to dried fruits to shoes, try to get our attention. Out of all of the markets we’ve visited, this place seems to house the most aggressive types. My mom is appalled (and mildly offended) that one vendor tries to extremely oversell a pair of belts. We then go to two adjacent historical landmarks: the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica and Central Post Office, both of which were built under French colonial rule. The architecture is compelling compared to other buildings we see here, and perhaps it’s because we’ve seen such stellar buildings elsewhere, they do not capture our fascination as much.
Everyone is a bit sluggish from the long drive and so we head to my parent’s hotel for a brief respite.
Tonight is our Tran family reunion! The restaurant of choice is a multi-story fairly lavish and formal Chinese place, where large parties can reserve private dining rooms. We look through the vegetable and tofu-based dishes, some of which are questionable and boring (stir-fry veggies). After facilitating an icebreaker (yes, I am that person), I decide to escape to a humble vegan restaurant a few blocks away with bæ and my cousin. The macrobiotic menu leans healthy, and in some cases, bland (as in the case of the sticky rice cake stuffed with red bean). The food we ordered was alright — spring rolls, Central Vietnamese rice noodles — but the real winner was bánh bèo, which are bite-sized portions of steamed rice cakes hailing from Central Vietnam. We share a pot of roasted red bean and red rice, and while the food is not The Best I’ve Ever Had, the variety and novelty are options are really satisfying. 161,000 VND (for three)